If you ask any non-Tanzanian East African which country is the stumbling block to regional integration, the answer will come fast and furious – Tanzania.
One of the low points in Tanzania’s supposedly East African Community-wrecking ways, came at the recent EAC summit meetings at the end of November in the Burundi capital, Bujumbura.
Ministers from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda signed an agreement for the establishment of the East African Community Political Federation. Tanzania decided not to. Fair enough.
But it did so dramatically. It decided to leave its seat at the signing ceremony empty and yawning. However, it eventually signed a few days later.
But it is what happened in the closed meetings of the EAC Council of Ministers that still has tongues wagging. The EAC has been working on an East African mutual defence pact.
When they met in Bujumbura all the partners states had pushed the pact through their Cabinets, their armies, and attorneys-general. Tanzania had two ministers at the Council meeting. During the discussions, Tanzania was emphatic that under no circumstances, should the pact be allowed to drag other EAC countries into an unjustified war started by a belligerent member.
As the ministers moved to sign up on the pact, something unprecedented happened. Permanent Secretaries don’t sit in the Council of Ministers’ meeting, but they are sometimes called in, in very technical sessions. The Permanent Secretary in Tanzania’s delegation, got up, grabbed the microphone, and announced that Tanzania was not signing on. That the position the Tanzanian ministers leading the delegation had accepted “was not Tanzania’s position.”
The Tanzanian ministers were embarrassed, fidgeted, and tried to smile their way out of the mess. Yet, even with all that, one of the best things that has happened to the EAC is Tanzania’s so-called obstructionism.
If it hadn’t been because of Tanzania, the EAC would probably have a Monetary Union and a political federation by now. Because they would have been put together hurriedly without the hard, long, and frustrating negotiation and debate that these things require, the EAC would probably have collapsed by 2015.
Tanzania’s stubbornness has forced the EAC to pay attention to detail, and to pause and take in everyone’s views – something most, if not all, EAC leaders don’t do back home where their word is law.
In the process, the EAC is the most thought-through regional co-operation bloc, and the most democratic in Africa. In the West African bloc ECOWAS, Nigeria calls the shots. In Southern Africa’s SADC, South Africa is boss. Tanzania is a member of SADC, and in an honest moment a government official in Dar es Salaam said that in “SADC we are sometimes treated like second class members.”
In EAC, there is no boss. Everyone is equal. For all these reasons, the EAC will endure. If Tanzania is really anti-EAC, then it has done the very opposite. Its intransigence is producing an organisation it cannot afford not to be part of.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected]. Twitter: @cobbo3