The arrival of Tanzania President John Magufuli in Rwanda on Wednesday for a two-day official visit marked a special moment for East Africa.
First, it signified thawing relations between Dar es Salaam and Kigali after years of feuds following a fallout between Dr Magufuli’s predecessor Jakaya Kikwete and President Paul Kagame over claims that Tanzania favoured the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (DFLR).
Rwanda believes DFLR played an active role in the 1994 genocide on its soil that claimed the lives of more than a million people.
Significantly Dr Magufuli is today scheduled to officiate at an event to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the genocide that drew global attention to the tiny east Africa nation, symbolising a truce over the genocide claims.
“Rwanda extends a special welcome to His Excellency John Magufuli, President of the sister nation of Tanzania! Karibu sana mheshimiwa rais,” Rwanda Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said on Wednesday.
But even more critical, President Magufuli’s maiden trip abroad since his election in 2015 signifies a deep resolve to restore Tanzania’s clout in the region and shake-off the recent ‘lone-ranger’ tag among other East Africa Community (EAC) partners on key integration issues such as trade and infrastructure development.
Presidents Magufuli and Kagame on Wednesday jointly opened the Rusumo one-stop-border- post to improve trade between the two countries — firming up Tanzania’s latest onslaught to restore active participation in EAC matters after an infamous fallout with Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda over regional integration issues.
The fallout between Tanzania and Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda was fuelled by the formation of a “coalition of the willing” by the three states to push for faster integration.
At a meeting in Mombasa in August 2013 regional leaders including Mr Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Mr Kagame discussed key proposals to deepen integration without the input of Tanzania.
The meeting was followed by another in Entebbe, Uganda in what most analysts read as a resolve by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda to ditch the laborious consensus model of the EAC, in favour of one where there is a “leading tendency” by a willing few.
The meetings drew anger from former Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete who alleged a scheme to isolate Tanzania from the EAC bloc.
Dr Magufuli’s administration is, however, keen on ending the fallout and dismantling the ‘coalition of the willing’ that risked slowing down regional one-ness.
Barely five months since his election President Magufuli has reached out to Kenya and Uganda for deeper ties. Kenya and Uganda were the main proponents of the ‘coalition of the willing’ due to the significance of regional trade on the respective economies.
In March, President Kenyatta and his Tanzania counterpart launched the construction of the Arusha-Tengeru dual carriage way and a bypass road in Tengeru as part efforts to smoothen the flow of cargo.
The road is part of the Arusha–Holili–Taveta-Voi road that links northern Tanzania with Taveta, on the Kenyan side.
“We want to take our friendship and relations to higher levels by implementing projects that impact positively on the lives of our people,” the leaders said in a joint statement on the sidelines of a regional summit in Arusha last month.
The launch of the road upgrade came a week after Kenya opened its first one-stop border post with Tanzania at Holili in a bid to cut the time taken to clear goods between the two nations and increase volumes of transshipment cargo through the Mombasa port.
The infrastructure deals followed hot in the heels of joint oil pipeline deal between Uganda and Tanzania—a pact that has since opened an all-out rivalry between Nairobi and Dar for credentials as a preferred regional trade and transport hub.
President Uhuru Kenyatta in March hosted President Museveni in Nairobi for discussions on a joint crude pipeline but failed to reach a deal with a meeting expected by next week to resolve the matter.
The Nairobi meeting came just weeks after President Museveni and President Magufuli reached a deal to build a 1,120km oil pipeline between Tanga and Uganda where an estimated 6.5 billion barrels of oil were discovered in the Albertine basin near the border with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The twist of events shocked Kenya, which now finds itself in a head-to-head competition with Tanzania to win Uganda’s decision to have its oil exported across the Kenyan territory.
Although Uganda last year it had agreed to the Kenyan route, it changed, saying Nairobi had to guarantee security for the pipeline, along with financing and cheaper fees than alternatives.
Total, the French oil major, has also raised security concerns about the Kenyan route which would run through the volatile north eastern where militant groups such as the Al Shabaab remain a threat.
In contrast, some industry players, including Britain’s Tullow that has both interest in Kenya and Uganda, however argued that connecting Kenyan fields, which have estimated total recoverable reserves of 600 million barrels, with those in Uganda would make the pipeline project cheaper on shared costs.
Technical teams from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are analysing the viability of proposed routes for the project.