East Africa neighbors try to patch over old differences

The best recent news out of Africa may be the cooperation pact initiated last month by Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, after years of tension. An immediate result is the reopening of the border between Tanzania and Kenya , which Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere closed in 1977 in a fit of anger. The two countries had sharp ideological differences, and Mr. Nyerere blamed Kenya for the breakup that year of the East Africa Community and for keeping more than its share of the community's assets. Relations worsened in 1979 when Tanzania sent troops into Uganda to help overthrow Idi Amin.

The three countries have patched over many of their differences and now aim to set up new trade pacts and customs arrangements. Kenya stands to gain a great deal from the arrangement because its many depressed industries would see a leap in trade with Tanzania.

Before they could reach any agreement, the presidents had to clear up the the multimillion-dollar mess left when the East African Community folded.

A World Bank mediator spent four years devising a plan to apportion the community's assets and liabilities. He put community assets at about $900 million at the time of the breakup, and his formula gives Kenya 42 percent, Tanzania 32 percent, and Uganda 26 percent.

The community's liabilities were some $215 million. But in 1977 Kenya and Tanzania ended up with financial surpluses over their equity shares while Uganda had a deficit. Under the World Bank plan, Tanzania and Kenya will pay Uganda in convertible cash, goods, services.

Ministers of the three countries are already discussing new ways to work together. But an acute recession could spoil their plans. Observers say the new pact will last if the countries can show some upward economic trend. It may fold like its predecessor if economic conditions worsen.

For two men the pact is not a happy development. Two Kenyan Air Force men who allegedly planned a coup against Kenya President Daniel arap Moi may be extradited to Kenya from Tanzania.

Kenya and Tanzania are keeping the security side of the agreement low-key, but it appears there is an exchange of political exiles between the countries, and it is likely the two airmen already have been returned to Kenya to face trial.

It ''might be embarrassing'' to President Nyerere if he were involved in a swap of exiles who may have refugee status, the Weekly Review of Nairobi points out. He was recently given an award for his work in behalf of refugees.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.