Tanzania’s new president John Pombe Magufuli assumed the rotational chairmanship of the East African Community (EAC) recently in Arusha, Tanzania. The ascendency of Magufuli to the helm of the regional bloc with a population of 169 million people should reinvigorate the speedy process of integration at a time when Tanzania has reportedly chosen to “go slow” on the issue of federation.
In response to Tanzania’s slow-paced approach to the fast-tracking of the EAC Federation, some parties coined the phrase “coalition of the willing”, meaning some countries could proceed with the agreed timelines as per the schedule of the integration process, and leave out Tanzania. At a certain point, Tanzania’s former president Jakaya Kikwete expressed concern at one of the sessions of the Tanzanian Parliament to the effect that other EAC countries were commissioning mega infrastructural projects without Tanzania. Soon, debate ensued in the media as to whether the federation project could be realised without the active participation of Tanzania.
It’s worth recalling that Tanzania deliberately delayed her independence by a year so as she could attain independence within the same timeframe as Uganda and Kenya. So, instead of getting independence in 1960, Tanzania became independent in 1961, Uganda in 1962 and Kenya 1963. This was yet another gesture of brotherhood by the founding father Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere. Mwalimu Nyerere wanted Tanzanians to move at the same pace with their brothers and sisters in East Africa.
Tanzania has also been pivotal in liberating the African continent, including Uganda from the shackles of colonialism and dictatorship. A number of liberation movements used Tanzania as a rear base in fighting for their independence, especially countries which were under Portuguese colonialism such as Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau, etc. Also, the war that liberated Uganda from the bloody dictatorship of Idi Amin was launched from Tanzania and it was Tanzania that provided the troops that eventually toppled Amin in 1979.
Tanzania was also among the key founding members of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Even when other countries in the region have burned with anarchy and civil strife, Tanzania has proved a modicum of peace and stability following the leadership philosophy of Mwalimu Nyerere who cemented that nation together with one language and stable politics.
At the time, the EAC integration fast-tracking agenda gained momentum, a survey was commissioned in Tanzania and it was revealed that 80 per cent of Tanzanians were not in favour of the federation. Some of the reasons advanced in this poll were that most Tanzanians feared losing their land to land grabbers in the region. Another reason was that the Tanzanians feared being assimilated into ethnic politics of Kenya and the “life presidency” project of Uganda, which has no presidential term limits. However, these fears were later to be downplayed by politicians in Tanzania who would later suggest that “Tanzanians were in favour of the federation, only that they needed to go at a slow pace as opposed to the fast-tracking agenda”.
With the emergence of President Magufuli, who earned himself the nick-name “Bulldozer” when he was Works minister, the integration agenda should gain momentum, if we are to recall his threats to sack technocrats at the EAC Secretariat who are slack at their job. Basing on his stellar performance in the short period he has occupied State House in Dar-es-salaam where he has initiated a raft of radical changes, we get the optimism that East Africa is on a steady path to full and accelerated integration.
President Magufuli’s new energy is what is needed to unlock the immense socio-economic benefits that would accrue from a fast-tracked integration process. For instance, under the LAPSSET Project, EAC countries are undertaking multi-billion dollar joint-projects ranging from transport (Standard Gauge Railway, airports, super-highways) to oil and gas infrastructure (refinery and pipeline).
Mr Akampurira is team leader, African Leadership Forum. email@example.com