The confiscation by Tanzanian authorities of passports belonging to members of a Kenyan team that was visiting the port of Tanga took many by surprise.
Ostensibly, it was Tanzania’s reaction to being locked out of an earlier meeting held in Nairobi to discuss Uganda’s oil pipeline route.
President Yoweri Museveni was the chief guest and his country, Uganda, the “beautiful maiden” being wooed by both Kenya and Tanzania to be the preferred route choice for the pipeline.
But this tit-for-tat is not new. It will be remembered that in 2015, Tanzania cut Kenya Airways’ flights from 42 to 14 per week (although this was later reversed) after Kenya denied Tanzanian tourist vans entry into the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. This was after Tanzania has denied Kenyan tour vans entry into its territory.
It was only recently that the regional paper, The EastAfrican, was allowed back into Tanzania, after a long hiatus. While these incidents may be unrelated, their frequency must be seen in the context of the competing interests that are only likely to intensify as the bloc navigates its way into the proposed political federation.
Clearly, it will get worse before it gets better and it will require dexterity to navigate the slippery route into a mature economic bloc. Safe arrival at that destination will require maturity and the spirit of give and take, especially on the part of Kenya, considered a key variable in the integration matrix. An important lesson to learn is that regional integration will never be a done deal; there must be continuous nurturing.
Until a few weeks ago, Kenya had thought the “girl with the oil” was already in the box, but the dashing, no-nonsense suitor in the name of John Pombe Magufuli seems to have done better than just send a few roses.
His approach may have signalled to Mr Museveni that they are of kindred spirit. Add to that Uganda’s 2008 experience with Kenya’s railway line and Tanga easily becomes a more attractive option. Kenya not only needs to up its game but also to accept that it is fine to win some and lose some.
Kenya will also need to appreciate that there will be new realignments even as the bloc readies itself for a political federation and should (as well as the other member states) be concerned about how much the citizens of the region are sold on this new project.
As the haggling over the newfound oil goes on, we should be asking ourselves what the envisaged federation will look like and whether the region’s residents are ready for such an arrangement. Are the individual states ready and willing to cede their national sovereignty and governance to one titular federal head overseeing security, the economy, and other aspects that would concern a diverse 150 million people with different languages and cultures? If an oil pipeline would raise the sort of heat we have witnessed, what will it be like to agree on who the political head of an EAC federation will be?
The 2004 Wako report proposed that the head of state of the EAC federation would either be one of the heads of state of the partner states, in which case, it would be rotational, or elected by the national parliaments plus the East African Legislative Assembly.
At a regional summit in Kigali last year, under the Northern Corridor’s “coalition of the willing”, Uganda led Kenya and Rwanda in pushing for fast-tracking of the political federation, with Mr Museveni reportedly insisting that even if the economic integration were successful, there were certain issues that could only be addressed under a political federation. Now that Tanzania is standing up to be counted, it means that the shape of the chessboard may need to change.
After an agreement is reached on the route of the Ugandan oil pipeline, the bigger task will be to begin to ponder what it will mean to have the other EAC leaders answerable to one among them in a political federation.
The days of winner take all ended with the defunct East African Community. In this new era, every member state must live and let live.