Mahiga: EU ambassador not expelled, but recalled

Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation minister Augustine Mahiga

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Foreign affairs minister Augustine Mahiga explains that decision to recall envoy was discussed but fails to give reasons why

Arusha. The government says it did not expel the European Union (EU) Ambassador to Tanzania, Mr Roeland van de Geer, instead noting that the decision to recall him was taken after mutual discussion by authorities from both sides.

Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation minister Augustine Mahiga broke the silence on the saga yesterday shortly after addressing a meeting of international organisations working in the country. News on the abrupt exit of Mr Van de Geer, who also doubled as EU’s representative to the East African Community, broke on Friday night even though word on the matter had been on the grapevine since midweek.

The news quickly spread and attracted wide debate on various platforms as commentators offered contrasting views about the manner of the envoy’s exit and what it may portend.

Some people feared a diplomatic backlash while some sought assurance from the government that bilateral relations between EU and Tanzania would not suffer his removal. But speaking in Arusha, Dr Mahiga said Ambassador Van de Geer’s predicament was “normal.” The minister said the government was aware he had been recalled by his employer

“The envoy has been recalled to the EU headquarters and we discussed about it…we were duly appraised,” Dr Mahiga told reporters who sought his reaction.

He said: “He is back at the EU that perhaps has another job or other duties for him……he has been recalled and not expelled and it is normal to be recalled by his government (employer).”

Asked what “consultations at political level” on the “current situation in Tanzania” means in relations to the recalling of Mr Van de Geer, Dr Mahiga said that would be a matter for the EU to consider.

On Thursday, the EU office in Dar es Salaam indicated to The Citizen the nature of consultations that Mr Van de Geer would hold with his bosses in Brussels.

“Ambassador Van de Geer has been recalled to the headquarters in Brussels for consultations at the political level next week on the current events in Tanzania,” EU’s Deputy Head of Mission, Mr Charles Stuart, said in a short text message.

Both the minister’s and Stuart’s non-disclosure of the reasons the ambassador was leaving will likely exacerbate public speculations on the motive.

A lecturer at the Centre for Foreign Relations, Mr Innocent Shoo, described “recalling” as a diplomatic lingo for a situation when a foreign representative is unwanted for breaking the rules of engagement and has thus lost favour with his or her host.

Mr Stuart, who was Van der Geer’s deputy, will now hold thefort for the EU mission in Dar es Salaam until Brussels makes a different call. Mr Van de Geer was scheduled to fly out of Tanzania last night aboard a KLM flight. Credible sources privy to the matter earlier told The Citizen that the envoy was given an ultimatum to leave the country by yesterday.

Other multiple sources in the diplomatic community claimed the EU boss had recently experienced a rocky relation with the authorities in Dar.

“Yes, there has been tensions recently between the two parties over human rights issues coming up a lot in the international media,” one of the diplomatic sources who wished not to be named for this report said.

Ambassador Roeland would be the second diplomat to leave Tanzania in recent years, following the April 2017 expulsion of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country boss Ms Awa Dabo.

The government then said Ms Dabo was expelled over sour relations with members of staff of the UNDP.