Kenya and Tanzania must rise above culture of dirty hostilities

Posted on March 22, 2015 10:20 am

There is no doubt much gleeful cackling and hand-rubbing among Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam’s political constellation as the two countries witnesses what is arguably the most heightened tensions in their recent history tear themselves apart.The late former Pierre Trudeau famously quipped living next to the United States was like “sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly or even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”But unlike the case between Canada and US, Tanzania is not living next to an elephant.In fact, Tanzania needs just a little bit of tweaking and will overtake Kenya as the region’s largest economy. Near or far, big or small, self-perceptions shape reality in the East African region. Coated in the veracities of geopolitics and economics, these perceptions harvest a myopic discernment that fuels a mélange of xenophobia and anxiety in Tanzania and Kenya. If Tanzania was to feel it was sleeping next to an elephant, then one can only imagine how it feels to be a Burundi, a worm hinged on the cactus branch being looked down on by an apparitional.This completely unnecessary spat between Kenya and Tanzania over the tourists van recently and now Kenya Airways/Fast Jet inspired rivalry has nothing to do with national pride. Yes, Kenya could have been more sensitive, in the same way that Tanzania should not have overreacted.

There is a need to understand Tanzania’s pervading siege mentality born of its view of itself as an state betrayed not once but couple of times by larger northern neighbor. Tanzania reflexively punches above its weight when provoked, or submits when needed but as the case with its spat on Lake Malawi with its southern neighbor, it employs diplomacy instead of using ‘buffoons’ working in the mainstream media to air its opinions. It has internalized the fear, articulated in the past by Tanzania’s founding father Late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, that the mineral rich country could “become a satellite resettlement plan for its northern neighbor”. Thus Contador Harrison see a survivalist pragmatism in Tanzania’s foreign policy, which borders on opportunism when the situation calls for it. Former East African minister and former national parliament speaker of United Republic of Tanzania Samuel Sitta once remarked that a Tanzania experience with original East African community gave a vivid account of the tact needed by a nation in carving a place for itself among other powers: “Sometimes, initiatives by Tanzania are not well received, especially from our larger neighbors, who see themselves as the ‘natural’ leaders of the region or in EAC. We have to manage these sensitivities carefully while ensuring that we achieve our substantive objective. One way is for our larger neighbor to reap the public accolades.”Present day pragmatism now probably dictates a more forceful stance to that of 1977 one of assertive posturing against a larger neighbor, knowing full well that nothing will come of this spat other than headlines and hard feelings.

A worm’s eye view is not an exclusive infirmity of size. Even nations with a large and advanced economy and superior military can be equally afflicted.I don’t suggest either Tanzania or Kenya has enough hard power, allies and distance from each other that it neither of them has nothing to fear from. Yet for decades Tanzania neighbor to the north has been viewed with the perception of threat.This perception is held not only within security circles, but is spread throughout the peace loving United Republic of Tanzania public.Sometimes back, a poll found almost 75 percent of Tanzanians believed Kenya to be a threat to their national security especially in controversial land policy in East Africa Community which Tanzania has reasonably and justifiably opposed.Just how Tanzanians became convinced Kenya was an underlying security threat is unclear. Perhaps it started with Kenya and Tanzania border closure after the collapse of original East African Community in 1977, but more likely it happened because for the first time in its history, Kenya – having only to previously deal with the diminutive influences of Somalia, Uganda and Ethiopia now has a rising power to contend with as an immediate southern neighbor whose immense commercially viable gas finding worth billions of dollars must have shaken the ‘regional chauvinists’ in Nairobi to the core.“A neighbor that perceived from down south is comparative in size, has less population, is projected to be a major African economy in two decades and in due time will command regional authority as it builds a capable navy” claims an East African region expert I sought views from last week.

Frequent misperceptions regarding the Tanzania-Kenya relationship can be viewed in the context of historical great power relations the strains between a vested power and an emerging one. Kenya claims to welcome Tanzania’s gradual rise as mutually beneficial, but the obviously antiquated Cold War-like perception that saturates the Kenyan public and mainstream media especially its regional mouthpiece The East Africa which was recently banned in Tanzania for operating without license suggests a deeper anxiety.While it is often observed with neurosis by Kenya, Tanzania has its own worm’s eye complex, particularly perceiving Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and South Africa, its fellow Southern Africa Development Cooperation members.Tanzania has the perception of being dwarfed economically and militarily by a nation whose rise is still being regarded with wariness despite the presence of territorial and political dispute between Tanzania and Malawi. Now, in most everything, be it market dumping, security, investment, no doubt Tanzania is set to become the natural bogeyman of East and Central African region in the next decade.In the past, East African countries of Uganda,Tanzania and Kenya built their region on the assumption that a framework of economic interdependence built on the confidence of cooperative partnerships would avert hostilities.

Though open war is no longer an option, deep-seated suspicions have not vanished, even between neighbors and “friends”, as in the case of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda.In my foray in the region, I have learned that increased interdependence in this age of instant communication often accelerates discord, particularly when reactionary public xenophobia intrudes into the debate on the high politics of national security where economic exchanges often have limited traction.In the end, I can only remind the short sighted few in Tanzania and Kenya never to take the state of relations, bilaterally or regionally, for granted. For close to twenty years of regional integration that started when with former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa,Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and retired Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi joining hands together to revive the regional bloc mid 1990s does not mean less bitterness among its members, nor does a plethora of bilateral projects make Tanzania more welcome in the minds of many Kenyans. If Tanzania or Kenya see themselves as a regional leaders, they should have the wisdom to understand their neighbors’ hang-ups, the astuteness to act tactfully when they senses fear in others and the courage to tread softly when everyone knows they are already carrying an increasingly big stick.Should the Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam have eased up their own pressure as they pursued their own interests? Definitely. All of the stakeholders, it seems, have shown remarkably little good sense throughout this sorry episode.There’s little the Tanzanian or Kenyan public can do until, that is, when those who should manage de-escalation of the hostilities and we make known to them once and for all that East Africans are one people united by culture, languages among many other factors are tired of all these shenanigans.

Contador Harrison