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Why everyone’s throwing Kenya under the bus now
Charles Onyango Obbo
Posted: 10 months 6 days

A growing number of voices are warning darkly that Tanzania’s refusal to endorse a regional trade deal with the European Union could split the East African Community.

Tanzania says the deal would kill its infant industries, and hobble its future industrialisation plans.

Kenya and Rwanda have already signed the EPA, which the EU insists all EAC members must sign. Uganda is sitting on the fence, with one foot in the “sign” camp, and the other on the “don’t sign” side.

If the EAC doesn’t sign collectively, then there is no deal.

The EPAs would result in EAC countries allowing European goods in at extremely low tariff rates over 25 years.

In return, the EU would permit EAC products tariff-free access.

Both Tanzania’s President John Magufuli and its parliament are agreed that that is a no-go.

Big problem for Kenya. As the region’s largest economy, one that is classified as “developing,” a failure to conclude the EPA would result in a wave of tariffs on its cut flowers, tea, fresh vegetables and coffee, making them expensive and uncompetitive in the EU market. It is estimated a decline or collapse of these sectors could lead to the loss of up to four million jobs.

This is one of those issues where all sides are right. However, if you dig deeper, Tanzania’s objection to the EPA flows from the same spring as the fierce campaign Kenya led recently against the International Criminal Court.

In its case against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto – and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir – the ICC was seen to be targeting Africa for “neo-colonial” reasons, and leaving other suspected war criminals in the world to roam free.

Rarely has an issue aroused the ire of the leaders at the African Union, and outraged and energised African patriots and nationalists like the ICC.

By the end of 2014, with the AU threatening to walk out en masse from the Rome Treaty, and governments refusing to co-operate with the ICC, it was over.

Tanzania is drawing inspiration from the same well of nationalism, to oppose what it sees as an imperialist economic order that would keep it a poor dependent economy.

The other philosophical underpinning of the anti-ICC movement was that the pain of one or two countries – in this Kenya and Sudan – is also the pain of all of Africa.

This was a significant change from the vision leaders like Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah had for Africa.

They argued that individual nations would have to give up some privileges of sovereignty, for the greater interest of the many. In Nkrumah’s world, we would ask Tanzania to sign the EPA for the greater good of the EAC. However, under the rules of the anti-ICC era, Tanzania’s pain over the EPA has to become the shared cause of the rest of the EAC.

We didn’t see this philosophical shift coming, but here we are. We seem to be learning that nationalists and patriots are good for the defence of the motherland, but bad for global trade.

Also, that the problem with the Kenya-led campaign against the ICC was probably that it was too successful. It opened the door for individual African nations to upset the multilateralism that it needs to survive as the region’s lead economy.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian Africa ( Twitter@cobbo3