Kigali – Dar row a growing headache for regionalists …


(Posted 25th August 2013)

In what observers have described as a blatant act of unilateral retaliation for being left out of recent trilateral meetings between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda has Tanzania slapped a US Dollar 12.50 levy on Kenyan trucks at the border, once again showing complete and utter disregard for the spirit and the letter of the East African Community.

Though charged by the local authorities as a ‘transit fee’ and not a central government imposition, those who know how the United Republic of Tanzania works are all away that neither of the districts would have dared to impose such levies unless sanctioned from the highest level of the land.

Sources from Dar es Salaam confirmed the development and in mitigation claimed that Tanzanian transporters too are charged the same levy, which upon closer inspection however turned out to be a quarter of what Kenyan registered trucks have to pay.

Ugandan airlines wishing to fly into Tanzania too have in the past regularly complained that they are treated as foreign airlines, i.e. non EAC resident businesses when it comes to being subjected to a range of charges, which they claim it also against the spirit and the letter of the various protocols in place to facilitate regional cooperation and business integration.

The recent spat between Kigali and Dar es Salaam, following unfit utterances by President Kikwete about the conflict in Eastern Congo, where he demanded that the government in Kigali must negotiate with the killer militias largely responsible for many of the security incidents along the border, has led to a yet closer cooperation between Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya and recent announcements that travel between the three countries will be made easier for citizens being able to use ID cards, and the early introduction of a common foreign visitor tourist Visa valid in the three countries – until the remaining two members of the EAC finally get into gear and join the initiative – have marked a new challenge in the relations with Tanzania, which going by common consensus has arguably been the member state opposed to a range of measures aimed at improving trade, tourist exchanges and other protocol implementations.

Kikwete in the eyes of many political observers lacks charisma, the credentials and the vision of being a true Pan-Africanist and in the context closer to home a Regionalist and his current spat with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who in stark contrast is perceived around the world as a visionary and example of corruption free leadership, may reverberate into the next ordinary head of state meeting in Arusha later this year, impacting on a number of pending issues where consensus will be required to take the community forward. Added complications can be expected as a result of Tanzania, under SADC cover, injecting troops into Eastern Congo, especially as they had to eat humble pie earlier in the year when it became known that they had covertly met with a top FDLR militia leader – the very group sworn to the destruction of the new democratic Rwanda and to return the country once more to the extermination days of the genocide.

Back to the topic at hand though, the East African Community Secretariat has confirmed that a number of NTB’s remain in place inspite of formal agreements to remove them all and that in fact some countries, none named but still understood which one in particular, have added new NTB’s in violation of the EAC spirit.

Entry into national parks with vehicles registered in another member state are high on the agenda of hotly contested items, as are landings by EAC registered aircraft on park airstrips, besides the most contentious issue of the Bologonja border crossing, which Tanzania, under various pretexts including ‘environmental protection’ has kept closed for commercial tourist vehicles, though private individuals can cross subject to prior permission being requested.

Said a regular tourism source from Kampala: ‘Unless these issues are resolved, wananchi will remain skeptical about the EAC in the present format. Yes a lot has been done but we are miles away from what the old EAC had made possible. THAT should be our guiding light, to reach where things sadly ended in 1977. But this half here and half there is not conducive to integration. And we all know, a lot of reasons given is just hogwash, a smoke screen for being fundamentally undecided if they want to be in or out. At least let us go ahead with the common Visa between Rwanda and Kenya and us here in Uganda, the others can join when they see the benefits or have finally made up their mind. But let those willing no longer be held back and dragged down by others who are not in agreement. We shall not be sabotaged in our drive towards regional integration’. Harsh words but words which reflect a mood evident in most discussions when matters of the EAC are being talked about.

Said another regular contributor, admittedly of hotter temper than most: ‘The day may yet come when they are asked to leave and not hold everyone at ransom with those unspecified and in between the line threats they could leave. I can only say some better beware what they wish for’ before in haste seeking reassurance that no name would be given. Watch this space about future developments of the East African Community and how in particular tourism and aviation can either benefit or will be negatively affected by decision taken, or not taken.

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