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HomeAfricaQueen Samia, be gracious in celebrating the misfortunes of Tanzania’s neighbours

Queen Samia, be gracious in celebrating the misfortunes of Tanzania’s neighbours


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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Tanzania has had a good year so far, and President Samia Suluhu Hassan has not been very modest about her country’s good fortunes. She has happily rubbed it in the face of her East African Community partners.

In March, President Samia caused a stir when she mocked an unnamed East African country that had only foreign exchange to last a week and ran to Tanzania looking for dollars to pay for fuel. Though she didn’t name the country, it was presumed to be Kenya, which was going through a rough patch with forex at the time. She didn’t help, sending the emissaries away empty-handed with a white lie about Tanzania itself being in a tough spot.

In fresh comments that have captured attention, coming as Kenya is reckoning with the opposition-led cost of living protests, President Samia returned to the pitiful neighbour tale.

She said she had watched a presentation by Gilead Teri, executive director of the Tanzania Investment Centre, reporting the sharp increase in investment in Tanzania on TV. Teri spoke mainly about a sharp rise in domestic investment, then said overall (including foreign investment) the second quarter of the year had posted a wonderful.

Read: Samia: ‘Burning’ neighbour losing investors to Tanzania

He didn’t speak much about why.

President Samia provided the why meat. She said investors were flocking to Tanzania because a “neighbour’s house was on fire”.

Tanzania, she argued, was favoured because it is peaceful.

A Kenyan business group said the protests cost the economy at least $21 million a day. Kenya’s premier business publication Business Daily has reported that traders from Central Africa and the East African hinterland are shifting from Mombasa to Dar es Salaam port because of delays caused by protests and damage to cargo and trucks.

Samia is adding too much salt to the woes of her neighbourhood. Despite the protests, the fundamentals of the Kenyan economy are still quite good, and as a banker noted, “You can still sign out a million US dollars from a Kenyan bank in an hour today, but it would take you days, if not weeks, to do so in Tanzania.”

But her tactics are not unique. Former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi’s favourite pastime was pointing to the chaos of Uganda as a lesson in how recklessness (by which he meant the actions of the democracy activists in Kenya) could send a country to hell. If it wasn’t Uganda, it was Somalia or Ethiopia, which was in civil war.

Then in 1994, the Genocide against the Tutsi happened in Rwanda, and Moi was genuinely spoilt for choice. He couldn’t turn in his bed without rolling on a country in the region that had become a basket case with which to frighten Kenyans.

However, those tragedies have been fundamental to shaping Eastern Africa and touched nearly every country. Belgian brutality and forced labour in Rwanda-Urundi (when Rwanda and Burundi were administered as a single colonial territory) at the start of the 20th century led many of them to flee to Uganda, with some going as far as Kenya.

Read: ULIMWENGU: Quacks, thieves, cheats on the loose; to whom shall we turn?

In Uganda, they formed a cheap pool of labour that the southwest landed class and chiefs used to build themselves agricultural fortunes.
In Kenya, they worked the colonial tea plantations in the highlands.

The Rwandan Revolution of 1959-1962, which led to a Tutsi purge and sent millions into refugeehood, also benefited Uganda. Many priests, teachers, and the middle class fled to Uganda as refugees.

As we have seen with the Zimbabweans moving to South Africa and the Ugandans who fled to Kenya during the Idi Amin military rule years, the quality of the recipient population usually rises sharply. That is because you have people who were teachers back home now being nannies, replacing the illiterate local househelps in their exile.

The quality of the clergy, especially the Catholic church laity, got a lift from the infusion of Rwandan priests. And they herded and grew the cattle stock of the southern and western Uganda rural property class.

When Ugandans fled to Kenya in the Amin years, university lecturers taught secondary and high schools. Secondary school teachers, in their thousands, could only teach primary school.

It was like Kenya’s human development had got a steroid shot. From their endeavours came the generation that engineered Kenya’s rise to the Silicon Valley of the early 2000s with the ascendancy of Mwai Kibaki to power. Ugandan exile academics helped bulk up the intellectual stature of Dar es Salaam University in Tanzania.

Sudanese refugees of the early and mid-20th century uplifted a marginalised northern Uganda. They became an important booster of Ugandan sports, with the goalkeeper for the national football side, The Cranes, at one point being a Sudanese.

Read: EYAKUZE: Thanks to Samia it is going to be quite ‘boring’ in Tanzania

Ethiopian and Somali exile entrepreneurs injected new energy and business imagination into the Kenyan economy. An East African country which the misfortunes of its neighbours haven’t fertilised is not normal. It is an outlier.

It would be more thoughtful and gracious for President Samia to honour these things as blessings. As she found out recently, when she landed in hot soup over the deal for Emirati logistics company DP World to manage Dar es Salaam port, Kenya was the straw she hung on.

She argued that the deal was good because Kenya, too, had not only gone to DP World, but it was also offering them more ports than Tanzania.

What is good for the East African goose is good for the East African gander.

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