Political and economic interests in East Africa are driving President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga’s last-ditch efforts to court allies in the region ahead of Kenya’s election on August 8.
Tanzania has featured prominently in the ongoing campaigns, forcing Dar es Salaam to distance itself from taking sides in an election billed as the most competitive in the country’s history.
“The attempts to link the peace-loving government of Tanzania with involvement in its neighbours’ elections is a mistake beyond reality,” a Tanzanian government spokesman said.
Tanzanian opposition leader, Edward Lowassa, the man who ran against Tanzania’s President John Magufuli in the 2015 election, muddied the waters when he backed the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Two weeks ago during a visit to Kenya, Mr Lowassa announced his support for President Kenyatta, fuelling speculation that the Jubilee administration had backed Lowassa’s bid to succeed retired president Jakaya Kikwete in 2015.
Mr Odinga, who is contesting the presidency for a fourth time, enjoys a cordial relationship with President Magufuli, leading to speculation that the opposition is being backed by the Tanzanian government and has installed a parallel tallying centre in Dar es Salaam.
The cordial relationship between President Magufuli and Mr Odinga has been demonstrated by several meetings between the two leaders during alternate visits to Kenya and Tanzania.
In April last year, Mr Odinga was among regional leaders who visited President Magufuli at his rural home in Kilimani village in Geita region, northwestern Tanzania.
This followed a visit to Kenya by President Magufuli, who said his friendship with Mr Odinga started back in 2002 when they both served as ministers for roads and public works in their respective countries.
The Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has uncharacteristically remained silent on the ongoing campaign compared with the past one in which he openly supported President Kenyatta.
In fact, in 2013 Mr Odinga accused the Ugandan leader of backing President Kenyatta to rig the election. The friendship between Museveni, the longest serving president in the region, with the Jubilee administration came to the fore in the run-up to Uganda’s elections last year.
While attending the inauguration of President Kenyatta, the Ugandan leader thanked Kenyans for having rejected Mr Odinga, who he referred to as a friend of neo-colonialists.
According to Mr Odinga, regional integration is at the centre of his plans to fulfil the dreams of the founding leaders to fast-track movement of goods and people across the borders.
“This region will benefit more if we remove barriers which exist and open the borders for free flow of goods and people. It can be done if there is political will,” Mr Odinga said at a presidential debate.
According to the opposition leader, the transport corridors are important to trade in the region and need attention to promote regional integration and business among EAC partner states.
“It is the (Kenyan) leadership isolating itself. That is the reason Uganda is finding it attractive to go through Tanzania. Tanga and Dar es Salaam are farther from Kampala than Nairobi and Mombasa. It does not make economic sense and appears no more than a political decision,” Mr Odinga added.