Friday, November 8, 2013

Because Cynicism is Too Easy: In Praise of Kikwete's Speech.

The last time President Kikwete* addressed the Parliament was in 2010 apparently, according to the announcers who were covering the event. What brought the President to the House was the current turbulence in the EAC.   

One of the aspects of international relations that fascinates me, especially in our inter-African dialogues, is an overhyped spirit of competition, sometimes even paranoia. Sure, it is inbuilt into the modern nation-state model. But you can imagine how this can make regionalist and pan-African rhetoric confusing. One minute we're cosy friends, united in our 'common African identity' and interests. Next thing you know, chaos. This behavior constitutes about 75% of why I am at best lukewarm about ye olde Pan African Dream. 

So, we were all curious to see what President Kikwete would say on the matter since Tanzania is currently both victim and villain in the EAC travelling road show. The message: Tanzania is committed to the EAC, there shall be no quitting. And, for the record, Tanzania is also not going to be forced to accelerate towards a Political Federation without building a strong foundation of economic integration.

Ah, but it was a pretty piece of oration. Kiswahili lilts well and lends itself to good, strong, gentlemanly speech, and the President brought his decades of diplomatic experience to bear. A sprinkling of levity here and there, the odd add-lib, some charming informality- hey, there's the guy from the 2005 Presidential campaigns. Charisma, anyone?

This gave way to very firm statements, the recollection of EAC The First's demise in 1977 and Tanzania's comittment to the AU and to all forms of regional integration. According to what has been formally agreed betwixt equal partners, and not by any other means. The President implied patience in the face of frustrations, the importance of adhering to his citizens' wishes** on the matter of the pace of Federation, and finished by asking god to Bless Africa and Tanzania and all her peoples- a reference to the national anthem. 

My favorite bit of the speech, of course, was the part where the President pointed out that it would probably take another fifty or so years for the Federation to become a viable option.

The brutal and beautiful truth? He'll be dead, his contemporaries will be dead, I'll be dead and the kids will be in charge. Our job is to make it possible for them to achieve, maybe even excel at what didn't take the first time, or the second time. This is about a viable future, and positive legacy. And it requires an acceptance of our own limitations. Where we are now in our relationship, if we move too fast we are likely to irritate each other into a dangerous state of aggravation. Oh, look- it's already happening.

When I say I don't want Federation, it's not out of dislike for any of the neighbors. In fact, quite the opposite. Competitive nationalism is, how to put this politely... basically insane. I can't sing the 'my country is better than yours, neener neener neener!' song in public and retain any self-respect as an adult. I would love to go back to Buja, experience Kigali, revisit Kampala- this time with a lot more time to explore the nightlife- and drink coffee and get energized in Nairobi and venture beyond Nairobi too because whoeee there is some beautiful country up there and so on and so forth, Cairo to Cape Town. All within the comfort of knowing that my being a proud Tanzanian removes nothing from my compatriots, and perhaps enhances something of their own pride in identity as well, whichever identity it may be.

We were supposed to be growing a nice young generation of East Africans who would be eased into considering all East African nationals as friends, compatriots, partners in every sense of the word. Let the kids and teachers cross borders so we can attend each others' schools, intermarry with great and enthusiastic abandon, work in each others' countries, start to forget that there is a 'we' and 'them' and let the 'us' come naturally. The EAC Secretariat should have, years ago, indoctrinated the heck out of us by inserting EAC positive material in our curricula. It should have a communications department that does so much more intricate work to sell the idea into acceptability across the region. Our governments should have had us all panting for a glorious and united region by now, grasping for the dream.

You know who gets this? The radio stations, the mobile phone companies, the banks, the businesses. Having a beef is bad for business so it's all gloriously positive messaging. Yes, of course I want to sign up with the company that lets me use my simcard wherever I roam when visiting old and yet-to be made friends!

And, so. (pausing to breathe). These big words- politics, sijui economic indicators of success, sijui cooperation and development and all that, they boil down to such crucial human details. Like, maybe, attitude, behavior, intent. We can't always hide behind the official reports from this or that body, hide behind the statistics and pretend that they render the truth of our endeavors. We can't claim to aspire to a glorious vision of African Unity and prosperity, then enact it by devolving into impatience, jingoism, egotism and spite. Not even on Twitter.

I am glad that Tanzania is not leaving the EAC without a fight for the AU vision, perhaps just as much as I am glad that the threat of premature Federation has been laid to rest- for now. President Kikwete's speech soothed the local pique at recent events and introduced a much-needed note of conciliation into the story of EAC in 2013. It was also straight up retro-fabulous statesmanship, redolent of the golden era of inspirational African orators.

In five, ten, fifteen, fifty years from now when the landscape has changed and there is a different group of men or women in power this speech will be part of what gives context to our modern history. What, indeed, will we be saying about regional integration and Pan Africanism and each other then?

*thought I'd give a man his due respect today. 
** funny how that happens only in certain international arenas. we could do with more of that in our domestic policy. 

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