`We obsess ourselves with other peoples conflicts and carry the burden. We carried the (conflict) burden for so long during the liberation movement. We have to change. Your colleagues` enemy is not your enemy. Let them continue with their enmity and keep both of them as friends. ` – President Magufuli.
By Dastan Kweka
On 15th April, President Magufuli (formally) announced (Video, from 38: 25) a shift in Tanzania`s foreign policy. He used the occasion of the inauguration of hostel buildings at the University of Dar es Salaam to explain the rationale behind his decision. The Citizen Newspaper reported that the country had `changed its foreign policy to embrace countries which were ideologically regarded as enemies. `
`We must make more friends, and less enemies`,
The announcement has been very helpful because it explains previous actions such as the decision to mend ties with Rwanda (which I criticized, especially the manner in which it was done) and embracing Morocco. However, it has raised new and difficult questions!
In explaining the new policy (position), the President implied that this was a new/different era and that, in this era, it is about putting “Tanzania first – and that `national interests` should be the main objective. Was there a time when they weren`t? And, is this the case of `no permanent friends or enemies, only interests`?
The primary driver of the (current) shift in policy seems to be the need to reap economic benefits through economic diplomacy. The New Foreign Policy of Tanzania (2001) puts emphasis on economic diplomacy “due to the economic and socio-political shift that has occurred in the domestic and international scene. “ (Page 11). The policy document adds that, “there is a need to adopt Tanzania`s foreign policy to this new situation placing priority on the securing (sic) the core national interests as a sovereign state. “
The policy outlines seven principles. Of interest here is one on “support for the practice of the policy of non-alignment and South-South cooperation. “ Was the President alluding to some sort of `non-alignment` when he said “Your colleagues` enemy is not your enemy. Let them continue with their enmity and keep both of them as friends.“? Could this be his interpretation of non-alignment?
There are even more pressing questions. The President`s assertion that, “ We carried the (conflict) burden for so long during the liberation movement“ and that “We have to change“ raises questions as to whether Tanzania is (officially) retreating from its conflict resolution role in the region. It is important to note that retired President Benjamin Mkapa is serving as a facilitator of the Burundi dialogue and President Magufuli gave him `a green light` to do so.
Retired President Jakaya Kikwete has a mediation role in Mozambique where RENAMO is attempting to stage a come back (albeit too late, given its ageing warriors) so as to grab its share of the natural gas bonanza. These retired Presidents are being asked to mediate not only because of their individual profiles but also because of the historic achievements of Tanzania in previous mediation roles and its geopolitical influence. When the country fails to back them up, they fail. A good example is Burundi mediation. Tanzania`s decision to mend ties with Rwanda, in total disregard of the concerns raised by Burundi has not helped Mkapa`s mission. After more than a year of mediation, the UN says no “significant progress“ has been made. Reportedly, Burundi is seeking to join SADC.
Back to the Israel issue – It is unclear how far the new policy towards Israel goes. What is the country’s position on the Israel – Palestine conflict? The position was very clear during President Kikwete`s tenure – `two state` solution.
It is interests that compel nations to take sides in conflicts. Currently, Tanzania is hosting more than 300,000 refugees from Burundi and Congo DRC. Refugees tend to bring opportunities (a blessing in disguise for host communities!) in terms of financial resources channelled into the local economy as INGOs, local CSOs and intergovernmental agencies respond to the needs of the people fleeing. There are risks too, especially proliferation of arms (small and big). Already there are reports in kigoma of these problems.
Our foreign policy commits the nation to the “defence of freedom, human rights, equality and democracy. “ Is this regime about to abandon this principle in exchange for a few tourist dollars and Moroccan contracts? It will be interesting to see how and whether the country will seek to balance economic interests with the pursuit of rights and self-determination.
For decades, Tanzania maintained a strong niche in foreign policy: a relatively poor country standing up to powerful western nations on the basis of principles that even oppressors could not refute. Inevitably, the strategy is now changing. If it were in business, I would compare this shift with a move from the blue-ocean to the red ocean – Watch the Video (also embedded below) if the idea is new to you.