Posted on Wednesday, 02 December 2015 11:30

Tanzania: Life after Kikwete

Photos© All rights reservedThe new president will be under pressure to chart a new course in the region


In early October, Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete made a farewell state visit to Kenya. There was more than a tinge of nostalgia to his trip. Kikwete, after all, was taking leave of a third Kenyan administration since his rise to power a decade ago. It was he who, as the country hovered on the brink of civil war in early 2008, had brokered the Nairobi peace deal to end the violence triggered by a rigged election.

The best bet perhaps, is that Tanzania will see the value of acting as an unambiguous regional peace broker and thus initiating the complicated process of mending fences with Rwanda.

And yet there was much fence-mending and deal-making to be done on Kikwete's trip. An undercurrent of tension ran through relations with his northern neighbour. The ghosts of old ideological differences coloured the way the two countries regarded each other.

Tanzania, even after all this time, was still seen as President Julius Nyerere's failed Ujamaa (socialist) paradise; Kenya remained a capitalist hotbed, a willing Western tool that, under independence-era leader Jomo Kenyatta, had shown no qualms about doing business with apartheid South Africa and Israel. And if those ghosts were now merely disturbing echoes from the past, more recently, as a second Kenyatta sat in State House in Nairobi, a simmering trade war had almost boiled over into naked hostilities.

Tanzanian authorities banned Kenyan tour operators from crossing the border this year, and there was a rather nasty argument over a Kenya Airways deal with a small but profitable Tanzanian operator.

Petty as they were, this accumulation of aibu ndogo ndogo (small embarrassments in Kiswahili) in an old relationship spoke of unease and imbalance. But as President Uhuru Kenyatta rolled out the red carpet for his friend – the two were said to be buddies who occasionally holidayed together – the tensions were undetectable. Kikwete was given the unprecedented privilege of addressing parliament. Communiqués were signed and exchanged, and a state banquet was thrown in the Tanzanian president's honour.

In Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, difficult questions are being asked of the Kikwete succession. Tanzania is seen as the East African Community (EAC)'s integration laggard, a stubborn brother half turned towards the Southern African Development Community.

In Rwanda, Kikwete's successor will be hard-pressed to undo the damage done by Kikwete's 2013 advice to Rwanda's President Paul Kagame that he needed to negotiate with the rebels of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda.

And it has not helped that Tanzania enjoys close relations with the Pierre Nkurunziza regime in Burundi, where fears of a coming pogrom have driven thousands of Tutsis into Rwanda. That, coupled with the never distant ethnic tensions in the Great Lakes region, means that the new Tanzanian president will be under pressure to chart a different course. The dilemma of what to do with thousands of refugees from the 1994 Rwanda genocide era, massed in the Kagera Region, is at the heart of the problem.

Whether the new government is headed by John Magufuli or oppositionist Edward Lowassa, neither is expected to make a radical break with Kikwete's regional policies. The best bet perhaps, is that Tanzania will see the value of acting as an unambiguous regional peace broker and thus initiating the complicated process of mending fences with Rwanda.

Parselelo Kantai

Parselelo Kantai

Parselelo Kantai is the East and Horn of Africa editor of The Africa Report. He also writes for Africa Confidential and the Financial Times. He has been a Reuters Fellow and his fiction has twice been shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing.

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