Long before Dar es Salaam had an iconic Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that its neighbors envy, it built an airport that was graced more with grazing cows than airplanes.
Those were the days before the dramatic collapse of the East African Community (EAC) in 1977.
Tanzania’s President Julius Nyerere accused Kenya of monopolizing the community and using companies like East African Airways as property.
“To counteract the dominance of Nairobi airport, the Tanzanians built an international airport on Kilimanjaro, which remains virtually unused as international airlines and East African airlines continue to fly to Nairobi,” reported the New York Times on December 20, 1976.
The dispute would end bitterly if Nyerere angrily closed the Tanzanian borders while Kenya grabbed all Nairobi-based companies, including East African Airways and East African Railways, leaving Dar es Salaam with various political offices for the disbanded regional bloc and Uganda with it nothing but misery under the stormy rule of the dictator Idi Amin.
For the Tanzanians, the failure of the airport was taken as evidence that the cards were stacked against them.
Kenya, argued Nyerere, has inherited more investments from the colonialists than its counterparts, with whom it should operate on an equal footing.
A stronger Kenyan economy resulted in Ugandans and Tanzanians consuming mostly Kenyan goods.
Unfortunately, in a duty-free environment, Uganda and Tanzania were denied revenue from exports that came through Kenya.
A study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) two years after the EAC collapsed in 1977 showed that Kenya controls up to 70 percent of the region’s export market.
As a result, the two countries wanted to revise the statutes with which the EAC was founded in 1967 in order to give Tanzania and Uganda a level playing field in the community.
Kenyans blamed Nyerere for his plan to expand his planned economy to the EAC, noting that a number of flights to Kilimanjaro Airport would not help if no one wanted to go there.
Nyerere’s socialist vision included the creation of a pious nation that had not been profaned by Western values that had undermined the pride of many countries and destroyed their tradition through the invasion of tourists.
As a result, despite some of the most beautiful parks, lakes, and mountains on the continent, Tanzania was reluctant to realize the potential of tourism.
Kenya mocked the role of Uganda and Tanzania in the community and increasingly viewed them as deadweight.
Things came to a head when Tanzania and Uganda refused to add near $ 6 million ($ 642 million at today’s exchange rate) revenue from ticket sales to Nairobi, where East African Airways Corporation was headquartered numbers.
But the sharp difference between EAC member states in running the East African Airways Corporation has been largely ideological.
Kenyans in the airline wanted to buy large planes for the most profitable international routes.
This is no different from the route taken by their current colleagues, where Kenya Airways – the successor to East African Airways – bought some large aircraft and embarked on new routes.
Uganda and Tanzania, on the other hand, wanted the airline to focus on the shorter domestic flights and accused Kenya of being obsessed with profit rather than self-sufficiency.
When Uganda and Tanzania refused to remit their ticket sales, the airline ran out of operating income.
Some employees went unpaid while lights were cut, particularly in Uganda and Tanzania.
Banks refused to issue new loans unless Uganda and Tanzania released the funds from ticket sales.
In February 1977, a disgruntled Nyerere decided to close Tanzania’s borders, signaling the end of the ten-year-old EAC.
He even agreed to sacrifice 250 of his citizens at the East African Airways Corporation headquarters.
He accused Kenya of greed and dishonesty, which led to the collapse of the EAC, which at the time was a model regional economic community for most developing countries trying to shake off the aftershocks of colonialism.
“Kenya has dissolved the East African Harbors Corporation; Kenya unilaterally closed the headquarters of the East African Railways System; Kenya has seized a number of ships on Lake Victoria and Kenya has now grounded East African Airways, ”Nyerere said in an interview with the New York Times.
He confiscated Kenyan trucks, cars and private planes. It looked like the two countries were going to war. Fortunately, the dispute remained largely diplomatic, as it has been lately.
That same year, East African Airways Corporation collapsed and Kenya announced its withdrawal, despite taking over all EAC services operating within its borders, including the airline that was renamed Kenya Airways.
Mwalimu Nyerere never hid his disdain for Kenya, a nation he called a people-eat-man society because of its unbridled capitalism.
For their part, Kenyan officials believed it was a sour grape case triggered by the spectacular failure of his Ujamaa socialist experiment.
In response to Nyerere’s taunts that Kenya was a people-food-people society, they replied that Tanzania was a society-food-people society.
However, immediately after Nyerere’s friend, Uganda’s President Milton Obote, was overthrown by Idi Amin, things started to go badly for the EAC.
When things got tough, the highest decision-making body in the community, the East African Authority, which consisted of the three presidents, would initially meet and iron things out.
The agency did not meet after 1971, however, as Nyerere refused to meet with Uganda’s President Amin.
When the EAC was formed, its members were Presidents Kenyatta, Obote, and Nyerere, who met regularly.
“Whenever the EAC was under pressure, the presence of the East African Authority provided a forum for final appeal and resolution of difficult problems,” the IMF said in a paper.