Dar/Arusha. Kenyans have re-elected Uhuru Kenyatta for another term of five years in an election that has seen Tanzania dragged into the country’s politics than ever before.
While the two countries have been experiencing bilateral high and lows from time to time, the 2017 elections brought with it a new level of anxiety.
While just like in 2013, Kenyatta faced veteran opposition figure Raila Odinga, but the close relationship between Mr Odinga and Tanzanian President John Magufuli changed the political landscape.
Top officials from President Kenyatta’s party Jubilee repeatedly accused Tanzanian government as hosting Nasa’s tallying centre aimed and rigging the polls. The allegations were vehemently refuted by Mr Odinga and the Tanzanian government.
Mr Odinga never shied away from using Magufuli’s name in his campaigns. Addressing a camping rally in a border town of Namanga, he claimed that current frosty relations between the two countries are caused by “insults hurled” by Uhuru officials and promised to strengthen bilateral ties since he is friends with Dr Magufuli.
Due to Odinga-Magufuli friendship, the main opposition party, Chadema, ditched their long-term ally Odinga in favour of Kenyatta. The party claimed that while Kenyatta embraced democracy in Kenya, Dr Magufuli was muzzling the opposition and Odinga is still backing him. Chadema’s 2015 presidential candidate Edward Lowassa attended Jubilee rally in Narok, and was part of Maasai Laigwanans who endorsed Kenyatta.
With all the political eventualities, one might not be wrong to ask what then would become of the bilateral relationship between the two countries now the election dust is settling.
The Citizen sought comments from diplomacy, political and business commentators who generally remained positive that politics will not affect the cooperation between the two leading East African economies.
Mr Richard Mbunda, a Political Science lecturer with the University of Dar es Salaam, says whatever happened during the campaigns as “usual politics with minimal effects in the diplomatic relations between Kenya and Tanzania.”
“Tanzania should be willing to work closely with the elected leaders of Kenya and the same is a must for the Nairobi government towards their counterparts in Dar es Salaam. This is important for broad interests of both parties which need to work hard towards solving their citizens’ pressing needs.”
A lecturer with the Centre for Foreign Relations, Mr Godwin Gonde, is optimistic that the relations between the two countries will improve “despite who supported who during the campaign period.”
He said that Kenyatta as the president will ensure smooth implementation of the EAC projects which he thinks would be unpredictable if different president would come in power.
“The main thing is tariff,” said Mr Gonde highlighting the important area of relations to be paid attention to. “There is a need of undertaking a thorough and critical negotiation at the ministerial level between the duo on how each can benefit from the imposed tariffs.”
This, Mr Gonde identified, is important considering the new economic diplomacy and industrialisation policy that Tanzania’s fifth phase government has recently embarked on.
Mr Adolf Olomi, the managing director of Banana Investments, an Arusha-based beverage firm noted that there may have been some hitches but they are tolerable and called for the government to focus on even better relations with its northern neighbour. “Those reports of a tallying centre in Tanzania were mere fabrications. Tanzania has not acted in any suspicious manner during the entire period of election campaigns in Kenya,” he said adding “And, President Magufuli has congratulated the president-elect.”
Mr Olomi was referring to a tweet that Dr Magufuli posted earlier on Saturday to congratulate Mr Kenyatta. “Congratulations for being elected President of Kenya for another term. I wish you best of luck,” tweeted President Magufuli.
Mr Moses Allan, the president of Friends of East Africa, a lobby group based in Arusha downplayed fears that Tanzania and Kenya relations could be heading for a cold phase due to Odinga’s loss. “It is true Magufuli and Odinga are friends. That is not surprising because (Edward) Lowassa is also a great friend of Uhuru Kenyatta. But our President has kept a safe distance from the Kenyan elections,” he said.
Dr Magufuli and Mr Odinga became allies in the 2000s when both were ministers of Works in their respective countries. Magufuli addressed the ODM’s congress in 2012 which endorsed Odinga to run for 2013 elections. He also attended the burial ceremony of Odinga’s son Fidel in Kisumu, January 2015.
Odinga attended Mr Magufuli’s swearing-in-ceremony in November 2015 as a special guest, and enjoyed VIP welcome from the State. April last year, Odinga and wife Aida flew to Magufuli’s hometown of Chato and spent a week with President Magufuli and First Lady Janet.