What happened to African plurality of the 1960s?

Monday May 14 2018

East African Community heads of state and government at a past summit. NMG

East African Community heads of state and government at a past summit. Uniting nations isn’t just a matter of presidents attending summits and legalistic tools hammering out our common market. It is also about people, feelings and attitudes. PHOTO | NMG 

By ELSIE EYAKUZE
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It is actually called The EastAfrican for a reason. Checking in on this communal project of ours from time to time is a, uh, professional imperative.

And it became particularly pressing this week as I eavesdropped on some Twitter conversations about employing foreign chief executives to head large firms in Tanzania.

In the interest of honesty let me just say: I do not support the East African political federation. Because I respect my fellow East Africans.

I have no intention of inflicting Tanzanian challenging leadership problems on my dear neighbours. I am sure my fellow East Africans feel the same.

Besides, this way we avoid the most obvious pitfall: The struggle for supremacy. We know our people. Someone would want to become president of the federation and then term limits would be scrapped and then inter-country jostling and the next thing we know we turn all tribal on each other... 
I would argue against a political federation until we show signs of political maturity.  

But I am happily anticipating the more natural and exciting cultural and economic osmosis generated by the free movement of people and ideas and their skills and other assets. So it is with some dismay that I note Tanzania is currently suffering the constipation of an increasingly toxic form of nationalism. 

Of course citizens should be privileged in their own countries, but not to the extent of becoming an insular nation. 

I have always been envious of the golden era of the 1960s and 1970s with stories of studying at each other’s institutions of higher learning and the sense of fellowship that must have created. Being cosmopolitan in an African way was seen as very cultured. Knowing how to greet people in their own language, being a polyglot was seen as erudite.

So imagine my dismay that the undercurrent of Tanzania First is becoming hostile to the rich plurality that is at the core of being African. It’s like we forget how these borders were drawn.

Frankly having skilled labour come in from other countries is just good business. That is how countries like Canada and the US siphon talent shamelessly from around the world. The trick is to ingest and absorb talent that someone else invested in.... Yet here we are quibbling that the occasional Kenyan gets to head an office in Dar es Salaam. To hear the jingoists tell it, we are being overrun. 

This is hardly the case.

We can’t end up in a corner on our own muttering “Tanzania for Tanzanians” just because we failed Economics that one time and refuse to take the class again. And I live Swahili but nowhere in the world is it a good idea to be monolingual. 

And we certainly cannot drift away from the pan-African dream which is in our political DNA. Uniting nations isn’t just a matter of presidents attending summits and legalistic tools hammering out our common market. It is also about people, feelings and attitudes.

I repudiate the bile of those hopefully few Tanzanians who are trying to constrict us in the name of uzalendo (patriotism).

And yes, it may have something to do with protecting my personal access to the legendary pineapples of Uganda which fellow columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo has so hyped, not to mention the glorious Kenyan Rugby Sevens team. Don’t judge, we all have our reasons to EAC.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]

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