/ 7 November 2013

Tanzania ponders regional ouster

Rwandan and Tanzanian Presidents Paul Kagame
Rwandan and Tanzanian Presidents Paul Kagame (left) and Jakaya ­Kikwete (right) have had bitter disagreements. (AFP)

Tanzania's efforts to shore up its membership of the now troubled East African Community (EAC) have been further undermined by ­contradictory statements from ­government ­officials.

Speaking in Bujumbura on Saturday last week, George Mkuchika, the minister of state for good governance in the president's office, said Tanzania was ready to play its part in making sure that the region prospered.

Mkuchika's statement at the end of the regional ministerial committee meeting held in Burundi came barely three days after East African Co-operation Minister Samuel Sitta told Parliament in Dodoma that government officials had been directed not to attend regional meetings until there was clarity on the status of Tanzania in the EAC, following recent tripartite meetings championed by Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda.

A section of MPs, most of them from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, advised the government to withdraw from its membership of the EAC. The statements coincided with President Jakaya Kikwete's decision to snub an invitation to the recent Transform Africa technology summit in Kigali in Rwanda, partly because, according to officials, it coincided with the third infrastructure summit between Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda taking place in that city to which he had not been invited. It confirms what observers see as a lack of trust among partner states.

Two weeks ago, Tanzania's ministry of foreign affairs and international co-operation and the ministry of East African co-operation renounced trilateral talks and deals involving Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, saying they were against the spirit of togetherness and the EAC protocol. They said the deals being signed were illegal because they had not been endorsed by all EAC members.

In recent months Tanzania has been sidelined in a number of meetings involving EAC members.

Heads of state from Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda met in Kampala, Uganda, in July – where they agreed to implement several regional infrastructure projects.

During the Kampala meeting the three presidents also agreed to look at ways of accelerating the establishment of a political federation. And they discussed the possibility of easing the movement of people via the use of national identity cards, as well as introducing a single tourist visa.

Experts from the three countries have also held meetings during which they agreed to implement projects that include a 2  784km railway line from Mombasa via Kampala to Kigali, as well as an oil pipeline from South Sudan via Uganda to Kenya.

Unconfirmed reports say the three nations accuse Tanzania of dragging its feet in implementing the EAC political federation simply because it also belongs to the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

However, Tanzania is known for its reluctance to form an EAC political federation spearheaded by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Speaking in an interview with a Tanzanian radio station, Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe accused the three countries of rolling out their plans in secrecy, saying that, when the time came, Tanzania would table the matter in the country's Parliament to decide its fate in the community.

"Let them not discuss things in secrecy … if they can't continue with us, let them tell us or divorce us, we are waiting for it," the minister said.

Membe also suggested that the deteriorating relationship might have been caused by a recent spat between Kikwete and his Rwandese counterpart, Paul Kagame.

He confirmed that the leaders of the three countries had, at different times, been unhappy about Tanzania's membership of SADC.

"These people need to wait … you can't rush to form a political federation while you are not even close to monetary union," said Membe.

He said some members within the EAC were not happy about Tanzania's decision to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the M23 rebel group, which some international organisations claim was supported by Rwanda.

Sylivester Ernest is the 2013 ­winner of the David Astor Journalism Award. He is on attachment at the Mail & Guardian.