The leaders of the eleven east and central african countries converged on Kampala this week in the wake of flare up of military activity in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
While that was of major concern the apparent fallout between Tanzania and Rwanda over events in the central African nation is what will guarantee higher government presence than a recurrence of the now perennial eastern Congo skirmishes.
At the time of writing Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame was in the country and his Tanzanian counterpart Jakaya Kikwete was expected.
The spurt between the two nations was sparked off by comments by Kikwete in the African Summit in May that Rwanda should negotiate with FDLR rebels holed up in eastern Congo. Speaking in the context of the Tanzania’s new leadership role in a peace mission in eastern Congo, Kikwete also said Uganda should tall to the ADF rebels.
The FDLR are the remnants of the government forces and supporters, accused of perpetrating the 1994 genocide in which more 800,000 Rwandans died. They retreated into the Congo from where Kigali claims they continue to plot a return by force of arms.
Both countries dismissed the suggestion – Rwanda more forcefully than Uganda, arguing that the rebels were criminals who should be brought to justice and not political actors with whom negotiations would be an option.
Since then a series of events have occurred whose timing suggest that Tanzania and Rwanda are not going to let it lie.
Last month Tanzania expelled immigrants, most of whom were of Rwandese origin, from its northern regions bordering Uganda and Rwanda. On Sunday last week Rwanda hiked fees on Tanzanian trucks entering the country three-fold a development that has caused congestion on the border.
Other subsequent incidents many minor, most unreported have served to accentuate the perception that all is not well between Dar es Salaam and Kigali.
The chattering classes went into overdrive when Kikwete did not appear at a regional infrastructure conference in the Mombasa last week and when it was eventually reported that Tanzania was looking to President Yoweri Museveni to intercede between Dar es Salaam and Kigali.
To dismiss the tension between the two East African Community (EAC) partners as a minor irritation is to ignore the key role each play in the region’s ambitions.
The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
The people of our region want better lives than they currently experience – at least four in ten east African’s live in abject poverty, a situation that is unfathomable when viewed against the rich natural endowments of the region.
The attempts to build the EAC is testament to the fact that our leaders recognise the extent of this challenge but even more importantly, realize they cannot go it alone. We all need to be pulling in the same direction or we do not benefit to the full extent that we can.
For us mere mortals, we would rather have it that our politicians sort out their tiffs in private while driving the integration agenda publically and forcefully.
The Kampala meeting is a good start, better that than us poor civilians being caught in the cross fire of your egos.
And if it may not have occurred, not everyone wishes us the best. The progress the EAC has made in the last decade, its potential to unlock the region’s promise and the example it will serve for others on the continent and around the world is the envy of many and may not be welcome news for the envisaged collective strength of the region that would result.
It is also very possible that these spurts are being engineered by or are playing into our detractors’ hands. We need to think about that.