In a move that could further widen the schism within the EAC, Tanzania has ruled out joining its three peers, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, in the infrastructure projects they are spearheading under the banner of the so-called coalition of willing.
In a strongly worded reaction, Tanzania, through its Minister for East African Community Affairs Samwel Sitta, said the trilateral agreements were threatening EAC integration.
“So long as Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda have consciously decided to isolate us, all we can do is to leave them alone and wish them well,” Mr Sitta said.
Though the “coalition of willing” banks on article 7(3) of the EAC protocol that allows for the principle of variable geometry, Mr Sitta, a lawyer by profession, said this was a misinterpretation of the article.
The article allows for flexibility in implementation of EAC protocols.
It gives a window for progress in co-operation among members in a larger integration scheme in a variety of areas and at different speeds.
According to Mr Sitta, the article means that the partner states are allowed to undertake only special-interest activities that are not in the regional plans.
“But look at the issues the three countries are working on. They are the same with the ones we as the EAC members had collectively deliberated on during the chairmanship of then-Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki,” Mr Sitta noted.
The presidents of Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda met in Kenya’s coastal town of Mombasa last month and, among other things, resolved to fast-track political federation, the EAC’s ultimate goal, apparently irking Dar most.
According to the agreed framework of the EAC Treaty, the entry point of EAC integration was the establishment of the Customs Union, which despite delays occasioned by intermittent haggling and back-pedalling by the bureaucrats, got off to a start in January 2005.
That key stage then ushered in the Common Market, according to the bloc’s roadmap. A monetary union would then follow by 2013 before the people of East Africa could toast the birth of a super-state in the name of a political federation.
In both Mombasa and the earlier Entebbe trilateral talks, Presidents Yoweri Museveni, Uhuru Kenyatta, and Paul Kagame agreed to go ahead in developing infrastructure and establishment of a single Customs Territory — key projects at the heart of the EAC.
Last week, technocrats from the three countries reportedly held crucial talks in Kigali on how to execute the directive of their heads of state and a committee was created to spearhead the formation of a political federation.
This is the first such formal statement by Tanzania since the three countries met in Kampala in July and started planning grand regional infrastructure projects without involving Dar.
The statement came a few weeks after the EAC Council of Ministers officially asked its chairperson, Shem Bageine, to come up with a clarification as to why the three countries were running a parallel integration agenda.
Abdallah Saqware, senior lecturer at the Institute of Finance Management in Dar es Salaam, told The EastAfrican that the trilateral arrangements would be short-lived because Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda need Tanzania and Burundi more than the latter two need them.
“Tanzania and Burundi are the major markets for Kenyan and Ugandan products because the two countries are short of industries, so for that factor the three need Dar and Bujumbura most,” Dr Saqware noted.
He further said that the Tanzania’s abundant natural resources and the 45 million populations is attractive to any economic bloc, particularly the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
“In fact, if these three EAC member states think that they can go it alone, let them. Tanzania has nothing to lose,” he said.
Proponents of EAC integration are not mincing their words about the risk of isolating Burundi and Tanzania.
For instance, the East Africa Law Society has, in a letter dated September 5 and signed by its president James Mwamu, called on the EAC Secretary General and the chairperson of the EAC Heads of State Summit President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, to spare no effort in co-opting Tanzania and Burundi into the renewed efforts aimed at improving the infrastructure within the EAC.
Citing the first trilateral meeting in Kampala at the end of June, at which the three countries identified and assigned themselves roles to follow up on activities and programmes that are traditionally the preserve of the entire EAC partner states, the statement notes that such trilateral actions run the risk of alienating the other two EAC partner states including Tanzania, one of the founder members of the trading bloc.