Last week the Presidents of the Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan met in Kigali for the third Infrastructure Projects Summit, Tanzania was noticeably absent – a now expected occurrence and one that raises questions about the future integration of the East African Community.
The three countries – Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, seem to have decided to push on with much needed projects, the suggestion being that Tanzania is proving to be an impediment to their speedy execution.
The leaders met previously in Kampala and Mombasa with South Sudan joining in this latest round as a potential future member.
The Tanzanians argue that they should not be seen as slowing down the process but rather as the voice of caution especially against the fast tracking of the Monetary Union and the political federation of the region.
"Admittedly Dar es Salaam’s slowness of foot is looking very dated, viewed against the action men of Kampala and Kigali and the shot of youthful energy from Nairobi....
Observers say that the marital spurt is deeper than a resentment of Tanzania’s lack of a sense of urgency and include economic rivalry and differences in opinion on how the conflict in eastern Congo can be resolved.
The view among the Tanzanian elite is that with groundbreaking on a mammoth port in Bagamoyo, which dwarf the combined capacity of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, will shift the trade patterns away from the northern corridor south to Tanzania.
This development will disenfranchise a lot of Kenyan businessmen and long standing coalitions that have benefitted from the massive traffic flowing from Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.
In addition potentially huge finds of natural gas, whose current established reserves are estimated at $430b. The cheaper power if this find is fully exploited could end up shifting the region’s economic center of gravity southwards, a situation that may not amuse entrenched commercial interests in Nairobi.
If there was any doubt about Tanzania’s unease about being isolated it came out last week, with the issuing of statement by Tanzania’s East African Community ministry denouncing the goings on between its partners as illegal and contrary to the spirit of community.
Kenya’s more established commercial sector has not been averse to batting for their own interests, sometimes with blatant disregard for others, all through negotiations for the reestablishement of the community and suspicions that they are trying to push their own agenda in the region, would not be an unfamiliar one.
Adding fuel to the flames is the recent call by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to Rwanda and Uganda to negotiate with rebels groups opposed to their respective governments that are holed up in the DRC and reportedly strain at the bit to attack.
Uganda’s reponse to Dar es Salaam while dismissive was not as vehement as that from Rwanda, which argues that the forces arrayed against them in the jungles of eastern Congo are the remnants of the forces that perpetuated the genocide where about a million people died in 1994. Kigali argues they are criminals and not political opponents whose only fate should be before a criminal court.
People familiar with the spurt suggest that Tanzania’s seemingly out-of-the-blue counsel is driven partly by their new role at the center of a peace keeping force in eastern Congo, but also the suggestion that a decision may have been made to push for a secession of eastern Congo, to which thinking Dar was not made privy until it was a fait accompli.
Whatever the reasons at the top, the people of east Africa would hate to see the community break up again because of a clash of egos between their leaders.
"In fact our political leaders are behind the curve on the population’s desire for integration, with the region’s citizens voting with their wallets and their feet and leaving the photo opportunities to their leaders...
It is unlikely that Tanzania would be isolated for long – its rich natural bounty and access to the sea are a useful bargaining chip against the domineering interests in Kenya, but a solution needs to be found sooner than later, or we could have a case of the EAC cutting off its nose to spite its face.