What Tanzania Cabinet changes mean for EAC

Minister of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Mr January Makamba. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Tanzania, which used to wield so much influence in the EAC region’s diplomacy in years of yore, has expectedly kept on struggling but not doing better.

Arusha. Will the country’s image in the world and the region recover from yesterday’s cabinet changes by President Samia Suluhu Hassan?

The answer is yes. The government is giving new impetus to the ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation.

The entry of January Makamba as the new minister for the docket and the appointment of a permanent secretary dedicated to the East African Community (EAC) are enough to tell.

Mr Makamba, a cabinet member who blends his eloquence with inborn diplomatic skills, has taken over the docket when changes at the ministry’s top brass are needed most.

Tanzania, which used to wield so much influence in the EAC region’s diplomacy in years of yore, has expectedly kept on struggling but not doing better.

The decision by President Hassan to strengthen the docket by appointing a seasoned diplomat as PS dedicated to the EAC is a reflection of the government’s seriousness about its footprint in regional affairs.

Prof Kennedy Godfrey Gastorn, a former country’s envoy to the United Nations, was appointed a permanent secretary dedicated to the EAC.

“The appointment of an additional PS is because the president wants to strengthen the EAC docket”, said Chief Secretary Moses Kusiluka when he announced the new cabinet lineup.

The Foreign Affairs and EA Cooperation ministry will also have a new deputy minister, Steven Byabato, who has been transferred from the Energy ministry. Until yesterday, the ministry had one deputy minister Mbarouk Mbarouk, who deputised Dr Stergomena Tax, who has been transferred to Defence and National Service.

Prof Gastorn has a wide range of experience not only in international diplomacy but also in legal affairs, having once served as secretary general of legal organisations for Africa and Asia under the UN.

He had also served as the national convenor of the Rule of Law Forum of the country’s International Development Law Organization.

So is January Makamba, the 49-year-old minister who was constantly in the headlines during the hotly contested 2015 General Elections, steadfastly campaigning for CCM.

Mr Makamba, like his new PS for EAC, is a diplomat, if his short stint at the ministry when he joined the government is anything to go by.

At different times, he has served as a minister, once successfully spearheading the fight against plastic waste.

But it was at the Energy ministry that he displayed his skills in negotiating with prospective investors for the country’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) projects.

The takeover of the Foreign Affairs and EA Cooperation docket by Mr Makamba has also come at a time when Tanzania needs to reclaim its influence in regional affairs.

For the EAC, a fast-expanding organisation, the message is clear: Tanzania is a founding member of the union and a host nation. Unfortunately, in recent years, the other original members and newcomers to the EAC have appeared to run the show as the host nation took a back seat.

Although not mentioned by name in the circles of the EAC, a diplomatic organisation, Tanzania is among the countries whose ministers are rare in Arusha. This is more so not only during debates in the East African Legislative Assembly’s (Eala) sessions but also during the tabling of the EAC budgets.

According to the EAC Treaty, a minister holding the EAC Affairs docket is an ex-official member of Eala and a member of the Council of Ministers.

However, for the past six or seven years, the country has been represented by the deputy minister, while others keep on being represented by the full cabinet ministers.

The absence of ministers in various EAC activities in Arusha is also a common phenomenon for other EAC partner states but easily gets attention if it is a host nation.

Nearly three years ago, the Arusha-based scribes took to task one of Mr Makamba’s predecessors as to why the country’s EAC Affairs were missing.

The ex-minister, who was new to the docket, cited “poor communication” between Arusha and Dodoma as probable reasons and promised to work on the matter.

Mr Makamba will most likely be compelled to address the setback given that the President appears to have given the ministry a new gear to perform diligently.

Analysts have gone further by urging the government to establish a liaison office for the Foreign Affairs ministry in Arusha, given the number of regional bodies based there.

Besides the EAC and its affiliated organisations, Arusha is also the seat of the UN Tribunal as well as the African Court of Human and People’s Rights, a powerful organ of the African Union.

Other organisations include the Pan African Postal Union (Papu), which is soon to unveil its $38 billion headquarters, the former Commonwealth Health Secretariat (Ecsa), and a host of others.

The presence of so many regional and international organisations may require diplomatic services from the government.

The changes at the Foreign Affairs ministry announced in what was described as a mini-cabinet reshuffle have a major impact on the docket in that the EAC will now have a special emphasis.

Tanzanians are keen to see their voices heard loud and clear on the EAC forums, such as in Eala debates, so that the country’s interests are safeguarded.

The changes have come at a time of a standoff over the 2023/24 budget of the EAC, which Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) rejected over some irregularities.

The $103 million budget was passed in June this year, but it was not until last month that the two countries refused to assent to the estimates on the grounds that they were above the ceiling earlier recommended by the Council of Ministers.

Eala has rejected the claim, saying the Assembly did not impose any charge upon the Community over and above the ceiling recommended by the Council of Ministers.

For the EAC annual budget to be implemented, it has to be debated and passed by Eala and later assented to by all the heads of state.

The controversy over the issue is likely to negatively impact the activities of the Community due to a looming cash crunch.

However, sources intimated to The Citizen that questions have been raised as to why the irregularities raised by Tanzania and the DRC were not addressed before the estimates were tabled in June or at the commencement of the budget process in March 2023.