As the EAC Ordinary Summit convenes this month, it will be welcoming a new Club Member -President Magufuli who is almost half a year into his new job after sweeping into power overcoming perhaps the most competitive yet of Tanzania’s elections since the advent of multiparty in Tanzania.
By winning comfortably, Mr. Magufuli, then considered a rank outsider proved wrong the prediction by pundits that the ruling party CCM would suffer what its sister-KANU-of Kenya had suffered back in 2002 at the hands of the electorate…and despite initial skepticism from opposition voters, he seems to be winning his countrymen over (a recent poll shows his popularity has increased). This is attributed to the sweeping no-nonsense handling of issues of national importance; hospital stocks have been replenished and new equipment bought, under-performing administrators sacked and easy government lunches scrapped with unnecessary travel banned. He is himself yet to step out of the country as President. While his critics say these changes need to be institutionalized, Magufuli’ s broom, like that of his West Africa counterpart, General Buhari seems to be sweeping swift, furious and wide. His message seems clear though, that government must deliver for all Tanzanians. And that is a breath of fresh air even by regional standards.
But we argued in these pages just before the elections in October 2015 that Tanzania is not just any other country. It’s not Burundi. It’s as strategic as it is pivotal in the regional integration matrix. In terms of size, Tanzania is Kenya and Uganda combined. Its resource base perhaps only comparable to DRC’s. In simple terms, Tanzania is easily EAC’s big brother-if it chooses to be; in 1967, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta and Milton Obote of Uganda were together the founder leaders of the defunct EAC that collapsed a decade later and although the collapse was blamed on the lack of functional supportive institutions, many believe that mutual suspicion between its leaders dealt it the deathblow. Thankfully, with the revived EAC which came to being at the turn of the Century and has a Common Market now underway after the successful implementation of the Customs Union, many institutional structures including the EAC Secretariat have been put into place to ensure consultative decision making and a keen monitoring and sharing of the benefits of integration. Decisions concerning many big issues are more collegial and consultative. This is good for regional integration.
It is for this very reason and perhaps even more why President Magufuli’s honeymoon with regard to regional presence needs to come to an end and quickly so. Tanzania remains vital in the EAC integration process, but there have been big decisions in the past on which the country was considered by its peers to prevaricate, forcing the other members to slow down, not show their preferences or pull back altogether for fear of offending Tanzania. Many believe it’s these mixed signals for example that may have led to the birth of the so called ‘’coalition of the willing’’ in 2013 when the EAC Member States needed to move ahead with matters touching on the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project in which Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda had great strategic interest. So great was the interest that South Sudan had decided it would not miss the EAC-SGR party and were it not for the country sliding back into war, a fast track mechanism for admission into the EAC was in the works for Juba.
Some think Tanzania may have seen the Northern corridor plan as a threat to its own ‘Central Corridor’ plan of linking the port of Dar es Salaam with the hinterlands of Burundi, Rwanda and DRC. Be it as it may, the diplomatic row was resolved and progress has been made.
But with the integration process now on an uptrend, especially with the coming into effect of the EAC Monetary Union and even the envisaged Political Federation (President Museveni told reporters during recent campaigns, that this was one of his main re-election agendas), it is vital that President Magufuli steps onto the regional plate. He needs to begin to ‘do stuff’ and influence things at the regional level. Equally important, Tanzanians as well as other EAC residents need to begin to ‘feel him’ and see his moves on the regional and international scene. For example, a ‘’Corruption –Free-Jumuiya’ Campaign by Dr Magufuli might just be what the doctor ordered for the region. He will also need to help break the notion of fear that Tanzanians have of their sisters from the region.
Tanzania has so much to offer. Food security experts for instance argue that Tanzania could easily feed the region (with food silos to spare) in a matter of one season if it decides to exploit its potential. It’s already meeting a great proportion of Kenya’s 1m MT annual maize deficit at a fraction of its potential while sufficiently meeting her own needs. The surface hasn’t even been scratched for its massive gas deposits.
However, the country like others in the region will require support with expertise and skills from outsiders to exploit its vast resources for the benefit of her people. The EAC Common Market Protocol already offers provisions for the free movement of people, goods and services especially for the EAC residents. But these provisions may not be of any good without bold leadership from the top. President Magufuli has already shown at the national level that it won’t be business as usual. Now the region waits with bated breath for him to bring that same game plan and influence to its level. It is time to show your hand Mr. President.