The banning of the regional paper ‘The East African’ from circulation in Tanzania a few months ago, and shortly later, cutting down Kenya Airways’ weekly flights to the country from forty two to fourteen, (though later reversed), took many by surprise especially those who follow and believe in what the EAC Common Market, now in its fifth year since the protocol came into being (and the broader regional integration process) is meant to help bring about-free movement of goods, capital, people and services.
In an era of accelerating regional integration and with Tanzania a founder member of the defunct East Africa Community that collapsed in1977 and then renewed efforts under the current EAC, Tanzania’s actions in respect of the integration process have at best been lukewarm. This explains why in recent years, perhaps frustrated with the country’s on-and-then-off again behavior, the other EAC members, under the leadership of the troika of Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame formed the ‘’coalition of the willing’’ to hasten the implementation of projects (like the Standard Gauge Railway-SGR) which have a regional scope and bearing and are deemed vital in deepening integration and enhancing regional trade. This move did obviously not go down well with Tanzania. And though the initial tensions that the move aroused may have somewhat been dissolved with time, the goodwill and feel-good factor around the integration process was somewhat dealt a dent.
To its credit, Tanzania has so far on the political front, (unlike its peers in the region) been a stickler to the constitutional two five year terms and hasn’t faced any election related skirmishes. Now, with the general election behind and President Magufuli now holding the reins of power, he must certainly be aware of the desire for change, that was obviously at the heart of the election, making it perhaps the mostly closely fought in the country’s history. If his early actions and sweeping changes are anything to go by and if he anchors those actions with the necessary institutional backing, then the country could well be on its way to achieving its potential.
And for good reason: Tanzania is no ordinary country; for starters, it is the biggest among its EA peers. It has natural resources perhaps closely comparable to DRC’s. It has vast and some of the best arable land in the region. Tanzania’s fertile Southern Highlands alone could in a matter of one season easily become the region’s bread basket; but even then, that is an opportunity among many others that the country is yet to embrace. At least not well enough to improve the fortunes of its populace while taking its regional leadership role. Instead as a country, it has in the past opted for a very cautious almost paranoid approach, treating its neighbors especially Kenya with suspicion and fear. Granted, Kenya’s capitalist mindset, memorably described by Tanzania’s founding President Julius Nyerere as a man-eat-man-society has not helped the course and is in complete contrast to Tanzania’s Ujamaa model. Even then, Tanzania has citizens like Rose Migiro and Ann Tibaijuka who have served at the highest global leadership level including at the UN. Ms Migiro was one of the top five CCM Presidential candidates from among whom Dr Magufuli was eventually chosen. Dr. Salim Salim served at the helm of the OAU now AU in the past. Other emerging leaders like the young, urbane and politically astute January Makamba represent the face of the new Tanzanian generation, many (about 70% of registered voters) who reportedly voted in the last election.
With the new bold world irreversibly on an integration and globalization tangent, Tanzania won’t afford to walk alone. Its own citizens desire and deserve more. Yet it will take leadership. Leadership that builds on its best virtues but which is also willing to sacrifice some of the shackles of fear that are holding back the country’s potential. It must take its rightful place at the table of regional integration and development agenda and benchmark against best practice. Essentially, Tanzania’s real fear is not from the region. It’s is from within Tanzania itself. And the new President must lead like he has already shown from the front and boldly so. He must inspire and help Tanzanians overcome their fears. The regional opportunity is too big and too good to be feared. If for nothing else, Tanzania could help pass to the region especially to Kenyans a cultural shift including a few lessons on how to be a little more polite. So we can all learn to say ‘’Naomba’ instead of ‘’Nataka sukari’ the next time we go to buy a packet of sugar from the local grocery shop.