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By Isaac Mwangi
East African News Agency

Arusha, 18 November 2017 (EANA) – Coming so soon after the auctioning of 1,325 head of cattle seized from Kenyan herders, the decision by Tanzanian authorities to sell more than 10,000 cattle from Uganda and Rwanda seems to mark a policy shift that could well spell doom to many areas of regional integration and cooperation.

While the Kenyan government only sent a protest note and no more – perhaps due to the country’s current preoccupation with electoral protests and the challenge to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election at the Supreme Court – it remains to be seen whether Uganda and Rwanda will also take the matter lying down.

More likely than not, Tanzania’s recent actions could spur retaliatory measures that would be harmful to all sides in the emerging conundrum. It is a delicate situation that could have a direct implication on the region’s drive towards achieving the pillars of the integration agenda.

President Uhuru Kenyatta

To fully appreciate the situation, it is important to recognize the historical background and significance to this problem since, on the face of it, Tanzania obviously has a right to stop citizens of other countries from benefitting from its resources for free.

The partition of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 succeeded in slicing the continent like a piece of cake, with little regard to existing nations, cultures and linguistic groups. Co-operation between neighbouring peoples and movement across borders however continued despite the artificially-created colonial boundaries.

To avoid a situation where the whole continent would sink into anarchy, the countries emerging from colonialism agreed to respect the colonial delineations of territory. The ideal of continued collaboration between African peoples across countries, however, has continued to be pursued to date, with varying measures of success.

At the community level, it is no secret that border communities have continued their age-old ties without giving modern boundaries much consideration. This is because many colonial boundaries split communities from their kith and kin across the border. In fact, some families are often torn in choosing the citizenship of one country over the other, with family members belonging to different nationalities. This is as true of the Somalis straddling the Kenya-Somalia border as it is of the Maasai along the Kenya-Tanzania border and the Luhyia on the Kenya-Uganda border.

Until now, this arrangement has worked quite well. Officials have generally tended to look the other way when it comes to movements across borders by pastoralists and other border communities for purposes of pasture, trade, and social ties. Tanzania’s move now seems set to upset this narrative.

While Kenya did not officially take any retaliatory steps, for example, it pointed out in its protest that at the time when the cattle by its herders was being impounded by Tanzanian officials, a larger number of cattle from Tanzania was grazing in Kenya. Unofficial accounts stated that local Maasai herdsmen had taken retaliatory action to seize 4,000 cattle from Tanzania, with Kenyan officials saying they were working to stop locals from taking the law into their own hands.

But the wider implication of Tanzania’s action has to do with the regional integration process. The second pillar of the East African Community integration process – the establishment of a Common Market – entails the opening of regional borders to other partner states of the Community. This essentially means allowing an unrestricted flow of goods, services, capital, and labour.

The third pillar – progress towards which has virtually stalled – is a Monetary Union, culminating in a single currency regime. But how can this work in the absence of a fully-functioning Common Market?

Eventually, the integration process is supposed to lead to a federation – now diluted into a confederation. Still, this will become a virtual impossibility if, instead of encouraging historical ties, countries move towards restricting these and become inward-looking. Once communities become rivals and begin confiscating each other’s assets rather than aiding one another, any semblance of collaboration will disintegrate.

As it is, the Community is already suffering serious trouble – from the inability to speak in one voice against injustices in member states to instability and armed conflicts in the region. Numerous non-tariff barriers remain in place, and harmonization is called for in numerous sectors. A wrong signal from our leaders will undo every achievement and set the integration clock back in ways that we can ill afford.


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