Tanzania-Rwanda diplomatic spat: is it a case of being too sensitive or indifference?

September 3, 2013 7:55 pm0 comments by:

On Thursday, 29th August, the ongoing diplomatic spat between Tanzania and Rwanda surfaced in Tanzania’s parliament in Dodoma. The Leader of Opposition, who also doubles as the Chairperson of the biggest opposition political party, Freeman Mbowe asked the government to end the diplomatic feud claiming that Tanzania was being side-lined by the other partner states in the EAC. Responding to that question, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda said President Kikwete had asked Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to intervene and mediate between the two countries, and he shot down the proposal of forming a special body to deal with the issue.

Mbowe’s question echoed suggestions made in early August by his party Secretary General Dr Wilbroad Slaa, and no doubt were informed with Dar being snubbed by the other EAC partner states who recently met in Kenya, where this time around even Burundi, which was no show at the earlier meeting in Kampala in late June sent a representative in Kenya.

The media in the two countries are having a field day in trying to outdo each other by demonizing and spreading malicious propaganda aimed at the leaders of Tanzania and Rwanda. Oh! The folly of men!

Analysts in the region have varied opinions on the issue. By dragging down the EAC, there are those who think this diplomatic spat is a “good thing” to get us out of our comfort zone and address the issue of political integration more seriously and that the competition to outdo one another and the fear of being left out in the cold could get us to serious business. There are analysts who think this doesn’t augur well for the future of EAC and it should be resolved quickly for the better of the region.

The suggestion made by President Kikwete in Ethiopia back in May, that Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC leaders should talk to the armed groups fighting their governments is what led us here. The response from Rwanda was palpable with anger, and many in Tanzania were in shock while it seems most Rwandans support the response of their government.

Was the response from Rwanda too sensitive? After the 1994 genocide the authorities there are very sensitive to anything regarding the subject. Owing to our collective guilty for failing to prevent, contain or stop the genocide even though it unfolded before our very own eyes, global, and much more so regional leaders have kept mum about how Kigali does business related to genocide.

African leaders are known for their deafening silence when it comes to domestic matters of another country. Courtesy of many skeletons in each other’s closets this practice has been sustained.  Take the Great Lakes region, for instance. In Kenya the President and his deputy are on trial, Uganda has long fought armed groups, and well Burundi has its own skeletons which very much mirrors those in Rwanda.

So, did President Kikwete consider his own closet too clean enough to lecture others? Would the reaction from Rwanda been the same had the suggestion been made by a Western leader? Did Kikwete forget “his place”, and venture into lecturing his colleagues which is a prerogative of Western leaders?

We may never know the answers to these questions.

Has Rwanda done enough to explain and educate outsiders of the dynamics and sensibilities of the genocide? In recent years, there has been a growing trend of African countries bypassing normal diplomatic channels and hiring expensive western PR and lobbying firms to “clean up” their images in the West and to make promotions of their countries on international media.

East Africa hasn’t been left out. All EAC partner states have spent big to hire K-street lobbysts who have the right connections with the right people in western governments. Canada’s Mail and Globe reported that Rwanda spent $ 50,000 plus expenses per month paying RacePoint Group, US based PR firm to manage its image in efforts aimed at phasing out genocide stories.

There is no such attention paid to African countries to try and “improve” their images within the continent, they aren’t bothered. Astute observers won’t miss the irony in such efforts as day in and day out African rulers badmouth and talk big about the West, but at the same time go and hire PR firms to look good in those very same countries.

Kikwete’s suggestion seemed to have come from a sensible man from a significant regional power player, and given his long career and the positions he held at the time around the genocide, there is little doubt that he was well informed of the realities of Rwanda’s genocide. This makes it impossible to place his suggestion as “indifference”.

There is more than meets the eye to this unfolding situation.

Rwanda’s reaction no doubt is linked to what is happening in eastern DRC, where it has long been embroiled in the endless armed conflicts. Tanzania steered clear of the troubles of her neighbours for many years, until it decided to send troops into the DRC as part of an “Intervention” UN brigade. Accusations from Rwanda have alleged that Tanzania’s involvement in DRC is suspicious.

It is not known what informed President Kikwete’s suggestion. Was it his concern of the troops he was about to deploy in DRC? Or perhaps it was the increased diplomatic clout the country has enjoyed in recent years where the big and powerful can’t have enough of it?

EAC being dragged down in this ongoing diplomatic spat is a shame. It is unfortunate that most of Africa’s second generation regional/economic integration schemes started their journeys with a bad footing, and it seems like even along the way we aren’t on par with our steps.

After liberation struggles ended, Tanzania cocooned itself, it retreated inward. Now, with the limelight on us, it is like we are trying to find a balance between two realities: one in which we are inward looking but very much in need of what we see beyond our yard. Second, in which we are outward looking but at the same time we don’t want to let go of the shell we’ve built for ourselves.

Rwanda has presented a challenge on how countries in the EAC should relate to each other. Heading for the 15th summit of EAC Heads of State this November in Arusha, there is much at stake as there are those who are worried that the deteriorating relations between Kigali and Dar es Salaam don’t augur well for the future of EAC.

As the diplomatic spat between the EAC’s biggest and smallest countries by landmass go on, it will be interesting to watch how Museveni will walk the tightrope and help the EAC escape one of its biggest challenges to its continued relevance and survival. That of course should he accept being the mediator. And providing an answer to whether one is too sensitive or perhaps it is a question of indifference for the other will be a good start.

Hate him or love him, even his opponents wouldn’t disagree that in this troubled region, Museveni is a master strategist and a shrewd politician but at times like this few would be surprised should he envy Houdini-the master escapist of the 19th century.

For one, this region has a very proud people.

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