opinionBy Harid Mkali
THE present generation of leaders in East Africa have already significantly contributed to bringing the region's integration closer through the creation of a regional Common Market and Customs Union.
History will remember them kindly for these achievements. However, if these same leaders truly hold the long-term peace and prosperity of the region close to their hearts, then they need to leave their plans for monetary union and full political federation to the next generation, especially now that leaders in Kenya, Uganda and Burundi have clearly demonstrated their unwillingness to undertake land nationalisation and rationalisation in their own countries.
From the outset, East African Cooperation should be brought about for practical reasons of 'mutual interests' that are specifically designed to bring about broad-based prosperity in the region and not based on vacuous emotional political slogans of 'we are one people' or 'we have a common destiny'. None of those assertions are real. Therefore, the East African 'masses', and not just the 'leaders' need to see and feel tangible fruits of the already-established Customs Union and Common Market before jumping into the next stage of the integration process, if and when the need be.
When the Customs Union and Common Market bear fruits that are equitably shared among the common people, then there will be no need for any politician or self-declared "expert" to drum the advantages of federation into the people. To conduct 'sensitisation' campaigns designed to do this is basically an insult to the intelligence of the peoples of East Africa, which basically means the campaigners are dismissing the people as too stupid to understand the merits of federation without such campaigns.
This is arrogant paternalism at best, and at worst an actual con-trick. Building a federation or a nation which is not accompanied by a broad-based economic prosperity always ends in tears. We have seen it happen in Nigeria; we have seen it happen in North and South Yemen; we have seen it in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. It serves no purpose to gloss over these realities.
If the region cannot meaningfully cooperate economically, then there is no chance at all of bringing about a peaceful, viable and lasting federation. But both realpolitik and commonsense counsel Tanzania to desist tooth and nail from signing up to a political Federation in East Africa as long as Kenya, Uganda and Burundi refuse to conduct land nationalisation and redistribution in their own countries; to join such a Federation under these circumstances is the shortest route to landinduced civil wars in Tanzania.
Politicians in the country should never sacrifice land, peace and stability for the now tired notion of Pan-East Africanism; moreover, we do not need to be in a Federation to participate in the now largely discredited economic policies of free market and globalisation, if we so desire. Therefore, the argument of Federation being necessary because of free market and globalisation imperatives is an absolute nonsense. Population size It is often argued by some high-ranking politicians and pro- East African Federation pundits that the potential land surface of 1.7 million square kilometres (this is exclusive of areas covered by water) and an estimated population of 150 million people will be the region's economic panacea under federation.
Some leaders have even stated that China's prevailing economic success is purely due to its population size and large geographic land factors. It has also been claimed that Africa is underdeveloped largely due to the colonial compartmentalisation of that continent, so Union or Federations is seen as the magic cure. Once again those are very simplistic notions and falsehoods that bear no relation to reality. Both China and India have always been world leaders in terms of land size and population, yet those two countries' visible economic strides are recent phenomena, only about 20 to 25 years old.
Had population and land size alone been a secret of economic success then India and China would have become super-powers long ago. Moreover, some countries which are small in geographic size and population are doing very well economically, often far better than much larger nations. For example, Africa's 16 smallest countries with a combined population of 41.8 million people (less than Tanzania's population alone) and inhabiting a total area of 802,880 square kilometres have a combined gross national income (GNI) of US dollars 60,940, the smallest nation, the Seychelles, with an area of only 455 square kilometres having an annual GNI of 11,130 US dollars.
On the other hand Africa's 16 biggest countries with a total population of 558.9 million people (roughly equal to half the continent's population) and occupying a land area of more than 21 million square kilometres have a combined gross national income (GNI) of US dollars 41,800. The second largest nation in area, is the minerals rich Congo - Kinshasa with 2.34 million square kilometres but with a GNI of only 190 US dollars per annum, a mere one sixtieth of tiny Seychelles; and even Nigeria, large in size and rich in oil resources, shows a GNI of only 1,200 US dollars per annum, one tenth of the Seychelles and little more than Mauritania, larger in area (though much of this is desert) but much less developed.
(The source of all the above figures and those below is the World Bank 2011). Small is beautiful The reality of the 'small is beautiful' model is not confined to Africa alone. A quick perusal of global economic performance and quality of life delivers the same conclusion; the smaller the nation the better off its people are likely to be. A quick look at the world's smallest countries shows the second smallest, Liechtenstein, which is only 160 square kilometres in area coming in with massive GNI of 137,000 US dollars per annum.
Therefore, the idea that a federated East Africa will necessarily be prosperous flies against the face of reality. In addition, the small is beautiful model is also dramatically demonstrated in East Africa itself. The fact that Rwanda, small both in land size and population and poor in natural resources, should today be dubbed the 'Singapore of Africa' due to its rapid economic development and improvement in quality of life for the masses says everything. Rwandans now enjoy a longer life expectancy not only than Uganda or Burundi, but also significantly longer than in oil rich-Nigeria.
Some leaders in East Africa have been quoted justifying East African Federation for reasons of "... political stability, greater feeling of safety in numbers and an economic entity better able to fight poverty." I have addressed the last part of that argument in the previous paragraphs in the 'small is beautiful' instances. I would like now to deal with the first part of their argument regarding the issue of political security.
East Africa's original greatest security threat was posed by wars against colonial powers in Africa, namely the British, French, Portuguese and Spanish followed by the Apartheid regime in South Africa, their occupation of Namibia and minority rule in the then Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. That was indeed the time we needed 'safety in numbers', not now, because all those threats are history.
The only remaining colonial problem of any consequence in Africa is Morocco's illegal occupation of Western Sahara and Morocco is not a threat to East Africa, so against whom do we need this 'safety in numbers'? As it happens, ironically only Tanzania played an outstanding role in the liberation wars of Africa, while by contrast Kenya allegedly maintained cordial trade relations with the Apartheid regime in South Africa throughout that period, according to the US Library of Congress, which implies that Kenya was fighting Tanzania by proxy during the years of the African liberation wars.
We therefore, need to put into context the present Pan-Africanist postures by some of Tanzania's East African partners. Another East African leader promoted the need for regional federation as it "solidifies the unity of communities with personal ties and common history, language and culture". However, this is another major redherring. What solidifies national cohesion is not fine words, but transparently fair policies that equitably distribute national resources, principally land, among the population. Common culture, language and history are meaningless when a few people in society treat the majority as pawns on the political chess board.
The fact that civil wars took place in countries such as Spain, Russia, America, England, China, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are good examples here. The people in those countries had much in common including language, history and culture, but historical land injustices guaranteed they ended up at each other's throats. Tanzania has no spare land The simple truth is that Tanzania does not have enough land for its own citizens, much less for the beleaguered landless and near landless people from the rest of the proposed East African Federation, who now conservatively number 36.4 million and growing daily.
Tanzania also does not have spare land to accommodate land-grabbers and speculators from around the world coming in the guise of 'foreign investors.' The Siasa Ya Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First Policy) should never ever take the form of inviting so-called 'foreign investors' to take over land and water resources, which are Tanzania's real independence. Instead it should empower Tanzanians themselves to effectively control and manage the agricultural sector in their own country.
'Leasing' land for 66 or 99 years to foreign 'investors', as has now become the norm, is practically granting them a freehold and giving away control of our land forever (milele). No country in history has 'leased' land for this length of time and then got it back without bloodshed. Land and independence are two sides of the same coin and are inextricably linked one to the other. Although large in size, in fact Tanzania has no land surplus; the country covers an area of 945.087 square kilometres of which 59,050 square kilometres are inhabitable because it is covered by water, which means the country's land surface is effectively one of 886,037 square kilometres, equivalent to 88,606,700 hectares.
However, only 44 million hectares, less than half the whole area, are arable land. When we divide the overall hectares by Tanzania's population of 46,218,000 (UN 2011) we get an average of 1.9 hectares per person; but when adjusted to arable land area the average drops to only 0.9 hectares per person. In addition, at the current demographic rate of growth, Tanzania's population will be doubling every 17 to 20 years, resulting in a reduction of land ratio to 0.5 hectares per head by 2030. Who can seriously suggest under these circumstances that either Tanzania has enough land to resettle all the willfully created landless people from the East African Federation?
And who can suggest that Tanzania possesses enough unutilized land to justify the adoption of extravagant policies of inviting global land speculation dressed-up as foreign investments? With the amount of land at our disposal there is absolutely no room for misguided landsharing Pan-East Africanism or for the accommodation of foreign land speculators called "investors".
Tanzania should call time now on foreign investment in our land, as well as to landsharing Federation, before it is too late Kagame: East Africa's Lula Leaders in East Africa should refrain from propagating the notion that Federation is essential for the sake of their people's economic and political well-being, because it is simply not true. To just lump the masses of people together in the region through Federation will bring little or political, social or economic advantage; if anything it will hamper the potential developments that could actually be achieved through the Customs Union and Common Market cooperative measures.
To bring development and prosperity to the people takes more than a simple matter of Federation. Rwanda is the classic local example of this fact. After independence Rwanda continued with the colonial policy of allowing 15 per cent of the people to control almost all the arable land in the country. The result has been repeated civil wars, culminating in the genocide of 1994. President Kagame has now reversed those policies through land nationalisation and redistribution plus very strict and precise control of would-be looters (mafisadi) among the leadership.
The result is near miraculous and the country is doing better politically and economically than any other country in East Africa, and many in the continent as a whole. Today Rwanda is the "Singapore of Africa", and President Kagame is East Africa's Lula da Silva of Brazil. By his actions, President Kagame of Rwanda has demonstrated to leaders in the rest of the continent just what it takes to develop their countries; not an African Union or regional federations, but land nationalisation and fair land distribution, coupled with control of corruption - this is the secret of future success for any country in Africa.
Therefore, for leaders in Kenya, Uganda and Burundi to tell their people that they need to surrender their hard-won freedoms for them to prosper is less than the truth. What is needed is land reform and control of corruption. It is as simple as that. Civil wars are raging in Kenya, Uganda and Burundi and the root cause of these wars is not tribalism but unfair resources distribution. Since leaders in those countries do not want to swallow the bitter pill of land nationalisation and distribution, then those countries do not qualify to go into a Federation with Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan, where land is accessible equitably to all citizens.
To bring about Federation under these circumstances is simply federalising civil wars in East Africa. For the leaders of Tanzania to take the country into a Federation in the prevailing climate is a clear case of betrayal of tomorrow's generations. Tanzania should never sacrifice its land, peace and stability for the sake of a sham East Africa Federation. It is very difficult to restore peace where peace has broken down; we see it in Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
We saw it in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Liberia, Iraq, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo more than five million innocent people have lost their lives so far and still counting. Tanzania should not disturb its national peace and unity for whatever reason; let the rest of East Africans settle their civil wars themselves. Why are we getting involved? Therefore, no case for Federation exists in East Africa today and the leaders as well as the led know it.
Foreign powers should not be allowed to force the creation of East African Federation for their own interests. The common people in the region are yet to be convinced as to why federation in East Africa is needed now and at this point in history. The 1967 to 1977 East African Community was the most integrated Community in the world at the time, more integrated even than the European Union or any other trading bloc/community that exists in the world today; yet surrender of national independence and sovereignty, free movement of people or common passports were never part of the equation of the 1967/77 East African Community.
A renewal of such regional cooperation is what the people of East Africa need now, not a full political Federation. Therefore, the current obsession with the need to merge sovereignties is highly suspect and will serve no useful purpose for the general public. The decision on Federation is therefore best left for future generations in Tanzania and the region as a whole to decide if and when such a Federation will really be of benefit to them.
• Harid Mkali is the author of a book titled, East African Federation: blessing or blight?