Ever since the East African Community (EAC) 13th heads of state summit in Bujumbura in November, there have been attempts to cast Tanzania as the stumbling block in the way of broader and faster regional integration simply because the country advocates guarded approach to issues of land, common defence and political federation in deepened regional integration.
Some bloggers have been even more insolent with one calling the country timid, while another said when the hour comes, Tanzania will have to be dragged along panting and kicking as the globalised world no longer has room for small states.
Well, if Tanzania is a small state, I don’t know what to call countries like Vanuatu, whose total population is no larger than that of a district in Tanzania and some EAC member states which are no larger than regional administrations here.
It has often been said that something you do not know is like deep slumber. It is on record that Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s Founding President, was ready to delay the independence of Tanganyika, which was the first to shake off the chains of colonialism, so that the region could march to freedom as one federated state.
The idea was scoffed at by both Kenya and Uganda, with Buganda in particular, seeking guarantees about its status in a “United States of East Africa.”
Mwalimu had warned then that failure to federate at that nascent stage would make it even harder to do so in future when states would have sampled the tapestries of sovereignty. That was more than 50 years ago. How visionary he was!
All the same, in 1964 Tanganyika united with Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania. It is far from the best example of unions but it is the only one that has endured the longest in contemporary world history.
Whatever names that Tanzanians are called, be it timid fellows or reluctant suitors, at least they are more qualified than anyone in the region to talk about the merging of more than one state to form one country.
On that account alone, the rest of the region stands to benefit a lot by listening to what Tanzania has to offer by way of experience and extremely considered opinion regarding the formation of supra-nations and the cost of shedding sovereignty, which no other country in the region has attempted, save for the enthusiasms, which one Don from the University of Dar es Salaam calls “hurtling along like headless chicken.”
The issue of land was settled during the negotiation of the common market treaty, which became operational on July 1, 2010. Tanzania too has expressed the desire to approach political federation on a gradual process, which is clearly as per the treaty establishing the EAC and not “fast-tracking” the process, which was a dream project of some quarters within the region.
Tanzania too has every right not to accept to be dragged into wars that ran contrary to its national spirit for justifiable self-defence and protection of its territorial integrity. A year after the breakup of the former East African Community, Tanzania was forced to fight against the forces of Dictator Iddi Amin of Uganda that had invaded our country.
That war could have happened even when both Tanzania and Uganda were still members of the EAC for that did not rule out territorial ambitions of people like Iddi Amin.
It is very similar to the way Kenya and Uganda are currently locked in a senseless claim over a piece of rock on Lake Victoria called Minjingo Island.
It is only restraint of the highest order that has so far averted a military showdown by two EAC partners. Fine; we all know what to do with a perceived common enemy but in the event of war between two or more EAC partners, on whose side should the others be?
More tragic is the fact that East African integration is increasingly taking on more and more features of vulture capitalism and corporate raiding, in which some of the media outlets, purporting to represent progressive thinking are no more than bullhorns of entrenched business interests whose real objective is to make huge profits.
Making huge profits, without following due political process, is nothing but enslaving the people – including the very citizens of the countries now seen as representing progressive thinking and regional dynamism of the headless chicken type.
President Jakaya Kikwete spoke for all Tanzanians when he recently said that no one decides for Tanzania what the country should do. If anyone disagrees, then let them prove it and I know the people of this country have never lacked the spirit to resist domination.
The most important thing is for all the partner states to show mutual respect and accept the fact that partnerships are only formed as a result of tough negotiations. It is a maturity that the region needs as it seeks to stand out tall in the world comity of nations.