The more things change, the more they remain the same. Every once in a while this statement comes to life. In the past there was an East African Community that is now often spoken about with a mixture of nostalgia and regrets. Back then it was just made up of three countries and for a moment they did their best to cooperate and develop in harmony.
However at one point the capitalism in Kenya and the communism (Ujaama) in Tanzania made it seem like that marriage between people with clearly distinct life patterns that were silently ignored when the priest asked, ‘is there anyone with any reason as to why these two should not be joined together in holy matrimony?’
As the years progressed tensions between Kenya and Tanzania emerged and grew to that divorce point of irreconcilable differences with some government officials in both countries exchanging regrettable words just like married people tend to when all that is left of their marriage is the certificate.
Uganda didn’t seem to have a big issue with the two big brothers and just watched silently as they fought and used Idi Amin as convenient excuse for the eventual breakup of the community. I have since learnt that because Uganda has no seaport, it remains a spectator each time these big brothers jump at each other’s necks.
First forward to the ‘new and improved’ EAC and we seem to be back to the situations that led to the collapse of the old EAC – sibling rivalry fuelled by economics between Kenya and Tanzania. The other day, the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority took the decision to cut the number of Kenya Airways flights between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam from 42 to a mere 14 per week.
The decision is hinged on the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority’s reluctance to grant a Tanzanian based airline, Fastjet rights to fly into Nairobi probably to protect the monopoly enjoyed by the Kenyan airline, KQ as it is known in aviation circles. This came on the heels of Kenya banning Tanzanian tour vans from accessing the Jomo Kenyatta airport.
Articles about the dilemma have their comments section full of sharp exchanges between Kenyans and Tanzanians. The common theme being that of Kenyans calling their Tanzanian brothers cry babies and spoilers of the EAC while the Tanzanians insist the Kenyans should drop their big brother/bully mentality and treat the Tanzanians with some respect.
There is indeed no doubt that Kenya’s huge economy will always come with bullying tendencies that neighbours will complain about. Like Germany in the EU, Kenyan economic might is at every corner of the region. From seeing KQ at all the airports in the region to keeping our money in KCB and Equity only withdrawing some to spend at Nakumatt or pay insurance premiums at Britam or UAP.
Tanzania is a fast growing economy and probably no longer feels as inadequate as it was during Nyerere’s days.
Kenya is still a giant but some of its sectors like tourism have been left on bended knees thanks to the terror attacks on its coastal attractions. However these tit for tat actions will only make life worse for everyone. For example, reduction of KQ flights is already affecting Zanzibar’s tourism further worsening the tensions between the Island and the mainland Tanzania.
Our big brothers need to sit down and discuss these issues and reach a workable compromise. I know they had a meeting on the aviation issue but failed to agree but I am sure it is not the last and hope something agreeable emerges eventually.
Tanzania is in an election year and like is always the case all over the world, inward looking and almost xenophobic politics tends to take the day. So these issues may drag on until we have a new government in Tanzania.
This East African cake ought to be shared not fought for. The good thing is that both of them can look a little outside for more muscle. Tanzania has one leg in SADC while Kenya seems to be enjoying dominating the economy of South Sudan while its LAPSSET agenda will see it enjoying more fruits with Ethiopia. A stable Somalia will also be good news for Kenya.
Let us not make the mistakes of the old EAC and tear up something very promising over egos. A successful EAC is a worthy gift to our elders Benjamin Mkapa, Daniel Arap Moi and President Yoweri Museveni who must have had grand dreams for their grandchildren.