Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete is basking in the glow of one of his country’s best diplomatic weeks in recent times.
When Tanzania offered to send its military as the lead contingent of the new, aggressive UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there were fears it would join the long list of external forces and adventurers who have ended up in eastern DRC’s bottomless political graveyard.
However, just over a week ago, the UN forces and the Congolese army (FARDC) seemed to have handed the M23 rebels a comprehensive defeat.
That not only bolstered Tanzania internationally, but could only have improved its standing in the South African Development Community (SADC). The two other key troop contributing countries to FIB are both SADC members — South Africa and Malawi.
It is no coincidence that after the M23 scattered, South African President Jacob Zuma held a summit to discuss, among other things, DRC peace.
A controversial UN Panel of Experts and groups like Human Rights Watch have accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing M23 rebels, a charge both countries have denied.
By last week, however, analysts were acknowledging that M23 would not have been so quickly beaten if indeed Rwanda were still supporting it.
Some feared that events in DRC would increase tensions between the East African Community countries.
In the past four months, Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Paul Kagame of Rwanda have had a hectic schedule of meetings at which they announced ambitious regional projects, and even moved quickly on establishing a common tourist visa, and a Single Customs Territory among other initiatives.
Tanzania and Burundi have not been invited, and there were fears the divide between the Coalition of the Willing (as the Kenyatta, Museveni, and Kagame trio has now become known) and Tanzania and Burundi threatened the Community.
At best, that the EAC would become a dysfunctional two-track affair, and at worst that it would collapse as the first one did in 1977. It was also expected that when President Kikwete addressed parliament last Thursday, he would lash out at the Coalition of the Willing, or announce that the loose rival alliance with Burundi and DRC that he has been trying to forge would set out on a separation path.
In the end, none of the above happened. President Kikwete, as a leading East African economist put it on social media, “not only took the high ground but took the posture of the adult in the room.”
He declared that Tanzania was in the EAC to stay, wondered why the Coalition of the Willing was trying to sideline it, and called for the bloc’s business to be concluded by the letter and spirit of its treaties and protocols. It was a new tone of self-confidence from a Tanzania that feels it now holds some key political aces in the region.
“What is costing us in the EAC is Tanzania’s stand on political federation, issues of land, issues of thee labour market and immigration. We have no problem with fast tracking the political federation but only if all steps are followed in accordance to the EAC Protocol. Customs Union, Common Market, subsequently the monetary union and ultimately the political federation. Our stand comes from principle. That is, we must establish first the economic and financial mechanisms and let them take root,” he said.
He added: “When EAC is fully integrated economically and the benefits start to trickle in, then we can start talking about the EAC political federation. It is only when countries start benefiting economically that starting a political federation will make sense. Without a sound economic footing a political federation is a waste of time.”
According to President Kikwete, this stance has cost Tanzania everything else, including the country’s interest in participating in infrastructure projects such as the standard gauge railway line and the oil pipeline and refinery.
“(President) Museveni invited us to participate in its construction, now I don’t know whether he has changed his mind and considers Tanzania not important to the project anymore,” he said.
Tanzania’s place in the regional economic bloc has been in the news in the past few months, following the emergence of the Coalition of the Willing. The coalition members were said to have decided to forge ahead with key infrastructure projects because Tanzania was reportedly dragging its feet on key issues.
“The EAC integration is not just about the political aspect but trade and, therefore, the presidents have to be mindful about business in the region, which is a core thing to the integration,” said Andrew Lumathe, chief executive of the East African Business Council.
“Tanzania has always been cautious on the issue of land, owing to its socialist past. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere advocated the communal ownership of this critical means of production. But in Kenya, for example, land has always been seen under a capitalist model of ‘willing buyer, willing seller.’ As such, Tanzania has steadfastly opposed to the issue of land harmonisation as pursued under the EAC Treaty, saying that land laws differ in all the partner states,” he added.
The EAC wants to harmonise laws on ownership land and all the properties on it like houses, rivers etc, which Tanzania is against.
Unlike in the other partner states, where an individual can own land permanently, in Tanzania the president is the sole custodian of land in the country.
Analysts say it is understandable why Tanzania is jittery about land: The country holds the greatest fraction of arable but unused land in the EAC — an estimated 380,000 square kilometres.
By comparison, Kenya accounts for 32 per cent of the total land area in the EAC but 45 per cent of its land is under agriculture. The UN Population Division projects that as the EAC’s population burgeons from 150 million today to 270 million by 2030, the region is likely turn to Tanzania as it looks to feed its growing numbers.
With Tanzania’s apparent isolation by the Coalition of the Willing, the $4.7 billion railway line project linking Dar, Kigali and Burundi, whose construction is scheduled for 2014, hangs in the balance, should relations worsen.
Rwanda and Uganda seem to be ready to embrace Kenya’s railway corridor linking both countries, including South Sudan to the Kenyan Coast. Diplomatic relations between Dar and Kigali have been frosty following the recent expulsion of Rwandan immigrants from western Tanzania, and President Kikwete’s remarks that Rwanda should negotiate with the Hutu rebel group FDLR it is fighting in eastern DRC.
“The DRC politics is the crust of the matter for now. Tanzania contributed troops to DRC creating varying interests and those issues should be resolved. The five countries have different approaches to the DRC issue,” said Mukasa Mbidde, chairperson of the Legal, Rule and Privileges Committee of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).
In September, Tanzania expelled thousands of foreigners working in the country because they did not have work permits, a move that was seen as being against the EAC integration agenda. President Kikwete cited the issue of employment and immigration as one of the reasons why Tanzania was being isolated by its neighbours.
Tanzania said the September exercise was intended to ensure that all foreigners working in the country do so following the right channels. But again, getting the official papers is often a nightmare. It costs a handsome $2,000 to get a work permit in Tanzania, and applicants must wait up to five months to obtain the documents.
Uganda charges $1,500 for work permits, and Kenya, which initially waived fees for East Africans, has since reintroduced a $1,976 charge on job seekers aged under 35. Rwanda continues to keep its borders open to East Africans by waiving work permit fees for EAC citizens.
Burundi charges 3 per cent of the annual gross salary of its foreign workers (including EAC partner states) for a work permit.
On the use of national IDs as travel documents in the region, President Kikwete said Tanzania was not ready to adopt the IDs because it did not yet have national IDs, and has maintained that it cannot take a decision until they are ready to issue to its citizens. Uganda, on the other hand, which did not have national IDs, adopted the decision and is in the process of issuing IDs as a requirement of the EAC.
Tanzanian government officials have long insisted that issues of immigration, land, labour should remain domestic issues and decisions should be made by each partner state and not by the community.
EALA had in April this year passed a motion for a resolution advocating the elimination of work permit fees for citizens of the region in the spirit of enhancing free movement of workers. The move was opposed by Tanzania, which said it would not waive work permit fees for EAC citizens seeking to enter the country.
Last week, Tanzania’s EAC Deputy Minister Abdullah Saadalla said: “Tanzania has its own regulations and procedures and the issue of waiving the fees calls for internal agreements.”
In addition to the accusations of dragging its feet on the integration process, Tanzania’s role in DRC is also said to have contributed to the current isolation by its neighbours.
“The DRC politics is the crux of the matter for now. Tanzania contributed troops to the UN force in DRC creating differing interests. The five countries have different approaches to the DRC issue,” said Mukasa Mbidde, chairperson of the Legal, Rules and Privileges Committee at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).
Diplomatic relations between Dar and Kigali have also been frosty following the recent expulsion of Rwandan immigrants from western Tanzania, and President Kikwete’s remarks that Rwanda should negotiate with the Hutu rebel group FDLR in eastern DRC.
Responding to President Kikwete’s speech, the head of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Co-operation and Security Zeno Mutimura said he does not think there is a plot to isolate Tanzania but instead Dar has only itself to blame.
Mr Mutimura, who served as Rwanda’s ambassador to Tanzania until 2009, said that a 2009 East African Court of Justice ruling allows partner states to carry on with programmes if one or two members are not ready.
During the infrastructure summit in Kigali, President Museveni, who has been singled out by Tanzanian officials for being behind the plan to isolate Dar es Salaam, said that what is happening should be seen as Northern Corridor countries stepping up the implementation of projects along the corridor. On the issue of the single tourist visa which Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are fast tracking, Tanzania has indicated that it is not for the idea of having the visa until the relevant fee collection infrastructure that links member states is in place.
“In order to have a single tourist visa, there must be a legal framework and infrastructure workable for all the partner states first,” said Dr Abdulla.
Mark Priestly, the country director at TradeMark East Africa in Rwanda, said President Kikwete’s speech was “double-edged.”
“On the one hand, Kikwete is saying Tanzania is committed to the EAC and regional integration and on the other hand there is obvious tension with the trilateral initiative. On the whole, I think that this is a healthy tension and so the EAC is unlikely to split up,” he said.
Uganda government spokesman Ofwono Opondo termed the complaints by Tanzania “a failure to appreciate the progress of international issues and geopolitical interests.”
He added: “There is no integration in the world that happened at once.
In the current EU, Turkey has been on the sidelines for very many years.”
According to Mr Opondo, Uganda had the strongest bilateral relations with Tanzania politically and there should be no reason for leaders in Tanzania to think Uganda would connive behind its back to undermine it.
Kenyan EALA MP Peter Mathuki said that the fact that the Tanzanian president himself confirmed that the country is not moving out of the EAC means that he needs to be embraced and taken seriously as a member of the Community.
“Tanzania cannot be left out of EAC because it’s one of the original EAC countries and therefore cannot be taken for granted,” said Mr Mathuki.
However on the concern that the country is slowing down the integration process, he said that it is a wakeup call to it that the other partners are not happy with the way it is implementing the EAC protocols.
“There is a need to fast track the EAC integration and thus Tanzania should also move with speed just like the other partner states,” he said, adding that Tanzania’s leadership need to consider where their strategic interests are and take Community issues seriously.
Two weeks ago, Tanzania’s East African Co-operation Minister Samuel Sitta told parliament that Tanzania was looking for closer economic ties with Burundi and DR Congo to counter grand infrastructure plans by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, causing anxiety over the future of the East African Community.
However, President Kikwete seems to have thrown the ball in the court of the Coalition of the Willing.
Reported by Ray Naluyaga, Christabel Ligami, Christine Mungai, Berna Namata, Halimma Abdalla and Edmund Kagire