Fears over EAC’s future as Tanzania is sidelined again
Kenya’s State House said that Tanzania had not been invited to the summits.
- The first of the tri-lateral talks took place in Entebbe in June when Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni hosted President Uhuru Kenyatta and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame to a summit that saw the three countries commit to vast investments in rail and oil infrastructure.
- An official with the ministry of Foreign Affairs who asked not to be named in order to speak freely on the matter, said that although Burundi and South Sudan had attended the meeting in Mombasa, they were not among the main repartees of the negotiations.
That Tanzania has been left out of a series of regional talks on infrastructure and trade is raising questions about it’s place in the East African Community.
Responding to media inquiries, Kenya’s State House said that Tanzania had not been invited to the summits.
The Kenyan Government said Tanzania’s absence was not a problem because the talks were primarily concerned with easing transport logistics within the “Northern Corridor”.
“They were not invited because at the moment we are dealing with the Northern Corridor. This was about the Port of Mombasa and the infrastructure that feeds the Northern Corridor,” said Secretary of Communication Manoah Esipisu. This transit corridor links landlocked South Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi to the Port of Mombasa.
The first of the tri-lateral talks took place in Entebbe in June when Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni hosted President Uhuru Kenyatta and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame to a summit that saw the three countries commit to vast investments in rail and oil infrastructure.
On Wednesday, it was Kenya’s turn to host its neighbours in the second infrastructure summit, a forum to measure progress made since the June meeting. This time round, however, the summit was expanded to include Burundi and South Sudan. The two countries will now “be part and parcel of the projects”.
Tanzania was the only member of the East African Community (EAC) missing in Mombasa. The country’s absence becomes even more conspicuous when one considers that South Sudan is yet to be accepted as an EAC member.
Tanzanian Government officials who spoke to the Sunday Nation said the country did not get an invitation to attend either of the meetings.
“I have just confirmed that we were not invited to Mombasa just like we were not invited to the meeting in Entebbe,” said Tanzanian Government Spokesperson Asah Mwambene in a telephone interview on Thursday. Mwambene did not comment on any specific projects undertaken by the summit, adding that any projects touching on Tanzania’s interests would be addressed through the “proper forums in the EAC”.
An official with the ministry of Foreign Affairs who asked not to be named in order to speak freely on the matter, said that although Burundi and South Sudan had attended the meeting in Mombasa, they were not among the main repartees of the negotiations.
The ministry of Foreign Affairs official said Burundi and South Sudan had expressed interest to be part of the summit.
Therefore, he argued, the summit had technically not overlooked Tanzania by admitting new members within its ranks.
However, during the meeting last week, heads of state were quick to remedy this. Ministers were directed to make provisions “to integrate the Republic of Burundi and the Republic of South Sudan into the Summit”. Further, the two countries are to be included in the technical committees steering the projects proposed by the summit.
In June, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya agreed to jointly invest in a high-speed railway network to link the three countries. There are also talks to build an oil refinery in Uganda and to extend a pipeline that had been planned to link Kenya and South Sudan to Kampala and Kigali. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have also vowed to harmonise customs tax collection efforts at the Port of Mombasa.
During the meeting in Mombasa, the five countries in attendance agreed to extend the standard gauge railway to South Sudan and Bujumbura, Burundi.
However, the summit has engaged itself in more than just discussion over rail transport and oil infrastructure.
Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya adopted an agreement in which they vowed to accelerate regional integration.
Ministers from the three countries have been ordered to submit a progress report on the establishment of a single tourist visa valid in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda by October. They are also expected to start implementing immigration policies that will see national identification cards used as travel documents by January 2014.
These are initiatives that are already being pursued by the EAC in efforts to ease the movement of goods, capital and labour within the regional economic bloc. Mr Esipisu said that although Tanzania had not participated in the summit, its government had been informed of the agreements.
Further, EAC countries have adopted the principle of asymmetry which says that nations may adopt various measures on integration at varying speeds depending on their domestic, economic and political status. This means that countries that participated in the summit are empowered to accelerate the adoption of certain integration measures without the say-so of their partner states.
Tanzania’s absence from the summit may, nevertheless, emphasise the perception that the country is a lone ranger in the region’s economic integration despite hosting the EAC’s headquarters.
The country has often taken a cautious stance on some integration measures.
There have also been trade-related tensions between Tanzania and other countries in the EAC. Kenya, in particular, has often taken issue with Tanzania’s regulations over work permit fees.
The EAC secretariat last week sought to allay fears of a rift within the Community. During a press briefing in Arusha, EAC secretary- general, Dr Richard Sezibera, said trilateral and bilateral trade talks between some of the partner states would not weaken or break the community.
“The secretary-general of the East African Community said the community is not against having bilateral or trilateral arrangements among partner states in the overall context of the regional integration,” read part of a statement from the EAC.