By MAKWAIA wa KUHENGA, 12th May 2011
‘We have learnt with dismay that the Kenyan authorities have blocked off entry of Tanzania’s Azania wheat flours into the Kenyan market contrary to the East African Common Market protocol… As government officials we have a moral duty and responsibility to protect our country’s local investors against unfair and inequitable trade competition against the letter and spirit of the common market protocol.’
An inter-departmental memo within the Tanzania Revenue Authority.
THERE was an air of optimism when
the East African Community (EAC) was revived following its collapse in 1977. That optimism was fired when the member states acceded to the treaty putting in place an East African Common Market recently.
But as is always the case when political expediency takes hold, no consideration is given on realities on the ground, that is the political culture in a given country and economic realities.
For instance, when the EAC was revived in 2001, economic realities in the three original member states was not assessed in the direction of putting in place a genuine common market that will really be ‘common’ in the interests of all member states.
On the other hand, the factor of private entrepreneurship as distanced from that of the respective states of the member countries was not addressed. Whereas Tanzania’s talks of “mafisadi” (a lootocracy) which essentially translates for business people in government or its ruling party, the same phenomenon could be the case in one member state of the community on an even longer spell of time!
Actually, without the need for statistics, one member state, Kenya is stronger economically because it has had a significant industrial growth in the intervening period given the eschewed colonial history in its favour and capitalist orientation of its economy immediately after its independence.
For instance, Kenya exports three fifths of its goods to Tanzania alone. For a country like Tanzania to compete at par with Kenya, which has been enjoying an industrial edge over the years, is out of the question. In fact, a cursory bird’s overview over Tanzania gives the impression that this country looks like a huge supermarket for goods manufactured elsewhere!
So the emergency of the East African Common Market taken from its philosophical thrust could have been helpful to Tanzania if Tanzanian business people, whom I would prefer to call “toddlers,” were able to penetrate the Kenyan market and do business there, just as much as the Kenyans have been doing business in Tanzania for decades.
But as the quote at the launch of this perspective reveals, Tanzanian business people have been having it very rough at the boundary with Kenya. Such has been their plight that tones and tones of goods have been refused entry into Kenya at Lungalunga and Namanga boundary point, necessitating the intervention of Tanzania’s government officials such as the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), which has pleaded with relevant Kenyan authorities to let the consignments of goods pass.
A correspondence I have been able to lay hands on is from the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) to the Director-General of the Kenya Revenue Authority brings the Kenyan authorities to reports that “trucks have been refused entry into Kenya without any explanation.”
Such trucks full of goods seeking entry into Kenya belong to one prominent Tanzanian manufacturer, Mikoani Traders which produces wheat flour with the brand name – Azania. Another is in Arusha known as Monaban Trading whose foodstuff has been blocked at the Namanga/Holili border with Kenya.
It has been obliged to return the goods to Arusha. The situation has been worse for Mikoani Traders of Dar es Salaam, the producers of wheat flour known as Azania. Their wheat flour produce was issued with a certificate of origin by the TCCIA as regulations by the Common Market require. It has been blocked from entering the Kenyan market up until today.
On hearing this story and concerned with this development, I invited a senior official of Azania flour, Mr Mohamed Bashrahil, along with the President of the TCCIA and the Kenyan High Commissioner to Tanzania, Mr Mutinda Mutiso, to my weekly TV Show on Channel Ten last week. Mr Bashrahil, a Tanzanian businessman said, among other things, that he suspected that one of the reasons of his wheat flour being blocked into the Kenyan market arose because of a “conflict of interest.”
His information was that a senior government official in Kenya was involved in the wheat flour business in that country! This allusion could not conceal my amusement to the question: Is it “common” or “private” interests at the bottom line of the East African Common Market? On his part, the Kenyan High Commissioner promised to investigate the blockage of Tanzanian goods destined for his country.
But all said, it is critical for the governments of the member states of the EAC which have risen to five with the accession of Rwanda and Burundi to ensure to it that the fine words on paper in the respective treaty of the East African Community and its protocols really mean what they are in reality on the ground.
Makwaia wa KUHENGA is a Senior Tanzanian Journalist & Author