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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Why The East African Political Federation Is Dead In The Water

When former powerful Attorney General and later cabinet minister, Charles Mugane Njonjo issued a statement recently where he did not mince any words in saying that the proposed East African Federation was a waste of time, many Kenyans did not agree with his views. Especially when it is quite clear that he was one of the main powerful characters in President Kenyatta's government who pushed for the breaking of the then East African Community in 1977.

However the truth is that Njonjo knows a few things that many ordinary Kenyans do not know. And that is the fact that Tanzania was slowing down progress in the community considerably.

Ironically the current fast tracking initiative for an East African Federation has been slowed down tremendously by one nation, Tanzania. Had this issue been only between Kenya and Uganda, it would have been resolved a long time ago. And maybe the time has now come for the other East African nations, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda to seriously consider moving ahead with an East African Federation that excludes Tanzania whose people are not really interested in such a development.

Sources on the ground reveal to this writer that the vast majority of ordinary Tanzanians view Kenyans as a threat to employment opportunities within their country. Interestingly very few of them are thinking outside Tanzania at the moment despite the massive opportunities and the special Tanzanian talents in trade for instance that would see them prosper virtually anywhere in East Africa. The danger in this kind of thinking is that the Tanzanian "honeymoon economic growth" could end as suddenly as it began, especially if Kenya gets its act together. Economists give various reasons for this but one of the most obvious is that investors prefer Ugandan or Kenyan labour to Tanzanian. The only reason why many of them are in Tanzania is because the conditions are highly favorable to foreign investors unlike the situation in Kenya at the moment.

Listening to the speeches of President Kibaki and President Kikwete during the recent meeting in Arusha, it was easy to capture the tension and undercurrents. President Kibaki talked about the need to remove all trade barriers, and open the borders for the free movement of the peoples of East Africa and Kikwete talked about the incident of increased cross border crime and the need to co-operate to curb it.

The truth that even the most optimistic of Kenyans should be made aware of is that rather than opening up the borders for free movement of people, the vision of most Tanzanians for a bright future is one without any Kenyans in their country. The sooner this truth is realized the less time and public funds will be wasted in chasing the wind.

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