Tuesday, October 7, 2008



Juma Kwayera
The Standard

Last week’s announcement that East African Community members had finally agreed to remove lingering barriers to free movement of labour, goods and services besides easing residency restrictions on citizens of member states was, in theory, a major breakthrough towards regional economic integration.

Caution is urged on the part of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi’s understanding of Tanzania’s resolution last week it would no longer place hurdles in the way of East African migrant workers.

In a press release on Wednesday, the EAC said the removal of restrictions would finally pave the way for easy cross-border movement of goods and people.

"The article on the right of residence is now reinstated providing, among others, that the citizens of the East African Community who are nationals of other partner states shall have the right of residence in the host partner states for the purposes of seeking and carrying out an economic activity or employment," the resolutions says in part.

Since the inception of EAC, Dar es Salaam has left no doubt it is averse to the project it perceives as a ploy to exploit its resources by the more aggressive and streetwise neighbours.

Balance of resources

But the scenario has been changing. Until Uganda struck oil in the south, Tanzania was the only country in the region with the potential to produce oil. Kenya too is on course to striking oil near Lake Turkana in the north. The balance of resources — as it were — was boosted when Kenya’s sprawling Eastern Province was confirmed to have some of the largest, but cheapest to mine, coal deposits in Africa. Apart from Tanzania, mineral mapping of the rest of the region is still at its infancy, although history shows south-western Uganda and parts of Burundi and Rwanda, which neighbour the mineral-rich DR Congo, are endowed with valuable minerals.

This is true of Kenya’s Western, Nyanza and Coast provinces, where exploratory work has been in progress. But this is nothing compared with Tanzania’s vast resources consisting of gold deposits, diamonds, tanzanite, coal, oil, copper and uranium, among others. In spite of the wealth, Tanzania has the lowest income per capita and one of the highest poverty indices.

To protect the resources, Tanzania has tended to be hostile to its neighbours — an ingrained xenophobic philosophy that now runs deep into the national psyche. That is why the announcement that Dar was relaxing residency restrictions came as a major surprise. More significantly, it came at a time when resentment of Tanzanians across the region is peaking. There is no cause for celebration yet as the truth of the assurance will emerge when Tanzanian National Assembly discusses the matter later this year. This is why the country’s Minister for EAC Affairs Mohammed Aboud could not make a firm undertaking.

Expatriates required

The minister told a Common Market Protocol meeting held in Bujumbura, Burundi, from September 20-27, that while in principle Dar es Salaam does not object to foreigners working in the country, the number must match the opportunities for which expatriates are required.

"…If it decided that the decision will serve national interests, then it would be fine. If not, it will have to be looked into afresh," said Aboud.

The equivocation in this statement is telling. The thrust of Aboud’s delivery on Dar’s aversion to the regional bloc has echoes of how in late 2004, when President Jakaya Kikwete as Foreign minister kicked off a silent campaign against EAC. Delegated by retired President Benjamin Mkapa to look into how Tanzania would fit into the expanded market of 100 million — before Rwandan and Burundi welled the population to 120 million last year — Kikwete advised against kuingiza shingo kwenye mkenge (placing one’s neck on the guillotine). Unencumbered trade, he advised, would stifle the country’s nascent industries.

Deflated economy

The reasoning was that the more skilled Kenyans and Ugandans would swamp its territory and grab all the national resources. With research and exploration results showing strikingly identical distribution of natural resources across the region, the dearth of skills Tanzania would have used to energise its perennially deflated economy is likely to persist.

The next round of negotiations on Common Market Protocol starts in Kampala, Uganda, today.