Fast-tracking EA Political Federation: Tanzanians have reasons to be skeptical

*By Emmanuel Kihaule: *“THE people of East Africa should not be denied the
right to deliberate on the federation. Leaders come and go, but the people
will always be there.”

This is how President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania cautioned about the
fast-tracking exercise of the East African Political Federation during the 7
th Summit of the East African Community (EAC) in Arusha.

The President’s warning came at a time when majority of the people in the
region were still asking themselves about the place of the common man in the
whole process of regional integration.

According to him, it was necessary for the leaders in the region to seek
views of the East Africans before expediting EAC Political Federation.

“…people of East Africa (should be given) ample time for deliberation,” he
insisted while quoting a requirement under the Wako EAC Political Federation
Fast-Tracking Committee Report that suggested twelve months of people’s
consultation.

Soon thereafter the governments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda formed
National Consultative Committees that were assigned with the duty of
consulting people of the respective countries as far as fast-tracking of the
federation was concerned.

It is hard to imagine what would have happened if Kikwete never mentioned
this at the Arusha Summit.

Tanzania formed hers in November last year and which has just handed-over
its report to President Kikwete.

According to the report, about 80 percent out of 65, 000 Tanzanians
interviewed from all 26 country’s regions said that there is no need for
fast-tracking the political federation. Only 20.8 percent of the respondents
were in favour of it.

Explaining about the findings the Committee’s Chairman, Prof. Samuel Wangwe,
said that most of people interviewed expressed a number of concerns.

“Most people doubted whether neighbouring countries are democratic enough
and whether they uphold principles of good governance to warrant joining the
federation. Others suggested it is better to first solve union problems
before joining the federation,” he said in the report.

Besides, he added, majority of the respondent raised four concerns, which
according to them, were necessary to be given due attention for long-lasting
regional integration that will not benefit a section of people at the
expense of others.

These were namely; first, the economic differences between Kenya and
Tanzania, secondly the ability to enter into business competition especially
in the job market, thirdly the importance of building good economic
foundation and finally, ownership of land and natural resources.

Though some people might label the Tanzanians’ position on the fast-tracking
of the political federation as a clear act of ‘cowardice”, it is important
to respect their concerns as they hold water.

The EAC Secretary General, Juma Mwapachu, recently said that the resistance
to the idea most especially in Tanzania was a result of confusion between
fast-tracking the political federation and the fast-tracking of the process
towards political federation.

“(The idea is) to fast-track the process towards political federation and
not, as it has come to the surface, to fast-track political federation. This
is not a semantic issue,” he said adding:

“Indeed, the objectivity of the ultimate goal of the political federation,
which is inbuilt in the Treaty establishing the EAC, has suffered.”

Though Mwapachu would like us to believe that the two are different, with
due respect, it is quite obvious that they both have the same end
result-fast-tracking the political federation. Speeding-up the process
indirectly means attaining the political federation the soonest.

It is from this ground that many people still question about the interests
behind the current speed which continues to leave majority of people
ignorant of the daily developments in the EAC integration process.

Even Wangwe himself has mentioned in the report that more sensitization was
still needed in the whole process so as to accommodate people’s views that
will then be from an informed point.

For instance, last year media reports disclosed that years after the
adoption of the Custom Union Protocol which exempted taxes on certain goods
from the member states, small scale traders were still ‘smuggling’ some of
the exempted goods because of ignorance about the existence of the protocol.

Coming to the concerns raised by Tanzanians, who doesn’t know that there are
still a number of issues on good governance and democracy that need to be
addressed before the political federation is realized.

How can we think of a successful political federation among members if some
of the members don’t have a presidential term limit like it is now the case
in Uganda?

Yet still political and democratic processes both in Uganda and Kenya are
heavily tainted with tribalism.

Recently a former Nairobi University lecturer, Dr. Willy Mutunga, said that
tribalism and racism are the biggest factors hindering development within
EAC.

In his report titled *Ethnicity and Race: The Curse of the East African
Politics* Mutunga says that the region is being ruled by multi-racial and
multi-ethnic elite who divided the countries in tribal lines.

“Although many people do not accept that classes exist in the regional bloc,
they indeed exist,” he said during the inauguration of the report in June
this year here in Kampala citing Kenya where many did not know that the big
five communities controlled more than 70 percent of the electoral vote.

To Tanzanians, who have never known tribalism in their independence, this is
a major issue for raising eyebrows.

Again who doesn’t know that Kenya with its strong industrial base is
best-positioned to benefit more than the rest of the member states whose
industries are still in infancy?

Kenya belongs to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)
and by mid-last year out of the twenty member states, the country had trade
disputes with twelve of them mainly on accessibility of markets in the bloc.

There has also been pressure on Tanzania to withdraw from the Southern
African Development Community (SADC) on ground that it should join the
majority i.e. Uganda and Kenya and that membership to different economic
blocs could hamper the integration process.

Little do people suggesting this, who include academicians, government
officials and politicians, know that Tanzania’s membership to SADC besides
being economic, is also historical. Tanzania played a key role in the
liberation struggles throughout the whole of Southern Africa and thus it is
not that much easy to withdraw.

If the issue is for the countries to belong to one economic bloc then why
not Tanzania doing away with SADC and at the same time Uganda and Kenya move
out of COMESA so as to remain in EAC alone? But even that, will there be
fairness among the member states bearing in mind their differences in
economic development?

Sometime in May this year I met the Uganda’s Coordinator of the country’s
National Consultative Committee on fast-tracking of the Political
Federation, Dr. Stephen Besweri Akabway, here in Kampala and I had an
opportunity to ask him a few questions.

One of my questions centered on the Custom Union Protocol as to whether
Tanzania and Uganda would be industrialized enough to be able to compete
with Kenyan industries after the expiry of the present five-year arrangement
under which certain goods from Kenya are taxed whereas those from the former
countries trade freely.

He admitted that it was possible in any arrangement that some partners may
benefit more than others but according to him, every EAC member state stands
to benefit out of the regional integration in many ways.

When I asked him about any possibility for industrial base rearrangement in
all the EAC members so as to enable all member states to benefit mutually he
said that such a suggestion was once put forward in 1965 but Kenya refused
it despite both Tanzania and Uganda unanimously accepting it.

Coming to land issues, to date land has remained to be big problem in both
Uganda and Kenya and in many instances conflicts have ensured leaving behind
scores dead and massive destruction to property. A classical example are the
recent killings of people in western Kenya (Mount Elgon) besides which
property was also lost due to land disputes.

It is an open secret that poor and ineffective land policies in both Uganda
and Kenya have left a good number of people without land, majority being
squatters in their own countries. Much of the productive land is owned by a
few rich people.

I was not shocked when a senior lecturer from Nairobi University (name
withheld) ‘jokingly’ told me on the sidelines of the Nile River Day
celebrations late last year here in Kampala that the day free movement of
people will be allowed in the region ‘all the land in Tanzania would be
under the Kisii of Kenya (the tribe he belongs to) in a few months.’

In Tanzania virtually no one can say he is landless thanks to the country’s
land policy and laws which have enabled even the poorest of the poor to
possess land.

One wonders why the hurry in realizing the political federation while all
these issues and many more others are still pending. People’s views should
be respected and it is upon the leaders, no matter how ‘visionary’ they
think they might be, to involve people from the grassroots so as to create a
sense of ownership of the whole integration process.

As Kikwete said, leaders come and go but it is the people who will uphold
EAC. We don’t have to repeat the same mistakes that were committed at the
inception of the former EAC which crumbled in 1967 simply because of dispute
among the three leaders, among other factors.

Though the EAC Treaty talks of carrying-out a refendum in 2009, this is more
than late because most work would be accomplished by then meaning that it
won’t matter whether they say yes or no as the decisions would be in place
already.

The recent admission of Rwanda and Burundi into EAC is an example of areas
that views of people were sought.

All the developments in the integration process should originate from the
people as modern democracy requires. Member states should first clean their
houses before thinking of the Political Federation that even the countries
of European Union have never thought of despite having started the
integration process for over one hundred years now.

Ends.

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