Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Obama is coming to Tanzania

President Barack Obama meets his Tanzanian

President Barack Obama meets his Tanzanian counterpart Jakaya Kikwete in the Oval office at the Whie House. In his second tour of Africa next month Mr Obama will visit three African countries, which include Tanzania, Senegal and South Africa. PHOTO | FILE 

By Elisha Magolanga

Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s strategic position in the continent, its abundant natural resources and countering China’s advances to Africa have been cited as one of the reasons why President Barack Obama chose to visit Tanzania in his tour of Africa next month.

Mr Obama, who is the first African American US President, comes just about three months after the Chinese President Mr Xi Jinping visited the country.

Experts who spoke to The Citizen shortly after the tour was confirmed by both the US and Tanzanian governments yesterday argued that Mr Obama’s visit, coming hot on the heels of his Chinese counterpart, is not coincidental.

The visit, they add, is the continuation of scramble for resources between the two major economic superpowers.

The US President’s tour of Africa will start on June 26 and end on July 3. In addition to Tanzania he will also visit Senegal and South Africa.

Professor Issa Shivji, Mwl Nyerere Professorial Chair at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) told The Citizen that the shifting centres of global economic and political power, the growing economic muscles of the most of Asia and Tanzania’s strategic position and its natural resources abundance are some of the reasons why Mr Obama is visiting Tanzania, in particular, and the continent in general.

Prof Shivji noted that after Somalia, which has been destroyed, Tanzania has the longest shoreline on the Indian Ocean.

“Zanzibar is also a strategic island in the Indian Ocean and the mainland is the only land mass which connects the Indian Ocean with Central Africa, one of the richest regions in the world. Tanzania itself is rich in natural resources, including oil, uranium, gas and so forth,” Prof Shivji noted. Mr Obama becomes the third consecutive US President to visit to Tanzania after Bill Clinton in 2000, and George Bush in 2008.

Dr Amon Mbele from university of Dar es Salaam from the Economics Department of the UDSM noted that the visit of Mr Obama shows the huge potentiality of the country to the global political and economic spheres.

“The country could have that strategic important to global affairs beyond that we might not be aware of as citizen of the country,” Dr Mbelle noted.

The minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Bernard Membe said the purpose of Mr Obama’s visit is economic.

“He is coming here with a group of 500 businessmen and investors. All these are looking for investment opportunities in the country because it is stable and peaceful,” Mr Membe noted. Mr Obama will come with a delegation of more than 1200 people, according to Mr Membe.

A statement released by the US Embassy in Tanzania yesterday said the visit will reinforce the importance that the United States places on deep and growing ties with countries in sub-Saharan Africa through expanding economic growth, investment, and trade; strengthening democratic institutions; and investing in the next generation of African leaders.

But Prof Shivji said countering China’s economic rise in particular and shifting of centres of global power to Asia is another reason Mr Obama is visiting Tanzania and the continent.

“We must situate Obama’s visit in a bigger picture. The US does not have the same hold on Asian countries as it used to have.

Asians are playing the game by the same rules as US capitalism did and are proving to be better at it. And it is in US interests that it counters China’s is rise. In this scenario, Tanzania, Senegal and South Africa are strategic,” Prof Shivji said.

Professor Abdallah Safari, a lawyer who worked at the Tanzania Mozambique’s Centre for Foreign Relations, also conquered with Prof Shivji that the visit has something to do with neutralising China’s foray into Africa.

On his part Mr Mnyika said geographically and politically, Tanzania is strategically positioned to help the world’s strongest economy in the war against terrorism.

According to Dr Mbele, advised the Tanzania Tourism Board (TTB) to use the advantage of Mr Obama’s tour to promote the country as tourism destination internationally.

“TTB should launch global campaigns showcasing Tanzania tourist attractions and using the Obama brand in Tanzania to portray that the country is safe to travel to.

We should not make the mistake like the one we made during the Chinese President tour, of failing to tap into the growing Chinese tourism market,” Dr Mbelle noted.

His sentiments were echoed by Mr Mnyika who insisted that Tanzania can reap some economic benefits from its diplomatic relations to the US.