Tanzania and the EAC: The smell of Ujamaa is still there

For any substantive changes to happen in the way Tanzania engages with the EAC, the country must resolve the differences from within in terms of its constitutional, legal and policy foci

In their recent meeting in Arusha, the leaders of the East African Community (EAC) reiterated the need to expedite the process of making East Africa a political confederation. As I reflected upon their statements, I returned to the question of Tanzania’s commitment to the EAC, which is an enduring issue since the revival of the bloc. Tanzania has been accused of frustrating progress towards the fulfilment of a political union and, as such, labelled many things: obstructionist, cautious, sceptical, reluctant or stubborn. I have come to believe that the reasons behind Tanzania’s ‘stubbornness’ might be found by looking at the legacy of the Ujamaa na Kujitegemea policy which was introduced in Arusha in 1967 when the first attempt at regional integration was launched. Here is why.

Some commentators argue that Tanzania’s ‘ stubbornness’ is a ‘good thing’ because it will lead to a far better and more enduring political union than a rushed process which could end up failing the same way the first attempt at regional integration did. In their view, the requirement of consensus in decision-making not only ensures that all EAC partners are equal but also averts a situation where the frustrations of some member states could lead to the implosion of the bloc. Others invoke the trauma caused by the chaotic collapse of the first EAC in 1977 to explain Tanzania’s seemingly reluctant embrace of integration efforts.  At the time, Tanzania felt cheated in the allocation of the shared assets of the community.

There are also fears of land grabbing by her neighbours, fears of being drawn into armed conflicts involving her neighbours or the arguments that Tanzania needs time to ‘catch up’ with her neighbours on some economic aspects. There is also the issue of Tanzania itself being a union/confederation, which must be factored in by any other political union.  This complicates matters further. But none of these arguments and persistent fears fully explains Tanzania’s rather sceptical behaviour towards the EAC integration process, which has been consistent over the past two decades regardless of the administration in power. One might need to look as far back in the past as 1967 to make sense of the present and draw lessons for the future.

In 1967, Tanzania adopted Ujamaa na Kujitegemea policy through the Arusha Declaration, putting the country on the path of ‘socialist’ policies where politics, the economy and even society itself were centrally planned. The policy remained in place until 1985 when Tanzania’s first president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere retired. Unlike Uganda which quickly abandoned its ‘socialist’ policies (adopted during the first Obote government), Tanzania remained fully committed to the legacy of Ujamaa even after Mwalimu’s retirement. This was mainly because Ujamaa policies which promoted communality, solidarity and cooperation amongst citizens produced a stable country. For instance, Tanzania was remarkably successful in its nation-building efforts. It is, therefore, not surprising that all presidents who came after Mwalimu spoke religiously on any given occasion about the peace and stability (amani na utulivu) of the country.

However, as an economic policy, Ujamaa could not quite deliver. Mwalimu’s immediate successor, former President Mwinyi, in his autobiography titled Mzee Rukhsa: Safari ya Maisha Yangu wrote at length on Tanzania’s economic struggles and the reasons why Ujamaa did not deliver on the economic front with a wide range of factors to blame. Mwinyi argued that the policies produced corrupt local officials, increased bureaucracy, stifled economic growth, and brought about duplications of some public parastatals, the majority of which were making huge losses. This explains why the country undertook political and economic reforms and introduced neo-liberal policies after Mwalimu’s retirement. The reforms undertaken by the Mwinyi administration laid the ground for the idea of reviving the EAC, but they did not go as far as erasing all traces of the Ujamaa legacy. Indeed, Article 9 of Tanzania’s constitution still places the economy in the hands of the government and encourages the pursuit of socialism and self-reliance policies. This aspect has had unintended consequences.

On the regional front, the Ujamaa legacy has hampered EAC efforts for political and economic integration. The many issues considered to be problematic today between Tanzania and the EAC mirror this aspect where the laws, no matter how much reformations they have undergone, retained elements of state control of the economy and society. There are still restrictions with regard to the participation of Tanzanians in foreign capital markets or foreigners participating in Tanzania’s capital markets, land, or free movement of people and goods, or the depth of military cooperation among partner states. All these issues have the hallmark of the past and reflect the reluctance of the state to concede any parcel of control and sovereignty even for the purpose of more integration.

This failure of reconciling the past and the present – which an academic, Victoria Makulilo, referred to as a constitutional ‘Ujamaa’ in a practical market economy – also explains Tanzania’s ‘stubbornness’ with regard to the EAC economic integration process. Tanzania has never fully embraced the market economy because, in practice, it has not fully abandoned and left its policy of Ujamaa na Kujitegemea. On the other hand, the economic experiences of other EAC member states are different to those of Tanzania, which is why they are at ease with embracing the economic potential that deeper cooperation through the EAC framework offers.

A farmer, participating in a study about communal life and work in southern Tanzania in 2015 put it succinctly: “the smell of Ujamaa is still there”. Not the official version. Not the historical version too, just a way of life.

This might be surprising given the fact that Tanzania has spent more time under neo-liberal policies than Ujamaa policies. Indeed, the whole time from the official launch of the Arusha Declaration to Mwalimu’s retirement in 1985 is less than two decades. Still, Tanzania has yet to find a way to balance the past and the present.

As a result, the country’s perceived “stubbornness” has raised questions around Tanzania’s commitment to the EAC as opposed to its commitment to another regional bloc, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). However, Tanzania’s involvement in Southern Africa’s liberation struggles was in sync with its Ujamaa policies because the ruling party, Chama cha Mapinduzi’s (CCM) creed advocated the equality of human beings and their right to dignity and respect.

Moreover, the affinity between Tanzania and its southern partners is more political than economic. CCM had no political ‘soul mates’ in the East but had plenty of them in the South where several of them retain power today and have jointly, with Tanzania’s ruling party, launched a leadership college in Tanzania.  This continued affinity with the South is mistaken as Tanzania being more committed there than in the East when, in fact, CCM is just a party that takes great pride in its glorious past.

Despite all its challenges, the EAC is one of the most successful regional groupings in Africa. After two decades and counting, its continued ability to attract new members coupled with easing the movements of people and goods among member states speaks to the political will of leaders to advance against all odds. Interestingly, the majority of presidents who have come and gone in Tanzania since the revival of the EAC were decidedly outward-looking, such as former presidents Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete. They had long careers in foreign affairs and embraced regionalism in a changing world. To some, President Kikwete is the most pro-EAC president Tanzania ever had, even though the formation of the ill-fated coalition of the willing (which reflected the frustrations of other EAC states) happened during his time in office. The current president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, has taken the region on a charm offensive and is on the same path of embracing regionalism despite lacking a background in foreign affairs.

Yet, for any substantive changes to happen in the way Tanzania engages with the EAC, the country must resolve the differences from within in terms of its constitutional, legal and policy foci. The underlying superstructure must be grounded into a coherent political-cum-economic philosophy than can finally deliver on the economic promise of a country endowed with so many natural resources and turn the country into the most enthusiastic advocate of the EAC integration efforts. Tanzania’s struggles have remained the same over the years: turning successful political and social experiments into economic success. These struggles have also defined Tanzania’s engagement with the EAC and how the state has been organised since then. To ordinary Tanzanians, the EAC must be seen as something more than an endeavour that is mainly focused on economic gains, it must be people-centred.

After all, “the smell of Ujamaa is still there”.


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