Tanzania’s minister for East African Cooperation says the government in Dodoma will consider new strategic alliances after expressing concern about the “strange behavior” of some countries in the East African Community (EAC).
“We are concerned with the actions by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, which started very suddenly and without consultations. What we thought was a normal state visit by President Kenyatta to Uganda, [but] having reached there, it seems President Kagame was then invited, and they started this so-called ‘coalition of the willing’, which in itself is an insult to Tanzania,” said Samuel Sitta, Tanzania’s East African Cooperation minister.
Press reports say that the “coalition” refers to those EAC countries that want to fast-track regional integration. The press reports some Tanzanian officials as reportedly wanting to go at a more deliberative pace.
Sitta says it appears leaders of Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya have taken decisions without properly consulting Tanzania, which he says contravenes the rules of the grouping. But, Sitta rejected recent reports that the government in Dodoma was considering pulling out of the EAC following alleged attempts to isolate Tanzania from the EAC.
“What is happening now to put it mildly is very strange. But, we are not going to pull out. Matters would have to reach a point, where the whole thing is no longer sustainable, and we don’t think it’s reached that,” said Sitta. “We have every right to raise our concerns and to begin preliminary work on new alignments.”
He said the three countries have yet to consult Tanzania on their recent talks about creating a regional program to promote energy efficiency.
“If your neighbors go ahead and talk about self-sufficiency in energy and leave you out completely, how do you proceed with this project? They cost money, so it’s more than isolation it’s like the three countries are trying to pull out of the community, and they are not telling us that that is what they are doing,” said Sitta.
Sitta says Tanzania will seek to form new alliances with other nations if cooperation between member states within the EAC fails to resolve regional challenges as originally conceived by the grouping.
Uganda holds the chairmanship of the EAC and also chairs the group’s council of ministers. Sitta said Tanzania is seeking an explanation from Uganda before deciding its next line of action insisting that the government in Dodoma has many options for pursuing its national interests.
“We have requested Uganda to explain to us if in terms of strategic alliances, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda feel that they belong more to the northern part of East Africa. That is absolutely fine with us,” said Sitta. “We shall re-align ourselves with South and Central African countries but, we need to be told because these things are not done in a surreptitious [and] sudden manner; obviously we have to seek new alliances.”
Diplomatic relations between Dodoma and neighboring Kigali have been tense after Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete suggested that the governments in the Great Lakes region should try and negotiate with armed groups. Sitta admitted that Mr. Kikwete’s suggestion appeared to have angered Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
“It unleashed a barrage of very negative publicity, which so far has not been condemned or even admonished by the Rwandan government, depicting President Kikwete as a vampire or some sort of Dracula chewing on Rwandan children. It’s the kind of thing that one doesn’t do,” said Sitta. “I don’t think you can call Dodoma-Kigali relations cordial.”
A summit of heads of state and government is scheduled to be held on November 30. Some analysts hope the leaders’ summit can come up with solutions to help resolve the tensions among the EAC member states. Sitta said Tanzania will seek clarification at the summit before deciding its next line of action.
“We shall demand to be told whether we shall continue as five countries or (whether) our friends are joining South Sudan to form [a] coalition of four and the remaining partners, Burundi and Tanzania, can form an economic and strategic partnership with the DRC …,” said Sitta.