Awareness lacking on customs union and common market

I am going to step into the muddy water that is the relationship between Tanzania and Kenya, as well as between Tanzania and the five members of the East African Community. But before I do that, I suggest that you find/if you have not yet, and read a book titled; “The Shackled Continent.”

I am going to step into the muddy water that is the relationship between Tanzania and Kenya, as well as between Tanzania and the five members of the East African Community. But before I do that, I suggest that you find/if you have not yet, and read a book titled; “The Shackled Continent.”

The Economist Reporter Robert Guest, like so many before him writes about the mess that has been Africa since the end of colonialism, he attempts as much as only a journalist can, to ask; “Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the last three decades. Why?”

The book is not likely to show you much more that you have not read elsewhere, nevertheless, it is rich with dozes of information that can come in handy, while you have a pub/living room/class/garden or roadside chat under a tree shade about Africa.

First, to tell you briefly about the book; the general idea that Guest discusses, is that Africans lack property rights or any awareness about it, have not experienced economic integration in small part due to our tribal tendencies and its evils, and have an obsession with land that borders on religion.

Yet, we just get pleasure in the perceived respect of owning land not necessarily using it to access any meaningful financial services that can create capital, and spur investments for development.

This is the same belief that my forefathers had in owning many heads of cattle but continued to live in grass thatched houses, and died of malaria.

I was thinking of this book recently when I received an email from a Tanzanian friend. The message was a long opinion about his concerns in regard to the East African Community.

To take you to the message I received from my Tanzanian colleague, he was reacting to a Kenyan media story concerning Tanzania’s reluctance in fast tracking the East African Community and all its frameworks.

Like all the five members in the group using a similar passport, a single customs union, single currency and all the prerequisites for economic integrations.

The Kenyan story, allegedly had alluded to Tanzania being a ‘poor dirty’ country, and that Kenyans spoke ‘better broken English’ than the Tanzanians and would therefore be better prospects for business.

The Tanzanian was so bitter in his reply that with pure African emotion wrote; “If defending our great country means the death of the federation, so be it!” He went on to add that Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Uganda are only motivated by the desire to grab Tanzanian land rather than trade, be mutually benefiting neighbours or even share their own resources with Tanzania.

According to him, Tanzania’s land will be fleeced by the other members of the EAC, the other countries have acute land shortage and Tanzania is the answer as it is the biggest country among the five and has a relatively small population.

The relationship between Tanzania and Kenya is a complicated affair, it is especially complicated if you are a Rwandan writing about it.

Seeing as it is that Rwanda has been the most vocal and active member of the EAC, we were invited to the EAC late and we were given a set of conditions to fulfil and reforms to undertake so as to access full membership to the bloc.

As a result, the government introduced massive reforms to be able to join not only the EAC, but do well in The World Bank Business reforms, and put in place the prerequisites for joining The Commonwealth family as well.

Because of this, Rwanda’s overzealous ambition for reforms was seen as despair by many in the bloc. And considering that only 15 years ago, there was Genocide in Rwanda, which claimed over a million people, it was/is simply and conveniently argued that we are too many to fit in the country, and therefore we are joining these blocs to reduce population pressure.

Therefore, for a Rwandan to attempt to tell a Tanzanian to relax that we are not after your land is a tough call.
But in the larger scheme of things, Tanzania and Kenya have a very complicated relationship.

In my limited experience visiting and working in these countries, this relationship is basically made intriguing because of the crucial tourism industry.

In this regard, Tanzania has some of the world’s best and largest collection of natural tourist attractions in terms of game parks, lakes, and history as well as having their capital on the ocean.

On the other hand, Kenya with less natural tourist attractions has expert management that markets their tourism in the country as a pillar of the economy.

Yet the Kenyan tourism industry, to a large degree benefits from being closer to Tanzania’s wealth of natural God made beauty like Kilimanjaro, exploiting the Serengeti as well as the elegant and prized Ngorongoro crater to attract high end tourists.

This nature of business has continued for a very long while where Kenya uses Tanzania’s natural blessings to attract tourists and the tourists spending all their money in Kenya rather than Tanzania.

Tanzanian politicians on the other hand saw this as an opportunity; they developed the mining industry at the expense of other sectors of the economy and turned national anger towards Kenya.

The mining industry is first of all an expensive one as it is capital intensive, it employs a small fraction of locals and is further riddled with corruption bugs everywhere.

The rhetoric was first, they earn millions of dollars in tourism which would be coming to Tanzania and now have ganged up with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi marketing the EAC? They only want your land. So the anger of Tanzanians against the EAC idea while misplaced is justified.

Even the land that is politicized is a misrepresentation of the reality, a large part of Tanzania’s land covering huge expanses in the west of the country is not ideal for any agriculture; it is lacking in water and is invested with herds of mosquitoes.

The view that other members of the EAC are short of land for their people is a popular one in Tanzania, many in this country believe that the EAC is a project aimed at hoodwinking Tanzanians into loosing their land.

It believed in many EAC circles that this idea has frustrated negotiations in the progress of the EAC unfortunately, and at some point Tanzania, in an apparent show of protest joined the South African Development Cooperation to target investments from the wealthy South Africa, booming Botswana and emerging Malawi, even if this did not stop Kenya being the biggest investor in Tanzania after Britain.

According to highly credible regional business publication The Ratio magazine, “Kenya remains one of Tanzania’s largest investors – in fact; the country has more investments in Tanzania than South Africa, according to the 2007 investment records from the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC).

Britain had 595 projects worth USD 115m, with at least 232,030 jobs. In the same year, Kenya had 249 projects valued at USD958.21m, employing 37,511 people.”

The British investments are in the mining sector which mainly benefits politicians and technocrats who are not really Tanzanians, and most earnings from this sector is repatriated while the Kenyans invest in consumer services like banks, hotels and shopping malls that benefit regular Tanzanian folks.

Tanzania is itself benefiting from the EAC already, Ugandans have opened their schools for students from Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi to access these quality services, while Rwanda-which is in dire need of expert labour has opened her doors to expatriate

Tanzanians to work there in technical capacities.
Regional EAC trade has been increasing since the customs union was launched in 2005, and should continue to rise as internal tariffs come down to 0% in January at the onset of a fully fledged Customs Union, also many companies have moved into Tanzania to take advantage of its port access and borders with growing markets such as Malawi and Zambia.

As the customs union becomes a reality next year, the EAC secretariat needs to get out of hotel rooms and the politics of travel allowances to the field.

There’s urgent need to sensitize East Africans about, what the mutual benefits of the union is about and go beyond the politics of blind and sentimental nationalism.

And talking about land, Tanzania is now in negotiations to sell 1,000 square kilometers (386 sq miles) to South Koreans and leasing 500,000 hectares of farmland in Tanzania to Saudis to grow rice and wheat, which means the country has already decided to deal land, therefore the system there needs to depoliticize EAC and land.