East Africa: Njonjo, Suspicions and the Death of EAC, Will Suluhu's Visit Heal These Wounds?

opinion

After President Suluhu Hassan concluded her State visit to Kenya - it now appears that she is determined to finally help bury the historical social and political suspicion that has always existed between Kenya and Tanzania.

There was renewed humour, some camaraderie, and the ice-cold now-you-are-my-friend-now-you-are-not was erased.

At the border in Namanga, some truck drivers have been queuing waiting for clearance as bureaucrats flex their muscles to ostensibly lock out Tanzanian goods.

The history of this feud is long - and the blazing guns have always been retrieved.

In February 1977, Tanzania had closed its border with Kenya - and Kenya had also taken off with some of the Tanzanian assets.

Man eat nothing society

To Julius Nyerere, Kenya had turned to a "man eat man society" - a remark that elicited a retort from Attorney General Charles Njonjo who called Tanzania a "man eat nothing society."

Njonjo wanted East African Community (EAC) to die. And as a member of Jomo Kenyatta's kitchen cabinet, he worked hard to kill it.

And when the EAC broke in June 1977, Njonjo headed to Norfolk Hotel, ordered five champagnes, to toast its death.

"We threw a party," Njonjo once told this writer a few years ago, still excited that EAC died.

Njonjo's burning dislike for Nyerere, and his socialist policies, saw the two countries collide as personal ego was elevated to national policy. While Kenyatta preferred to mix capitalism, and a mild form of socialism, and welcomed foreign investments where the state took shares, Nyerere pursued pure socialism arguing that capitalism was exploitative.

On the other hand, Kenya was arguing that it was carrying the burden of the common services - East African Airways, East African Railways and Harbours, East African Post and Telecommunications.

But records do not indicate that it wanted the community to die. Sometime in 1976, Kenyatta had sent a high-powered delegation to Arusha, the EAC headquarters that was led by the then Finance minister Mwai Kibaki, Isaac Omolo-Okero, the minister for Power and Communications and Attorney General Charles Njonjo. In the meeting was Kenya's representative to the EAC, Dr Robert Ouko.

Fight for unity

As Ouko would later reveal, during the 1984 Njonjo Commission of Inquiry, he was called aside by Njonjo during the coffee break and asked: "Why are you fighting so hard to maintain this thing? I then asked him, 'Which thing?" And Njonjo replied, "This East African Community of yours. You are an able man with long experience. You will be able to get a big job in Kenya. Why are you bothering with this thing?"

Ouko was taken aback by Njonjo's stance: "It is the unity of the East African countries we are fighting for... " Then Njonjo cut him short: "Forget it, it will break up!"

And true to Njonjo's word, by 1977 the EAC dream collapsed after the East African Airways (EAA) - the only institution that had remained operational as a community venture closed shop.

The EAC had started limping in 1971 following the military coup in Uganda which saw President Milton Obote deposed by Idi Amin. After that, both Kenyatta and Nyerere decided to cold-shoulder the new Uganda president with Nyerere vowing never to have a sitting with Amin. As a result, the East African Authority, the highest organ within EAC and which brought together the three presidents, did not meet after 1971.

Tanzania was also hosting exiled Obote - who was still plotting his comeback from Dar es Salaam.

While Kenyatta's Kenya and Obote's Uganda had rejected nationalisation of foreign companies - at least by the time the EAC was formed - the arrival of Amin complicated Uganda's relationship with Kenya as Amin expelled more than 40,000 Asians. He also started flirting with Arabs against Israel and brutally exterminated his opponents. He then claimed some parts of Kenya and Kenyatta dismissed him as a "mad man". This publicity was also hurting Kenya's tourism industry.

That would later, partly, explain why Njonjo and Kenyatta's former minister for Agriculture, Bruce MacKenzie would help plot against Amin during the Entebbe raid by the Israeli troops.

While Tanzania had closed its border with Uganda and cut trade ties with Amin, it felt that Kenya's continuing trade with Uganda and supplying Amin with oil was propping him up. Ironically, both Njonjo and MacKenzie were also seeking business in Uganda as they sought to expand towards Uganda.

As Tanzania embraced Ujamaa and as Kenya became the seat of western capitalism, the ideological differences between the two soon developed into political suspicion. A political generation, today in power, was brought up within this soiled environment.

So damaged was the relationship between Kenya and Tanzania that by 1977, when Nyerere ordered the closure of the EAC offices, the Kenyan staff had been evacuated. Kenyatta also nominated Ouko to Parliament and appointed him as Minister for Community Affairs - in the hope that he could revive EAC with Uganda.

Amin had also written a lengthy telegram to Nyerere, and copied Kenyatta, in which he accused the Tanzanian leader of sabotaging the community: "I am again appealing to you in your capacity as chairman to summon an emergency meeting. Meanwhile, the government of Uganda has decided to recall all its nationals working in various institutions in both Tanzania and Kenya."

"There is enough evidence," wrote Amin, "to show to East Africans and the world at large that you are entirely responsible for the total break-up of the East African Community."

During the colonial days, the British had developed the three colonies separately but with shared services that had been run for several decades. They were all connected with a railway network under the East African Railways and Harbours.

To continue with this cooperation after independence, an East African Common Services Organisation had been launched in 1961 but faced its first handicap - especially on the administration of finances and contribution of each country.

While the three countries shared a common currency - the East African shilling - which was also legal tender as far as South Arabia and Gulf of Aden countries, Tanzania was the first to leave in June 1965 when it threw from the East African Currency Board which had been in place since 1919 and shielded the shilling from other currencies.

The withdrawal of Tanzania from EACB - and the devaluation of its currency - saw the collapse of the East African Shilling with the three separate nations issuing their own currency after that.

Kenya launched its own currency on September 14, 1966 while Uganda launched its currency on August 15, 1966.

It was amidst these that the three Presidents signed the East African Community treaty in December 1967, while bitterness over the collapse of the East African Currency Board, when the East African shilling was at par with the British pound was still fresh. The Arusha Declaration, when Nyerere's TANU adopted socialism did not help either and the three countries had no social ties and by 1977, there was not much left to break up as bickering bureaucrats, nationalistic interference, corruption and incompetence had brought down the fabric that linked the three nations.

So bad was the fallout that when the Tanzanian border with Kenya was closed, Kenyan cars in Tanzania were impounded in Namanga and elsewhere, while Kenya impounded three Tanzanian ships in Kisumu in retaliation.

Kenya had anticipated the final split in late June and pulled out its staff in July. By June 29, the Arusha headquarters needed Sh800 million merely to keep the community general services fund going. None of the partner states was willing to put up any more cash. Attorney-General Charles Njonjo announced on June 30: "The community will die tomorrow."

It did for Kenya. Newly appointed Community Minister Robert Ouko resigned his posts in Arusha and asked the headquarters to "pay me my gratuity by tomorrow".

In Nairobi, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President Geoffrey Kariithi said: "There is no political goodwill. I have recalled all Kenyans working for the community in Arusha. We hope now to sit down as three partner states to decide how to divide the assets and liabilities of the community."

After the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978, President Moi reached out to Nyerere and Uganda's Godfrey Binaisa and in January 1980, the three presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania met for the first time in 10 years. In between, Uganda and Tanzania had gone to war and Nyerere had overthrown President Amin.

After lots of talks, the East African Community was born in July 1999 while a regional passport was officially launched on 1 April 1999.

The arrival of President Suluhu for a State visit was meant to heal some of these historical wounds and erase the memories of 1970s - which have continued to inform the body politic in the three East African nations.

But can there be suluhu (solution) after all the aged suspicion? Only time will tell.

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