How Kenyan businesses can best engage Tanzania’s hardball regional politics

How Kenyan businesses can best engage Tanzania’s hardball regional politics
By Leonard Wanyama Embarrassing. This is the only description of the incident in which Kenyan cabinet secretary for Energy Charles Keter was prevented from accessing the port of Tanga. Obviously, this has left a bad aftertaste in relation to the extent to which Tanzania wants to play hardball with its neighbours in pursuing regional relations. Dar-Es-Salaam has felt increasingly isolated since the formation of the 2013 Coalition of the Willing (CoW) in which they were not invited to several trilateral summits by Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. Somewhat dismissive responses from Kenyan officials were given as to why this was the case, such as stating the talks only concerned the Northern Corridor, of which Tanzania is not a part. This upset Dar-Es-Salaam. The perceived slight seems to persist in justifying actions such as the Tanga embarrassment. The manner in which passports of the delegation were confiscated, separation from their Ugandan counterparts – who were also visiting the port as part of the same mission – and confined limbo as they awaited a bureaucratic solution will leave the Jubilee administration smarting for a quite some time. Prior to this, the Tanzanian government had announced, at the recent East African Community (EAC) summit meeting in Arusha, a deal for a new oil pipeline with Uganda that made the previously agreed Kenyan option seem obsolete. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta hurriedly invited his Ugandan counterpart President Yoweri Museveni for talks about returning to an earlier Memorandum of Understanding between Kampala and Nairobi that would reverse Dar-Es-Salaam’s new fortune. Unfortunately, the eagerly awaited positive result was not forthcoming. Uganda’s decision to build its pipeline through a currently fully functional Tanga port has dashed Kenyan hopes. Nairobi has opted to build its own pipeline instead. It is not yet clear how the outcomes emerging from these developments will affect the momentum for regional integration overall. However it can be expected that Kenya-Tanzania relations will be of a brusque nature. The latest tit-for-tat is yet another chapter in a growing sense of geopolitical competition in which Kenya would do well to go into talks, to dispel its notions of economic hegemony from its mannerisms. Kenya has to significantly move away from the text book idea that regional supremacy is a necessary condition for integration and that the country is predestined to attain this status. This is based on the belief that the size of its economy, market efficiency, developed institutions and strategic location allow it to dominate its neighbours in regional activities. Nevertheless, the second attempt at regional integration by the EAC has never tolerated such dreams and has much rather preferred a position of prominence for the country instead. Fundamentally, this is a situation in which Kenya becomes respected on account of its pragmatism, thereby developing a reputation where its economic prowess serves as a complementary element for the region instead of a guiding paradigm, and essentially encouraging it to have genuine partnership with its neighbours. Here, a great deal is placed on the respect for consensus and compromise on the basis of camaraderie in decision-making processes. Unfortunately, this is essentially what Kenya lacks in its dealings within the region as seen from its role in cobbling up the CoW that had initially sidelined Tanzania. While Kenyan pundits, analysts, policy-makers or politicians have chosen to remain stuck in outdated ideas of nationalistic hubris, its private sector cannot afford this position. Assumptions Kenya holds onto – even to the point of recklessness – on account of ideas about how relatively higher systemic effectiveness reinforces theoretical justifications for hegemony as a driving element in regional integration should be abandoned. Oftentimes, a gall of disappointment arises and blinds most Kenyan entities from dealings with their Tanzanian counterparts. This can be attributed to a historical lack of understanding local sensitivities, customs and business practices. However, this same situation can be likened to what was Kenya’s own anti-foreign sentiment when it initially saw South African investments as a patronising and arrogant intrusion. Despite the relatively poor infrastructure in comparison to their home country, higher duty costs, crime and political wrangling, South African businesses found a way to adapt without becoming hegemonic. Essentially, this meant not coming off as taking more returns out of the country than the investment put in, or dominating the Kenyan market as they entered into its business realm. This enhanced positive relations and not exploitative outcomes. Business interests from Kenya towards its southern neighbour must therefore adapt, similar to what South African companies did, so as not to suffer the myopic blunders or romanticised positions that are not attune to the reality at hand. Tanzania is not only growing bolder because of the rejuvenation offered by the “hard work” (Hapa Kazi Tu!) mantra of its President John Magufuli alone, but also because it offers an alternative transport, and now quite possibly energy, option for the Great Lakes region. In reproaching Rwanda, following the tiff between President Paul Kagame and former President Jakaya Kikwete, Magufuli has striven to promote the Central Corridor Transport Transit Project (CCTTP). The opening of the Rusumo one-stop-border-post (OSBP) thereby improves trade between the two countries and into the Great Lakes hinterland. One only has to wait and see if this diminishes or eliminates the prospects for the CoW. This has always been a desire for Dar-Es-Salaam and while most observers keep focusing on the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia project (Lapsset) they seem to have forgotten or might not have known that Tanzania also has its own mega multimodal project running through its territory. Most times, all that is mentioned are the port and rail improvements but not the entire initiative. Kenya’s southern neighbour has therefore considerably progressed in its development of the CCTTP as their version of an East African regional infrastructural network. Adding an oil and gas pipeline to this equation becomes the prestigious icing on the cake for them. CCTTP has been identified as part of the African Union Commission (AUC), Africa Development Bank (AfDB) and NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) flagship projects. Its implementation is therefore expected to serve as a model for Public Private Partnerships (PPP), involvement in other infrastructure projects across the continent. Successful private sector activity in Tanzania, not Kenya, could well become an example for the continent if the CCTTP is completed on schedule. If that is the case, then Kenyan business must seek to positively involve itself in Tanzanian trade relations without creating antagonism. The project serves as a system for transit of goods and transportation of people through interconnection of railway, roads and ports. It connects sections of the EAC to the major regional port of Dar-Es-Salaam for overseas trade. By linking the port to central and northern-western Tanzania while extending into Burundi, the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda, CCTTP is expected to further facilitate intra-regional trade or movement of people. Quite recently a significant degree of several road sections have been paved, making it an alternative regional option for competitive cross border exchange. According to the Virtual PIDA Information Centre (VPIC), CCTTP projects are 34 in number. Unlike the ballooning costs of Kenyan projects, what was initially expected to cost $12 billion (Sh1.1 trillion) in the construction of the CCTTP is now expected to cost a total $9.7 Billion (Sh964 billion). Currently CCTTP has attained and implementation financing available for its activities amounting to Sh337 billion). For too long, there has been some seesawing about which route is most conducive to serve the region comprising the Great Lakes hinterland. With its newly found optimism, Tanzania may have just decided to end this discussion as a foreign policy agenda of the new presidency. Arrogance Private sector must therefore take up Kenya’s time-tested tradition of pragmatism that needs to be followed in an almost religious fashion in engaging its Southern neighbour. It must shun institutional arrogance exhibited by novice elements of the administration as exemplified by a former high ranking government official who described Tanzania as “a structurally inefficient country”. It is also obliged to eschew the thinking voiced by others currently in office that its neighbour’s ambitions are “obviously” uneconomical. This is because it does not consider consequences of what such a description really means in light of the massive economic slowdown in relation to the nature of a highly quarrelsome electoral cycle that is being anticipated by the region among other security challenges. Lack of such a perspective consistently blind sights Kenyan officialdom IN the larger scheme of things typified by the Tanga port debacle. Pragmatic thinking that attains an appeasing kind of prominence should completely embrace commercial diplomacy to represent business interests and provide representative services to Kenyan enterprises in neighbouring countries, especially Tanzania. Ultimately this would safeguard interests of Kenyan enterprises abroad as they serve as being a source of much needed foreign direct investment (FDI). It involves embedding enterprise actors who will look out for new opportunities while they preserve a minted corporate reputation of business sustainability in light of local sensitivities, and practices. Point persons in this regard could be the Industrialisation CS Aden Mohammed and his East African Affairs counterpart Phyllis Kandie together with Principal Secretaries Betty Maina and Dr Chris Kiptoo on account of their backgrounds in the private sector.Such skills sets can easily combine to woo the economic and political spectrum encompassed by Tanzanian special interests in influencing better relations; working towards shared goals; forestalling potential conflicts; developing interactive forums or channels of communication; creating the social capital for dialogue and sustaining credible relations on either side. Understanding Tanzania(ns) should therefore be about never underestimating a competitor. Proactively urging bilateral talks between Nairobi and Arusha to iron out persistent tension is therefore in the primary interest of Kenyan business.^

Writer teaches International Relations at Technical University of Kenya

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