Commentary

When Nationalism Comes Knocking (Part 2)

See Part 1 here

If the economic argument for protectionism does not make sense, it seems like Tanzania’s latest anti-regional decisions are based on nothing more but good old nationalism.

Tanzania has a long (positive) history with nationalism since its first legendary president Julius Nyerere put a lot of effort in uniting the nation after independence: by pushing for Kiswahili as a uniting language for all tribes (there are more than 120 languages spoken in Tanzania), but also by pursuing a relatively closed socialist economic model. An initial attempt to create a united East Africa failed in 1977 also because Tanzania felt it was not getting the best deal out of it and nationalist sentiments (in most EAC countries to be fair) destroyed the regional spirit.

Whilst nationalism was definitely beneficial and a good idea after decolonization to avoid ethnic tensions that wrecked so many other young African states, it seems to make much less sense nowadays. Yet, it is highly in fashion: besides the anti-EAC decisions Tanzania’s Minister of Finance has announced to plan the next budget without donor money (without mentioning how to close that gap) after partners have withheld funds over a corruption scandal and announced steps to fight against the use of the US Dollar in domestic transactions (without addressing the reasons for the Shilling’s instability). The only one really profiting from this wave of nationalist policies is the ruling CCM party, as elections are coming up in fall and a nationalist platform tends to pay-off at the polls.

Here is where the actual problem lies. Tanzanians will vote in favour of anti-Kenyan policies and could not care less about the EAC. There is no party that is actually actively campaigning with a pro-regionalism stance. While the public and private sector are trying to progress integration on the technocratic level and President Kikwete speaks in favor of the EAC at regional gatherings, I doubt that any CCM politician will even mention the Community in a speech in front of the “Wananchi” (the ordinary people) – the EAC is not a vote catcher.

Many Tanzanians have never even heard about the EAC, let alone understand what their people actually do besides living in nice houses and driving big cars (a motorbike-taxi driver found it hilarious that I work at the EAC, but am still riding along on his bike). Though, this is understandable.

Besides businessmen or people in border areas that might do some trading, the East African Community does not affect their life at all. Their socio-economic situation does not allow trips to neighbouring countries and EAC regulations have not really reached the daily life yet, as they do in the EU. I can only really speak about the situation in Tanzania, but I assume that this issue looks similar in the other four Partner States. You might realize now that I had left out “the people” when I listed all stakeholders in the beginning that are keen on regional integration on the African continent.

Presidents Museveni (Uganda), Moi (Kenya) and Mkapa (Tanzania) at the launch of the EAC in 1999. (Source: EAC website)

AND WHEREAS in 1977 the Treaty for East African Co-operation establishing the East African Community was officially dissolved, the main reasons contributing to the collapse of the East African Community being lack of strong political will, lack of strong participation of the private sector and civil society in the co-operation activities…”, Preamble of the EAC Treaty 1999.

Ironically, the EAC sees itself as a “people-centered” union: A term that also we at GIZ gladly put in the reports about our work. Seeing that, we should not be surprised about the nationalist sentiments, but about such misconceptions created by the bubble that we work in. I don’t want to say that our project has not realized this shortcoming.

In fact, the opposite is true: One module focuses on improving the communication strategy of the EAC Secretariat and another one works on integrating the civil society in the EAC processes. However, the latest examples support my impression from talking to regular Tanzanians that we are still god-damn far away from making regional integration in Africa a truly people-centered project. While the EAC’s benefits are already indirectly felt by most citizens, the project planning and execution itself is carried and informed almost entirely by elites.

If you complain about the EU being detached from the citizens, you’ll feel better after a look at the EAC.

In a Community of five democracies in which politicians will try to appeal to voters, it is dangerous if the people are utterly unaware of the possibilities of opening up and uniting on a regional level: The results are noticeable in Tanzanian politics at the moment.

I can only hope that governments and development partners step up their efforts on bringing the regional integration project closer to the people and begin to work on creating a deeper East African identity. Looking back at my own case and seeing what has made me the European that I feel I am today, is that I studied abroad. Many have said that after decades of European elitism, finally the first generation is taking over that has adopted a true European identity partly created by the pan-European Erasmus exchange program.

Recently, German President Gauck visited Tanzania and gave a speech at the EAC Secretariat. At one point, he spoke about issues of identity and suggested that the EAC should think about introducing their own version of the Erasmus program. I think that is a great idea and maybe in 30 years I will be able to meet Tanzanians who feel as estranged by nationalism as I do now.

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Experiences

An Internship For Hypocrites

Mt Meru, Tanzania

I’m sitting on the front porch of my little house on Themi Hill. Far in the distance I can see stunning Mt Meru shining above the city – a view I will enjoy for the coming ten months. One week ago I moved to Arusha in northern Tanzania to work for Germany’s state-held development agency “Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit” better known by its acronym GIZ.

The local units consults the East African Community during its integration process. A great opportunity to kick-off a career in international development you might think. And yes, you’re right – the project is incredibly promising and already after one week I feel that I will massively profit from this long internship. Nevertheless, even looking at this beautiful scenery spread out in front of me I can’t lose an uneasy feeling deep inside of me.

Let me step back six years:

Right after high-school, I decided to do some good old volunteering in a children’s home in South Africa for a year. Half-way through our time we had the chance to listen to a representative of the GIZ office in Pretoria (let’s call him Jake) talking about careers in their little club. This was my first contact with the weird world of development. Having so much fun living in South Africa but also being enthralled by the country’s complex history I soaked up everything Jake said. He told us that they need people with ‘degrees in some solid fields’, so I started studying Economics. What timing! The crisis humiliated the discipline and crushed my motivation to go ahead in the field. I looked into alternatives and switched to Maastricht’s lefty-green-alternative Liberal Arts College, the UCM. A great program that I can only recommend to anybody interested in a holistic undergraduate education. This move also signified the beginning of me doubting that I should see Jake as a role-model.

I started picking courses outside Economics, studying critical theory, learning about the concept of neo-colonialism and getting to understand that there are some shocking problems in the industry. Many times I heard that everything the West does to ‘help’ the Global South is pure neoliberalism, patriarchal and on average causes more harm than it does good to the partner countries.

Now, I’m really up for the ‘practice what you preach’-approach to living your life and usually hate the type of people that were part of the Marxism Society in College only to become an investment banker a few years later. Yet, here I am sitting in Arusha going back to work tomorrow in a field that I have often condemned in my academic papers. GIZ might not be the worst of them all, but already after one week I have had some prejudices confirmed: power struggles with the ministry, end-of-the-year spending spree (Mittelabflussdruck as the Germans call it…) or the expensive workshop that seems to interest only 3 of 30 invited local partners.

So why am I here anyway in the Geneva of Africa – as one of the expats called it – if I’m just whining about it?

Maybe because I wanted to see for myself, maybe because development cooperation is what I know best and maybe because I simply think that my specific project is obviously an exception. I am convinced that regional integration is in fact a good way forward for East Africa and believe that the GIZ team does a good job of fostering that process. This is probably what everybody in this game thinks about their own work, allowing the bigger picture to vanish quickly as you get sucked into your career. The uneasy feeling hasn’t left me yet and I remain deeply undecided. Am I studying the enemy or turning into a hypocrite that might continue to sit on Themi Hill and pretend to unite East Africa?

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