Tanzania is proving to be a liability in EA integration

Saturday November 29 2008

It is time members of the East African Community called Tanzania’s bluff. Our southern neighbour has become a veritable impediment to integration and progress in the region.

Everytime a useful proposal is put forward, it throws a spanner in the works. Kenya, Uganda and the two candidate-members of the Community, Rwanda and Burundi, should simply shrug Tanzania off and forge ahead.

The latest Tanzanian objection is the proposal to allow the use of identity cards when crossing borders instead of the requirement for passports, which relatively few ordinary East Africans have anyway.

The effect of the Tanzanian veto is to limit the movement of people about, who in most cases are traders going back and forth. It is difficult to see the logic of Dar es Salaam’s objection.

At this rate, the dream of federation by 2013 will remain dead as long as Tanzania is allowed to dictate terms.

Tanzania has for many years been consumed by a large deceit of thinking it is more important than it actually is.

Basically, it still lives in a time warp where it is forever harping on its old credentials of being a linchpin of the liberation struggles of southern Africa.

WITHOUT DOUBT THIS WAS A historically important role. But the world of today is being shaped not by re-living the progressive glories of the 60s but by learning to adapt to fast-changing economic trends of today.

Tanzania is dirt poor, its economy a fraction of Kenya’s. Further, it lacks the dynamism and skills to drive its economy forward at the pace of its neighbours. Even tiny Rwanda has a better capacity than can be said of Tanzania.

The latter’s prickly sense of wanting to be alone is sadly misguided. Regional prosperity depends on the exchange of skills that free movement of peoples and investment across borders allows.

It is myopic to think Kenyans who venture into Tanzania are only going to take away Tanzanian jobs and opportunities. They are bringing skills, money and enterprise which they cross-pollinate in Tanzania.

It is also wrong to fear that Kenya’s more developed economy is a threat to Tanzania’s and thus should be kept at bay.

That argument flies in the face of all known precedents. Mexico knows the immense benefits it reaps from the North America Free Trade Association (NAFTA) even though its economy can nowhere be compared with the United States’ or Canada’s.

Likewise countries like Slovakia or Croatia would not have been clamouring to join the European Union to be in the company of more advanced members like France and Germany.

But the cost-benefit ratio in such situations favours the poorer members.

Of the leaders of the East Africa Community, President Yoweri Museveni is by far the most far-sighted on this question of integration, He is surely right in urging those countries for the idea to go ahead on their own and cast off the laggards.

One country cannot and should not be allowed to hold the process of integration hostage. Another leader who is emerging as a real visionary is Rwanda’s President, Mr Paul Kagame.

He has already okayed the abolition of work permits for Kenyan professionals going to work there. Kenya too, has agreed on a similar waiver for Rwandan job-seekers.

Kenyans who have been in Tanzania know the great difficulties of getting a local work permit.

Working without one in that country is a highly perilous game, as the infamous deportations of Kenyans from there that were carried with utmost malice routinely attest.

Tanzania greatly likes to be recognised for her ‘internationalist’ policies, with her leaders spending more time strutting the world than they do in their own country, though the facts show they are quite parochial.

TANZANIA’S GENERALLY CONFUSED posture comes out in its obsession to belong to the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

There is probably less of an economic rationale for this fling than there is a political one. Nothing gladdens Tanzania’s heart than to be seen to be close to South Africa.

But things have surely changed since the days of the liberation struggle. Other than a broadly progressive political outlook, the two countries have very little in common.

***

Elephants can be a fairly resourceful lot. Indian farmers, fed up with the destruction of crops caused by the marauding beasts, came up with what they thought was a final solution.

They tied bells around necks of the elephants so that they would get alerted when the animals strayed into the farms.

Kids play, thought the elephants. They struck on the idea of first urinating on the soil, then making a puddle of mud which they would push into the bell and jam it.

The elephants would then wander into the banana plantations and feed up to their heart’s desire.

Advertisement