How US$7bn deals are reshaping relations in the region
Kampala, Uganda | HAGGAI MATSIKO | If President Yoweri Museveni has a best buddy amongst his East African counterparts, it might as well be Tanzania’s John Pombe Magufuli.
When they are not sharing a hearty laugh at an African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, they are holding hands while walking as was the case during Magufuli’s recently concluded 3-day visit to Uganda.
This wasn’t all. Quite uncharacteristic of him, Museveni hailed Magufuli for fighting corruption. Magufuli on the other hand has equated Museveni to Tanzania’s former iconic president, Julius Nyerere. And some of his ministers are echoing the same.
Magufuli was in Uganda for the first time this year exactly three months after Museveni was in Tanzania. President Museveni has been in Tanzania three times—in February, May and August– this year.
Apart from the closeness the two presidents have exhibited publicly, they are also closing mega deals that are upsetting old alliances in the region.
The US$3.55 Oil Pipeline
Specifically, the Magufuli-Museveni alliance appears to have caused two big deals; the US$3.25 billion loop of the Standard Gauge Railway through Tanzania and the US$3.55 Uganda Oil Pipeline, to be prioritized and switched from Kenya. Throw in the US$12 million One-Stop Border Post at the Mutukula Tanzania-Uganda border and the Magufuli-Magufuli dalliance will have notched the US$7 billion mark. It also appears to be shaking up what has, until now, been a close-knit alliance of Museveni, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.
Popular press had had dubbed their alliance “the coalition of the willing” and trio was looking to implement major infrastructure projects together including the oil pipeline, refinery and Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) together.
When the ground breaking ceremony for the SGR was held at the Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo in Kampala in 2014, for example, then Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete was conspicuously absent. The willing trio attended plus South Sudan’s Salva Kiir.
At the time, the trio spoke openly about leaving Tanzania behind because Kikwete, was not enthusiastic about regional projects and did not get along well with Museveni and Kagame. But then in November 2015, Magufuli replaced Kikwete. Since then, the so-called “coalition of the willing” appears to have become a “coalition of the dwindling”.
In just under two years, Magufuli has got Museveni to pick the Southern route that goes to the Tanga port for the $3.55 billion oil pipeline much to the chagrin of Kenya who had considered it money in the pocket. Interestingly, Uhuru had paid Museveni several visits and had been in negotiations to get the pipeline routed through Kenya even before Magufuli became president.
But when Magufuli came in, he easily connected with Museveni, and caused priorities to shift from Kenya. Even when the deal hit some turbulence, Magufuli easily lived up to his nickname of “the bulldozer” that gets things done. He told his fumbling officials that no one would reverse the deal he had reached with President Museveni because their “friendship was built on blood”.
This was when the deal, in which Magufuli hooked Uganda with a package of six incentives for the pipeline deal, was threatened by some Tanzanian officials who became “stubborn” and withdrew the incentives with his tacit approval.
Magufuli whom the deal rested on had grown suspicious of, especially, the oil companies involved. He had fired key officials who had been part of the negotiations and the new members to the negotiation table came with a different attitude.
But when Uganda tried to re-engage the Kenyans, Magufuli smelled his cheese, changed his attitude and invited the Ugandan team to close the deal. This deal was the first master stroke for Magufuli.
People at the centre of the negotiations at the trying moment have told The Independent that “the deal revealed a lot about the relationship between Museveni and Magufuli”. Magufuli, on Nov.09, launched the $ 3.55 billion pipeline project at Ruzinga in Kyotera District.
The US$12 million border post
Magufuli and Museveni took their cooperation a notch even higher. The two presidents talked big about improving trade between the two countries as they launched the Mutukula One Stop Border Post (OSBP), aimed at easing doing of business along the Uganda and Tanzania common borders.
The facility, experts say, will significantly reduce the hours spent crossing into Tanzania and from Tanzania to Uganda. Museveni was excited about the facility because it fits into his plan of reducing the reliance on Kenya as the major trading route for Uganda. 90 percent of Uganda’s imports and 80 percent of exports go through Mombasa.
The $ 12.7 million dollar facility, which will be managed by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), was funded by UK’s Department for Foreign Aid (DFID) and Global Affairs Canada through Trademark East Africa (TMEA).