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East African affairs enter national political arena

By Omar Mohammed

In March 2006, Juma V. Mwapachu was in Paris; a few months away from completing his four-year stint as Tanzania’s Ambassador to France, when he received a call from State House telling him that President Jakaya Kikwete needed to see him.

Mwapachu quickly bought a ticket and immediately flew home to Dar es Salaam. Upon reporting for duty at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was informed that there had been a change of plans. Apparently, the President had to travel to Arusha for some urgent matters, so the Ambassador was going to have to go meet him there. Mwapachu turned around, headed to the airport and boarded another flight. At Kilimanjaro Airport, he was received by protocol officers who took him to a hotel where he was going to spend the night, all the while remaining mum as to the reason of his summons. The next morning, a car picked him up and drove him to the Arusha International Conference Centre where the President and his Foreign Minister at the time, Ms. Asha-Rose Migiro, were waiting for him.

“Kaka samahani kwa kukuita haraka haraka,”  Kikwete told Mwapachu finally, “Lakini I have decided to tell my colleagues, the other Presidents, that you are the Tanzanian candidate for Secretary General of the EAC.”

The whole thing took place within the span of five days. But with that, Juma Volter Mwapachu rose to one of the most important diplomatic roles in the region.

The Early Years

JV Mwapachu, as he is known colloquially, was born in Mwanza in 1942 to a father from Tanga and a mother from Mwanza. ‘They met in Mwanza, my father was teaching at a medical school, the only medical school for rural medical aid, back in 1937,’ Mr. Mwapachu said in an interview.

While Mwapachu was making his way through school, elsewhere the country was experiencing profound political and social change. Independence arrived in 1961, and three years later the Union was born.

“It was exciting,” he says when asked about coming of age during independence. “My father was a dear friend of Mwalimu…from when they were in Makerere (University) and we grew up in a family where there was a lot of political (discourse). Political leaders used to come to our house, eating, chatting and what not, so I was brought up in an environment where I got a sense there was a political struggle going on.”

In 1966, while reading Law at The University of East Africa in Dar es Salaam, Mwapachu participated in the infamous student march to State House to protest against the mandatory two year National Service that President Julius Nyerere had introduced. The incident led to the expulsion of almost two-thirds of the student body.

“We were [suspended] for a whole year, that’s why I graduated in four years instead of the normal three in 1969,’ recalls Mwapachu. Nevertheless, after going back to university he re-engaged with politics and became chairman of the ruling party TANU’s Youth League, elevating it to a full district branch from the campus post it had been up until then.

And in 1968, after being brought into the party’s National Executive Youth League, Nyerere took him along on his state visit to China and North Korea. “It was quite a revelation for a young person at the time. This was during the Chinese cultural revolution and when I came back to the university with that three week’s stint of the communist world, with Mao Tse-Tung and Kim Il-Sung’s ideas…that was the beginning of the radical part in me,” he says.

Early Career

Mwapachu’s career in diplomacy was not something he pursued consciously.

As a District Development Officer in Bariadi, Shinyanga, Mwapachu had written well received papers on the process of villagisation, including his 1976 report ‘Operation Planned Villages in Rural Tanzania: A Revolutionary Strategy for Development’, that was published in the University of Dar es Salaam’s The African Review. The Foreign Minister at the time, the late Ibrahim Kaduma had taken notice and with the new regime in Ethiopia interested in Tanzania-style socialism, he felt Mwapachu would be useful. “So Kaduma [went] to see Mwalimu and said, ‘Look I think we should post Juma to the embassy in Addis Ababa, he’ll be able to help Paul Rupia,’ who was then ambassador,” recalls Mwapachu. And his diplomatic career began.

After Addis, he took another diplomatic post in New Delhi, India. And after spending some time in the private sector, the call to public service came knocking once again. In 2002 President Benjamin Mkapa appointed him Ambassador to France and four years later, another President offered him a job he could not refuse.


When Mwapachu took over as Secretary General, the EAC was enjoying a period of great optimism. After years of dithering, the political leadership stepped up and fast-tracked the formation of the Customs Union. “In 2004, the Presidents met at a very crucial meeting in Nairobi, and said, ‘enough is enough…we must speed up the process of integration in the region,’” he recalls.

The Presidents did not stop there. They also announced the formation of the so-called Wako Committee that was tasked with looking into the fast-tracking of various stages of integration, that included the Common Market, the Monetary Union and, perhaps more crucially, the creation of the region’s Political Federation. All this changed the mood of the region. “There was [a] new dynamic, a new hope, after that very important intervention by the political leadership that the EAC was going to be fast-tracked as a result of this intervention.”

But the mood within the secretariat was different. “What I found was low morale,” Mr. Mwapachu remembers, “Employees were on a dead end…they were lowly paid compared to their counterparts in COMESSA, ECOWAS [for example].”

The first thing he did after taking office was to raise the level of remuneration within the Secretariat that was commensurate with its role. After managing to secure approval to improve the salaries of his staff, he proceeded to follow what can only be described as a bold strategy, particularly on the issue of enlargement. Up until 2005, the EAC was comprised of the old historical group of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. But for years the Rwandese and the Burundians had been making not so subtle inquiries about joining the community. However, the sentiment around the bloc, especially in Tanzania, was reluctance. “There was quite a bit of political power play in terms of…enthusing the region to appreciate the importance of Rwanda and Burundi joining the EAC,” Mwapachu says.

To him, enlargement made sense in terms of the bloc’s key aspiration – to create a regional market driven by the ambition of creating its own products, produced by its own manufacturing sector, for its own peoples. “So the larger the consumer base, the better for arriving at greater prosperity in the region.”

And he succeeded. In July 2009, both countries became part of the EAC bloc. Furthermore, there have been reports that other countries might become part of the community, demonstrating that the process of enlargement may have just begun.


When thinking about forming a regional bloc of countries, all with their own individual histories and internal political dynamics, not to mention continual fidelity to very particular notions of ‘the national interest’, it is never easy to merge all those eccentricities into one coherent whole. The EAC, like any other supra-national community, is grappling with these challenges.

One recurring problem has been how to convince the five EAC member states of the importance of collaborations on infrastructure.

In June 2008, Mwapachu organised a retreat in Kigali for the five EAC heads of state to emphasise the importance of regional infrastructure development. “I hit a brick wall,” he says. “Some of the heads of state still think national. They’ll go to Parliament and they’ll tell the public that we’ve put a tarmac road all the way to the Burundi border in Kigoma. But from the Burundi side, all the way to Bujumbura, is dusty road. What have you done? Your cost of doing business has not improved.”

Additionally, there has been little movement on political federation, suggesting that deeper integration is still a work in progress. “I think the challenge as far as political federation is concerned is on the Tanzanian side,” says Mwapachu. To him, the point of contention resides in the lack of clarity about what Zanzibar’s position will be should Tanzania become part of a supra-national EAC state. What will happen when you have a federal state that now shifts the whole relationship from Tanzania – Zanzibar, to a much bigger EAC dynamic? “It’s a very complex subject. It has very strong sentiments. And unless it is resolved between Zanzibar and Tanzania Mainland, it may actually…derail Tanzania’s relationship at that political federation level.”

Mwapachu argues that Tanzania’s perceived reluctance when it comes to the fast tracking of the EAC may have historical roots. “Tanzania feels hurt [over] the break-up of the EAC in 1977…It had given its heart and soul to that integration process. And it felt that the break-up benefitted Kenya more than itself. And therefore any new integration moves are viewed in Tanzania with quite a bit of caution,” he says.

Nevertheless, Mwapachu is also critical of the way in which Tanzania approaches negotiations over regional integration. “I think Tanzania has this win-win attitude in trying to pursue any deeper integration…You don’t go into the negotiation table [believing] from day one of integration we need a win-win, it can never happen. You need to have a long-term view of integration,” he says. “It seems like the leadership thinks that Tanzania can move in parallel up to where it can feel confident enough to integrate more deeply. I think [this thinking] is actually…fallacious.”

The EAC failed before. What makes him think this time will be different?

“Most people who understood the community during that time, would tell you that it was very much leadership driven. It was not people centered. I think that has changed. You now have a formidable EAC Leadership Assembly. You now have EA ministries directly responsible for EAC affairs. Those Ministers sit in Cabinet, they represent EAC matters in Parliament. What we’ve seen now, there is a significant link between the EAC aspirations in the national political arena. It just needs to be reinforced,’ he said.

And what is Tanzania’s future in the EAC?

“You need to develop a new citizenry in Tanzania that is passionate and committed to integration,” Mwapachu says. While the political leadership has a role to play in mobilising such support, Tanzanians need to also start thinking of themselves as East African. The primary responsibility of mobilising support for the EAC integration project now lies on the shoulders of Dr. Richard Sezibera, the former Rwandese Health Minister, who succeeded Mwapachu as the Secretary General of the EAC in early 2011.

In January 2012, Mwapachu was elected President of the Society for International Development (SID), a Rome-based global forum that works on issues of social justice, opening up another chapter in his storied career.

“I think what we’ve seen in recent years, is that, as economies around the world, including in poor countries, have developed, we’ve seen inequalities…exacerbated. So how do you bring about…development that takes care of the interests of the majority? I think this is really the major challenge,” Mwapachu says.

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