“Coalition of the Willing” and Tanzanian Isolation: Interests, Cooperation and Competition

What ails the East African Community (EAC)? Recent activities at the summit level suggest that there is trouble brewing in the implementation of the EAC treaty. Presidents of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda have demonstrated vigour in the process of political federation that appears not to sit well with Tanzania’s president. His Excellency Jakaya Kikwete complained that the federation process was being done prematurely; that there are laid out procedures in the treaty that were being ignored. In this brief analysis, I intent to show what the major issues are in light of three concepts: interests, cooperation and competition.

In recent months, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda have increasingly been making decisions on important projects without the presence of their partners Burundi and Tanzania. However it is Tanzania that appears to be more vexed about this issue than Burundi. The president gave a vicious critiques of the so-called ‘coalition of the willing’ in which he posed the question ‘who then is unwilling?’ In an address to the Tanzanian Parliament, he complained that Tanzania was being excluded from projects it had already made clear indications that it would participate in.

Trilateral decisions were made by the Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda on some important projects within the EAC. These decisions related to the construction of a modern railway, a refinery in Uganda and a pipeline that connects it to other EAC states, a customs territory, common visa and the fast tracking of the political federation. President Kikwete intimated that he had expressed a solid desire for Tanzania to participate in these projects. He also took great exception to the last point as the treaty requires a setting up of a monetary union before political federation; something that has yet to be done.

So why this move by the ‘coalition of the willing?’ President Kikwete had a number of answers that ranged from his personality to perception that Tanzania is dragging its feet on political federation. In this analysis, this last point is poignant. Though President Kikwete vehemently denied that Tanzania is dragging its feet on the matter, this analysis views it as not being entirely accurate. To support this, it will look at the history especially the collapse of the first community as well as some salient points in international political economics.

There was once a community in East Africa whose aspirations was to bring three east African states in political union. These countries were Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. However many irreconcilable perceptual and ideological issues bedeviled this community and eventually it collapsed in 1977. Among these issues was the economic strength of one of the partners: Kenya. Kenya, in comparison with the other two, had a greater investment portfolio owing to foreign capital (See Colin Leys, Underdevelopment in Kenya). Therefore the other countries were ill prepared to compete with its industries on a level playing field.

For students of international political economy, it is trite knowledge that liberalization of markets favours the strongest member of the society of states that participates in the liberalization. This is largely because of economies of scale as more industrialized states can produce more cheaply than less industrialized states. This disparity has been witnessed in Africa after the liberalization campaign of the 90s that saw many industries fail to perform in the global markets.

In this analysis, it may not be in Tanzania’s national interest to rush into the federation if the economics do not make sense. One fear that occurs unpalatable is that Kenyan industries may swallow up the EAC markets and edge out Tanzania’s industries. Proof of this fear can be seen in how Kenya’s goods are taxed both in Tanzania and Uganda despite the fact good from these two countries attract zero customs duty in Kenya.

It may seem that this analysis is too cynical. However, its underlying hypothesis is that states rarely cooperate if they calculate that they cannot compete. In other words, states weigh their national interests first to measure whether these can be best met in cooperation or competition. In this case this analysis views it to be in Tanzania’s national interest to protect its industries as long as possible while building them up to compete with the rest in member states in the Community.

By the same token, Tanzania is also protective of two of two factors of production: land and labour. Immigration, employment and land appears to be a contentious issue in Tanzania. According to the a report (Wangwe Commission Report) these three issues rank highly in the minds of Tanzanians. It would then be highly likely that the Government of Tanzania would be cautious in opening it up this space to other east Africans until it is confident that the public opinion on this has solidified around this issue. No government would make policies that would hurt its own population. It is the view of this analysis that it is in Tanzania’s interest to stall the process until such a time that it feels comfortable that it will not be swallowed up.

On the other hand, we have the trilateral coalition. This analysis views this push to be a tactic rather than an end in itself. It would be foolhardy for any these states to think that it will be better without Tanzania on board, and this analysis does not see it in the interest of any of them that Tanzania pulls out. This tactic is meant to spur Tanzania into some kind of action. It appears to be meant to put Tanzania on the defensive; to create a situation where Tanzania would be spurred into action not because of its national interest but to save face.

The problem with this view is that it can seldom be proved as it relates to intentional conspiracy in that three sitting heads of state would sit, discuss and formulate a tactic for to prod Tanzania into action. Into the bargain, it fails to account to the seclusion of Burundi in these trilateral talks. Be that as it may, the importance of Tanzania in the Community is historical. After the collapse of the first EAC, Kenya had to find other routes to explore markets in southern Africa. Therefore it is hard to imagine that Kenya would adopt a foolhardy policy that would see Tanzania leave the Community leaving Kenya with fewer trading options. In other words, it is irrational.

A more salient point in these diplomatic spats is the exclusion of the people of east Africa. The treaty provides for a people driven process which means citizens of the five east African states. However fewer citizens are aware of this fact let alone informed on the inner workings of the Community and how it benefits them. This leads to apathetic commentaries on social media fanned mainly by skewed understanding of east African affairs. The only hope for the community is an enlightened citizenry to understand the interests of their leaders and those of the Community and make a choice for themselves.