Monday, 2 June 2014

Tanzania’s Foreign Policy: Need for Assertive Regional Approach

President Obama has been advancing American foreign policy this week.  First at the lawns of Rose Garden where he provided America’s withdrawal timetable from Afghanistan and at West Point where he spoke to the newest graduates of US Army. The catch-phrase of his speech was “America Must Always Lead”. President Obama affirmed that United States is a global leader and a nation that “must always lead on the world stage.” Some critics have labeled his speech as vacuous while others described it empty. America has always projected its foreign policy on a world stage. Its key foreign policy pillars include democracy, human rights, good governance, and world security. 

I followed Tanzania’s Foreign Minister Bernard Membe’s budget speech where he gave his ministry’s budget estimates, revenue and expenditure for the year 2013-2014. I picked up a number of foreign policy articulations from his speech. Tanzania has always played a significant role in world affairs. Historically, Tanzania has been the center for liberation struggle in Africa. Southern African countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia credit Tanzania for their liberation. Of late Tanzania has been embroiled in a diplomatic spat with Rwanda and at the time of writing this, British envoy to Tanzania is been accused of being complicit to the acquisition of Independent Power Tanzania Limited (IPTL) which is controversial. Foreign Minister Bernard Membe has also been hosting his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davatoglu. These are all FP projections from Tanzania.

Bernard Membe’s budget speech in parliament outlined Tanzania’s stand on a number of world issues. He outlined Tanzania’s position on ongoing conflicts such as those in Syria, Central African Republic and Mali. As much as Tanzania is trying to project its foreign policy at the continental and world stage, it is imperative that regional FP should rank highest. Foreign policy has been defined as the strategic positioning of a state towards other states with national interests as the focal point. A well outlined foreign policy is fundamental in foreign engagements. Going by Membe’s speech in parliament, Tanzania seems to be somehow, neglecting regional policy. The excuse could be there is an East African Affairs Ministry which is tasked to deal with regional matters. This notwithstanding, the Foreign Affairs Ministry is the nerve of foreign policy articulation in any state. The speech did not exclusively address the diplomatic spat with Rwanda either. I was also expecting the speech to also touch on the threat of terrorism in neighboring Kenya and Tanzania’s seemingly isolation by the Coalition of the Willing (CoW) states of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. The Al Shabaab terror in Kenya could cross boarder and wreak havoc in Tanzania. Membe was however very articulate in economic diplomacy, where he contextualized it in terms of health, agriculture, livestock and fishing, industries and infrastructure and transport. He also buttressed the need of having dual citizenship in Tanzania.

Tanzania is geopolitically well positioned to be a focal point in the region. It should be more assertive in regional FP and just like the US have a say in many regional matters and lead at the regional stage.