Tuesday, August 5, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
August 4, 2008

Kenyans must work at it more than ever before. They have to put in the extra man-hours to regain the trust of ordinary Tanzanians. The brotherhood of the 1950s and ‘60s when the two neighbors fought against colonialism is long gone and dead with the old generation. Most Tanzanians deeply suspect, resent, fear and loathe Kenyans. It is a deep rooted mental block that will take time to unblock.

Because they hate Kenyans for all sorts of reasons, they would rather tell unnecessary lies to a Kenyan in a discussion, however, when cornered, the man from bongo land would spit venom that has been part of the national psyche since the Nyerere- Kenyatta fallout in the 1970s.

Talk to any Tanzanian on the street, in the academia or in a corporate boardroom; chances are that he will oppose a possible East African political federation in the near future. When pressed to cite reasons for this resistance to a political union, it will almost certainly be the fear of Kenyans coming over to take everything from jobs to businesses and land. Interestingly, Tanzanians tend not to resent Ugandans and Rwandans with the same fury!

In the national psyche of an ordinary Tanzanian, a Kenyan is a thief, a robber and generally an incorrigible corrupt land grabber that cannot be trusted as a neighbor. Tales of Kenyan land clashes among ethnic communities in the Rift Valley and Coast provinces have not helped things either.

There is a popular joke in Tanzania that when a Kenyan shakes the hand of a Tanzanian, the Tanzanian must count his fingers thereafter to determine if his fingers are all intact!

During the Nyerere- Charles Njonjo confrontations in the late 1970s leading to the breakup of the East African Community, Julius Nyerere made the mistake of criticizing Kenya’s economic policy that was modeled on capitalism. In his mind, Nyerere saw this as an unfair system that would render more Kenyans poor while producing a few rich capitalists at the top. Nyerere saw this as exploitation of man by man; what he candidly referred to as a “man-eat-man” society. This phrase so incensed Charles Njonjo ,then Kenya’s Attorney General who was virtually running the Kenyatta government, prompting him to respond to Nyerere with a quip that if Kenya was a “man-eat-man” society, Tanzania then was a “man-eat-dog” society!
These are the unkind remarks that are engraved in the hearts of Tanzanians and have been passed on through folklore from generation to another with equal potency.

As it is, since fast-tracking the EAC political federation stalled in mid 2007 after a review of the very project by the Summit of Heads of member states, what may fast- track our regional integration is not a hurried political union but a return to the era of our Common Services of the 1960s when the region, though under colonial rule, enjoyed free travel across our borders, common railway, air and road transport systems, telecommunications, customs and postal services. That was the era we enjoyed a common electricity grid, a common currency and a common education system.

The moment East Africans will realize that they can drive their cars, lorries and buses across the region from Iringa to Nairobi, Mandera and Entebbe to Bujumbura and Kigali, citizens of the region will not bother whether we have one president or not. If anything, it is the freedom of movement and services on reliable transportation and communication networks that will spur economic growth.

As it is, the first three years of the East African Customs Union have seen Tanzanian exports to Kenya growing by 400% compared to Uganda’s export to Kenya at 600% over the same period. Yet this is happening at a time when the borders are not yet open. It is a good indication that when the Common Market and Common Currency are launched, East Africa’s economies will give Kenya a run for its money.

Presidents Kibaki, Kikwete and Museveni may not see a return to the good old days of the East African Common Services however, it is their duty and responsibility to put structures in place to make sure the process is not derailed again once they are gone.

It is time we invested more executive powers in the EAC Secretariat, the East African Legislative Assembly and the East African Court of Justice as a first step to strengthening our regional institutions.