President Uhuru’s heydays as the most consequential East Africa’s politician appear to be ending with Tanzania’s John ‘the bulldozer’ Pombe Magufuli entry into the East Africa geopolitics late last year.
As Uhuru’s power recedes so is an outfit he and other East Africa leaders conjured to ‘fasttrack’ EAC integration without Tanzania which was then dragging its feet under President Jakaya Kikwete, a naturally slow leader. The ‘Coalition of the Willing’ comprised Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
The election of Magufuli has seen Tanzania increasingly assert her influence in East Africa affairs in a way that was ‘unexpected and unforseen’ (according to a Kenya government strategist) and which has already upsetted Kenya, the region’s de facto economic and political powerhouse. Tanzania seems to be keen to challenge the dominance of her northern neighbour more brazenly than never before.
Last week’s clinching of the oil pipeline deal with Uganda, which left a diplomatic rotten egg on the face of President Uhuru, who until now has been the region’s most significant player has rudely awaken Kenya, with the country seeking answers from the government how Kenya lost to Tanzania. To add insult to injury, while Magufuli left the negotiations to his ministers and ambassadors, for Kenya, Uhuru has been the central player, making trips to Uganda and hosting President Yoweri Museveni (who has a cult-like following among Uhuru supporters) in Nairobi.
The government has so far successfully downplayed the ‘loss’ of the oil pipeline deal, stating that it ‘agreed’ with Uganda’ to go ahead and construct its own oil pipeline. It is akin to saying you’ve agreed with co-sponsor of the trip to upcountry but who has now changed his mind that you will now sponsor the trip yourself.
Kenya’s diplomatic language obscured the true extent of loss of the oil deal, but other countries noticed, with Rwanda announcing it is letting go a joint rail infrastructure project with Uganda to pick one with Tanzania, which will now make more economic sense.
Kenya, in what appeared more as a publicity stunt than a real finding announced that Tullow oil has raised the quantity of its discoverable oil to 750 million barrels from 600 million, with the rider that this may go up to a billion barrels. Critics of the Kenya government see this as a too little too late propaganda to entice livid investors not to look yonder.
The oil deal with Uganda has buoyed Tanzania, whose main national newspaper -The Citizen – wondered if the country is announcing it is ready for ‘industrial take-off’.
“After five decades of formulating strategies as well as policies, and following repeated political statements on the importance of industries in Tanzania’s economic growth, has the time arrived for a take-off,” asked the Paper.
Rwanda, a member of the Coalition of the Willing, has passionately embraced Tanzania. At the height of the Coalition of the Willing glory, Rwanda and Tanzania were experiencing challenges in their diplomatic relations. Kagame and Kikwete rarely saw eye to eye. However, the election of Magufuli changed the trajectory of Rwanda-Tanzania relations, with President Magufuli who has snubbed most international engagements visiting Rwanda by road last month. Kagame noticed.
“Since you were elected, your presence has been refreshing. Your words and deeds reflect our vision. Your stance against corruption is very refreshing. We are committed to working with partners who feel we have to raise our level of dignity because that is what we deserve,” Mr Kagame said.
For Rwanda, Magufuli’s distaste for graft also naturally added to the list of items the two countries share; something you can’t say of Kenya and Uganda. Fortunately for them, Tanzania and Rwanda are also the two countries that have successfuly – so to speak – integrated their people by deliberately creating societies with little ethnic tensions.
According to observers, the failure of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ is as a result of Kenya’s exclusionist tendencies. “Kenya was willing to move on without others, in fact, at the expense of others. This is typical of Kenya but Tanzania wanted everyone to be on the same page,” Ketta Onyango, a one time political aide of CORD Leader Raila Odinga who is now based in Tanzania told this writer.
With the failure of the Coalition for the Willing (CoW) to keep Tanzania out, all the mega projects that it had agreed upon without Tanzania are up for renegotiations. Kenya may not have the last laugh.