Tanzania has a lot to lose if it doesn’t improve relations with its neighbours

Tanzania’s John Magufuli greets ruling party members after being declared winner of the presidential elections. Reuters/Sadi Said

As the dust settles after Tanzania’s hotly contested elections – at least on the mainland, if not Zanzibar – the new leadership of East Africa’s largest and most populous state has stark choices to make at home and in the region.

In Tanzania’s closest presidential race ever, the governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi‘s (CCM) presidential candidate, John Pombe Magufuli, won more than 58% of national votes cast. His closest rival, Edward Lowassa, garnered 40% of national votes under the opposition UKAWA coalition.

Magufuli’s win has not led to a transfer of power. His party is bound to govern for the next five years. But a change of guard within CCM’s top leadership should provide an opportunity to reassess Tanzania’s role within the East Africa Community (EAC) – in particular, how regional integration can be deepened and widened.

Possible routes to follow

The three likely scenarios open to Magufuli’s government as it re-evaluates its engagements in the community are:

  • to maintain the lukewarm approach, at times bordering on isolationism, as perfected by his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete;

  • to formulate a new policy for Tanzania’s involvement with other EAC member states; and

  • at the worst, to pull the country out of the EAC.

These policy choices should be understood within the context of the previous regime’s indecisive approach to matters East African. During Kikwete’s tenure, Tanzania consistently had troubled relations with other members of the regional bloc.

These can be attributed partly to personality difference between Kikwete and his peers in the region. But equally significant is the fact that Tanzania has been cautious in its approach to deepening regional integration.

The reasons for this are complex and rooted in post-colonial history. Immediately after its independence, Tanzania adopted socialist policies, aligning itself with China. Kenya on the other hand took a more capitalist approach.

The undercurrents of these ideological cleavages still linger.

In Uganda’s case, its unstable history characterised by military coups and counter coups has continued to undermine its ability to forge a transparent democratic culture, particularly multiparty democracy.

Tanzanians are lukewarm about integration

The Tanzanian ruling elite’s lukewarm stance to a political federation has trickled down to ordinary Tanzanians. They have the lowest support for a political federation. This can mainly be attributed to a strong sense of nationalism, land ownership, and negative stereotyping of their regional peers.

Tanzanians’ strong sense of nationalism can be traced back to the country’s past. As a socialist state it was suspicious of more open economies, even in its neighbourhood. As it began to liberalise its economy, Tanzanians have continued to view their neighbours as more aggressive, and in competition for their jobs and land.

Tanzania’s indecisiveness about regional integration has continued to cast a shadow over the future prospects of the EAC. As a result it has been left out of significant regional decisions. This was evident when Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and later Burundi joined forces to fast track key regional infrastructural projects without Tanzania’s involvement.

The determination of this “coalition of the willing” was further illustrated when they committed to political integration by 2016, with or without Tanzania. This was made clear at the northern corridor heads of states summit in Kigali earlier this year.

A great deal is at stake

Should Magufuli continue Kikwete’s lonewolf approach, Tanzania will face further sidelining. It is also likely to suffer the most economically and even politically.

The future of a number of its expansive infrastructure projects, such as the Bagamoyo port and Tanga railway, illustrate this well.

Tanzania’s aim is to be a service hub for the region’s landlocked states. Bagamoyo is expected to be the biggest port in East Africa, rivalling Kenya’s Mombasa. It is expected to serve mainly Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, which have been relying on Mombasa.

The Tanga railway line will mainly serve inland Tanzania, but is eventually expected to connect to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

But the viability of the projects and their ability to serve the region depends very much on Tanzania working with its neighbours. As things stand it may be left out on the periphery because of its hesitant approach to integration and the willingness of other member states to forge a working coalition.

In addition, the projects are likely to contribute less to Tanzania’s economic growth and development should it reduce its engagement with EAC. This is because it would no longer enjoy the financial and economic privileges of belonging to a regional common market. This includes access to the free movement of goods and services.

Tanzania also belongs to the Southern African Development Community (SADC). SADC is made up of mostly southern African states. It was formed in 1980 to advance political liberation and transformed to a regional economic block in 1992.

Tanzania officially quit the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in September 2000. It feared opening it’s market to COMESA countries, and abolishing internal tariffs, would negatively impact its economic growth and development.

But Tanzania is not likely to gain much from either of them as they are dominated by South Africa. Put simply, the country’s geopolitical position within EAC provides it with a perfect opportunity to benefit much more from the regional body compared with the others.

It’s therefore important that Magufuli makes serious commitments to strengthening relations with other EAC member states, and to actively participate in regional integration efforts.

The personalities of EAC leaders notwithstanding, it is important that Magufuli commits himself to work with the EAC. This will help strengthen and deepen integration efforts for the benefit of the region’s more than 145.5 million people.

The EAC prides itself on being the most ambitious regional integration process in Africa. It should strive to succeed against all odds. This will provide a benchmark for other regional economic blocs to unite as outlined by the 1991 Abuja treaty and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 on continental integration.

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