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What Kagame, Magufuli have in common

Fred Muvunyi April 7, 2016

Tanzania’s president John Pombe Magufuli is joining Rwandans to commemorate the country’s 1994 genocide that saw more than 800,000 people killed. It is his first maiden trip outside Tanzania since becoming head of state.

Rwanda and Tanzania presidents - Paul Kagame & John Magufuli © Getty Images/AFP/D. Hayduk
Image: Getty Images/AFP/D. Hayduk

Relations between Rwanda and Tanzania soured in May 2013 after former Tanzania's president Jakaya Kikwete suggested in an African Union meeting in Ethiopia, that the Rwandan government should hold peace talks with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda(FDLR) rebel group to end violence in the eastern Democratic Republic Congo(DRC).

Diplomatic tensions between two countries escalated after Tanzania also accused Rwanda of backing former M23 rebels in eastern DRC.

Rwanda's Foreign Affairs minister Louis Mushikiwabo responded to the claims saying, that M23 business was an old story that had no place in the region. Tanzania went on to expel 3,500 Rwandans who were living in the country since 1959. According to analysts, the two countries seem to have put behind their past for the good of their citizens. President Magufuli has made his first foreign visit in Rwanda since assuming office in October 2015. Tanzania based political analyst, Jenerali Ulimwengu, says Magufuli's visit signifies the importance Tanzania attaches to strengthening relations with its neighbors.

DW: How significant is President Magufuli's first foreign visit since his election to neighboring Rwanda?

Jenerali Ulimwengu: The choice of visiting neighboring Rwanda is bound to be significant and important in the sense that he [President John Pombe Magufuli] wanted to solve a few problems that existed prior to his coming to the presidency. I think he and his counterpart President Kagame have laid a very firm foundation for future cooperation.

Three years ago, bilateral relations between Rwanda and Tanzania hit a snag after President Magufuli's predecessor Jakaya Kikwete advised the Rwandan government to hold peace talks with the FDLR rebel group largely composed of genocide perpetrators. Do you think it's time now for the two countries to close that dark chapter and move on?

We now have an opportunity to close that chapter and move on, to a more logical engagement. It was unfortunate that president Jakaya Kikwete made that statement probably not knowing exactly how hard Rwandans will be. He was not even talking to Paul Kagame in private; he just made a statement out in the open which is undiplomatic and unnecessary. But now there's an opportunity between the two countries to put that to an end.

Despite "Free movement" protocol under EAC, two years ago-Tanzania expelled Rwandans who were living there since 1959. Was that decision appropriate in your opinion?

Africans must make sense in what they say and what they do. On one hand you are preaching good neighborliness, close cooperation and free-movement of people, goods and services, but you're also expelling people right across the border. It has happened between Rwanda and Tanzania, Tanzania and Kenya and it has also happened between Kenya and Uganda. People are expelling their colleagues who have been living there for many years, they have got traditions; they have grown up there over the past 50 years. I don't think expelling people based on the history in the region is very useful thing to embark on.

In concrete terms, how can the two leaders [Magufuli and Kagame] closely work together for the benefit of their citizens?

I think both leaders have shown they have common interests. President Paul Kagame has been strict on issues like corruption, pushing government officials to deliver and hold them accountable. If you have officials who are interested in gaining wealth instead of delivering good services to people, it will have an impact on the people's welfare. Kagame has been able to deal with that. I don't want to say that Rwanda is corruption-free, but it is relatively the best example of anti-corruption efforts that have been undertaken in the region. Magufuli has started on the same thing, he has been dealing with corruption, inefficiency and lack of accountability. He has taken concrete steps to have those officials brought to justice. President Magufuli has sent a message in the country and through out the region that he is not going to tolerate corruption, which is exactly what Kagame has been doing. I think the two can match in that tuff struggle.

Tanzania has been indirectly accused of delaying the integration process in the East African Community, which prompted Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda to form the ‘coalition of the willing' (COW). Do you foresee President Magufuli changing that narrative?

There are already four countries in the ‘Coalition of the Willing' because Magufuli has embraced cooperation and collaboration with Rwanda. So let's see what Burundi does.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is a senior journalist and a political commentator based in Tanzania.

Interview: Fred Muvunyi