Even before independence, Julius Nyerere envisioned Tanzania as a candle that will send rays of hope, etc across borders. In many ways, such as in Liberation struggles of Southern African states, Tanzania has lived this vision. Tanzania is a central regional player in ensuring security and stability in the region. She plays multiple roles in different regions of African continent not only due to its geopolitical advantage but also out of historical and embedded strategic statecraft foreign policy in its state institutions. Having one of the most respected moral leaders in the world and an avid thinker- Julius Nyerere- as a founding leader, being an ‘Island of Peace’ as well as having a relatively high ability to respect the constitution (e.g. presidential term times) among other factors, Tanzania stands up as the most moral and respectable state player in the region and also in Africa at large. Despite low economic performance for many years and the inability to lift up most of its citizens out of poverty amidst recent high economic growth rates, Tanzania has managed to deploy geopolitical strategies in a smart way vividly in her membership and her central role in various regional organizations. In almost all regional organizations – e.g. SADC and EAC – and other regional platforms- such as the The Great Lakes Initiatives- Tanzania stands at the center as a key player. She is never in the marginal place when it comes to regional and African politics.
Now, as most of observers noticed, in the near past the relations between Tanzania and three other EAC members were not very smooth. A “coalition of the willing” that sidelined Tanzania was formed within the community excluding Tanzania in some of their deals. In the same context, the relations between Tanzania and Rwanda tested sour. As a ‘candle on Mt. Kilimanjaro’ Tanzania looked at a bigger picture beyond regional politics to continental affairs. She provides peacekeepers in different conflict areas in Africa and she plays a key military and political role in stabilizing the DRC. It thus felt confident, responsible, and obliged to give a piece of advice to Rwanda and other countries at the AU platform on the need to confront their realities and talk to their rebels. Rwanda reacted. Almost ‘badly’. Tanzania, a big brother, continued with its tradition of playing wise – retorting by thinking and acting rather than making empty noises.
Suddenly. Almost. We have seen a “closer” relations with Rwanda. The new President of Tanzania, John .P. Magufuli first foreign visit was to Rwanda. The president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, has visited Tanzania. This sudden closeness came as a surprise to many. And troubling to some. It is alright to be surprised and troubled. I found myself asking many questions too. Then as an IR scholar, I remembered the realist stance – “no permanent friends/enemies, only permanent interests.” Well, that statement holds a lot of explanatory power but it can never explain everything. Foreign policy is a complex business. At this point, it is also important to consider the regional context regarding Burundi (which is thought to be a closer friend to Tanzania in comparison to Rwanda) went through a political turmoil with rumors that negatively implicated Rwanda. Tanzania is now a leading mediator in Burundi “new peace process” – ensuring stability. The immediate former President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kiwete, went to Burundi (on same days when Paul Kagame was visiting) to celebrate the independence day.
So the above scenarios trigger a number questions including:
- Can personal factors explain the current events we are seeing in Tanzania regional foreign policy actions?
- Is Magufuli apparent admiration of Kagame’s leadership style a factor for this closeness?
- Did Magufuli invite Kagame in the same dates as Burundi celebrations in order to avoid attending independence celebrations of a closer friend while banned such celebrations in his own country?
- Would it be the case that Kikwete went to Burundi so as to ‘diplomatically’ avoid Kagame in Tanzania?
- Is Tanzania balancing its economic and political power in the regional politics?
- Is Tanzania recent closeness to Rwanda a containment strategy?
I invite all of us to think through these questions- and you can comment.