Dar es Salaam. International relations differed with political scientists over whether the opening of the Tanzanian embassy in Israel was in line with the foreign policy.
While international relations experts support the government’s decision triggered by drastic shift in the country’s foreign policy from principled engagement to economic diplomacy political scientists, on the other hand, criticized the move, noting that the decision betrays long tradition of Tanzania’s support to the Palestinian cause. Political commentators believe that Tanzania was supposed to continue sympathizing with the oppressed and that strengthening diplomatic relations with Israel on the pretext of benefiting economically does not hold water since many other countries can offer the help that the Jewish state would give to Tanzania.
Dr Ahmad Mtengwa who heads the Economic Diplomacy department at the Tanzania and Mozambique Centre for Foreign Relations (TMCFR) is confident that closer relations with Israel will transform the Tanzania’s economy while, at the same time, leaving solidarity with Palestine undeterred.
“Our relations with Palestine don’t prevent the country from cooperating with other countries. Closer relations with Israel could, even, help Tanzania engage more productively with Israel as part of efforts to trying to resolve the historic Middle East dispute,” he said.
Mr Innocent Shoo, also from TMCFR echoed Dr Mtengwa’s comments. He listed a number of benefits Tanzania could register through the new relations with Israel in the areas of agriculture, security, pharmaceuticals and access to new markets for the country’s products.
“Israel has a very well developed agricultural technology which if transferred to the country will be critical in the industrialization drive,” he said. He said Tanzania will also benefit from Israel’s security and defense advancements which could be transferred to the country, noting that Israel is the only country that has, satisfactorily made every citizen, a reserve soldier.
The Middle East country has also made progress in pharmaceuticals. This is a good opportunity for Tanzania as it seeks to build a sizeable pharmaceutical base to bridge the import-export gap of medicines and medical equipment. Mr Shoo further said that Israel can also provide Tanzania with a market for textiles, flowers and leather goods which is key for Tanzania’s industrialization strategy. Diplomatic relations between Tanzania and Israel broke up in 1972 because of Israel’s support to apartheid regime in South Africa and oppression of Palestine.
“The apartheid regime no longer exists in South Africa. But, though the Palestine question is not yet resolved, the shift in Tanzania’s foreign policy allows the country to re-establish closer ties with Israel for economic reasons,” he said. But, a political science lecturer at the Kampala International University (KIU), Prof Abdallah Kizauli said getting closer to Israel betrays Mwalimu Nyerere policy towards the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“A foreign policy shift towards economic diplomacy is not an issue here. The issue is how we can continue to have solidary with the oppressed while cozying up to the oppressor! It’s not like the world has run out of partners that Tanzania can use to benefit, economically,” he said. The University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) lecturer in Political Science, Prof Bakari Mohamed, also said he strongly opposes the government’s move.
“I totally disagree with the decision to open an embassy in Israel because I believe on the need for country like Tanzania to uphold principles of human dignity and self-determination. I don’t see any reason to support diplomatic relations with a country violating the two,” he told Political Platform in an interview. He said he was disappointed with the country’s decision to re-establish diplomatic relationship with Israel because the country’s behaviour has changed since the last time Tanzania broke the relations in 1972.
A Political science lecturer from Ruaha Catholic University (Rucu), Prof Gaudens Mpangala concurred with his KIU and UDSM counterparts, suggesting that Tanzania should continue upholding foreign policy sympathizing with the weak and the oppressed.
He said Tanzania, under the first president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was right to break relations with Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians. “It is difficult to see why the government should make a U-turn and reestablish relations not only with Israel but also with Morocco before the issues that led to the break up in relations were addressed,” he said.
“The government should state openly that it no longer supports the Palestinian and Western Saharan causes, the shift in foreign policy towards economic diplomacy notwithstanding,” Prof Mpangala added. The government has said its solidarity with Palestine will not be affected by the closer ties with Israel. President John Magufuli has said, in several instances, that Tanzania did a good job in supporting liberation movements in Africa and elsewhere and that it was time to focus on the country’s economic development.
“We spent a lot of time and financial resources to help other in the 1960s and 1970s. We needed those resources ourselves but we had the moral duty to help those who were still under occupation. Now is the time to build our country,” President Magufuli would say. Dr Mahiga on his part detailed, to the Political Platform, a number of benefits that Tanzania has got and is about to get from improved relations with Israel.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation Dr Augustine Mahiga said there were a number issues submitted to the Israel government that have been accepted, though he declined to make them public as he was in a hurry of catching his plane.
“They include a number of proposed Israel investments to Tanzania in support of the government’s economic transformation,” he told Political Platform in a telephone interview last week from Israel. Observers say Tanzania’s closer ties with Israel put the country in a fix as occasions will arise where it would have to choose between the two sides. And this will prove to be a litmus test in the UN votes where the Israel-Palestine conflict often plays out. Already in October 2016 Tanzania was forced to choose sides, kind of, between the two.
A motion, supported by Palestine and many other Arab countries, had come up at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s World Heritage committee, trying to “ignore Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.” Motion was going to have a majority for the resolution. But Tanzania, along with Croatia, forced a secret ballot that is credited with denying a majority for the motion. Dr Mahiga told Israel journalists that Tanzania took some heat from some Middle East countries for its role in the Temple Mount motion.