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.

Experiences, Platform

Before The Internship: What I’m expecting

ERASMUS has achieved the impossible. With its repetitive questioning method and ability to irritate with the simplest inquiry, it has finally managed to make the prospect of free money boring.

The fact that is has taken me two weeks to do half an hours form-filling bears witness to this. Of course it will be done. In fact, it has to be, otherwise my move to Brussels and subsequent internship with Oxfam would be impossible. Anyway, there are only so many ways the kind bureaucrats at ERASMUS can ask me “What tasks will you be doing?”

With the move just under a month away, it is remarkable how little thought I have given it. ERASMUS and money lingers over my shoulder as does the annoyingly unresponsive house market in Brussels, but concerns about the job seem miles away. As a media and communications intern my job will be as diverse as “drafting media products such as press releases” to “helping organise advocacy events”; sure, it’s not the first image one imagines when they think development, but it is still a job with one of the world’s most recognisable and respected development brands.

I have the benefit of hindsight with the internship, albeit one based on the experiences of someone else. With the placement previously taken by a fellow University of Bath student, she was able to inform me on what to expect. She told me that, given the offer, she would happily do it again, a reassurance which pushed me to take the unpaid internship.

It was money which scared me about the job. With ‘pocket-money’ of €150 a month and a further €200 for my train from London, the job – which requires 38 hours a week – will pay €1700 for ten months work. God bless ERASMUS therefore who, despite making it incredibly tedious, pay me €3400. On top of that, my British Student Finance Maintenance Loan is helping with a further £4300. That brings me to the grand total of, roughly, €10,100 for the year. It is enough. Not to live glamorously, but enough to survive in one of Europe’s more expensive cities.

So with my money worries pushed to the side-lines a bit, what about the job? I’m a natural pessimist. Having come from three years of doing the very little students do, entering a job is relatively daunting. In fact, it isn’t even a job: it’s an internship. As much as I want to be like CJ from the West Wing, delivering important company announcements from a podium, I will be in front of it. That’s if Oxfam even has a podium to speak from in Europe. In my head, my role could be as irrelevant as fetching coffee for my boss.

The fear of being useless will be there right up until the day I start and, with little doubt, for about a month after that.

I have little experience in the tasks assigned to me, and where I do, it feels like it’s not nearly enough. Stories from others already working on placements resigning to play Angry Birds on their phone all day worries me; if they aren’t paying me very much, does it matter if I’m not working as much? Will they give me any responsibility at all?

Ultimately though, with my knowledge of Oxfam and conversations with the other intern, I look forward to working with two things I have enjoyed immensely over the past few years. Firstly, having worked with my campus paper, I am interested to see how those wanting to manipulate print media go about it.

Secondly, I could argue that I have fought on the ‘front lines’ of development, teaching English to impoverished Ecuadorian children for six months during my gap year. I am intrigued to find out if that is the front line at all or whether, as I am being increasingly led to believe, it is the law-makers, including the European Union, who fight on the ‘front line’.

Being this pessimist means that I always have a lot to worry about, so all I can do for the next month is hope for the best, find a house, and finish these bloody forms!