US ambassador voices optimism about his new role, relations with Tanzania

Tuesday September 15 2020

United States Ambassador to Tanzania, Dr Donald

United States Ambassador to Tanzania, Dr Donald Wright. 

Question. You have made a full circle back to Tanzania after 30 years; In the few weeks you have been around, how do you find Tanzania

Answer. You probably know this is not my first experience in Tanzania. I arrived in Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) 33 years ago when I came as a volunteer to work at a Pediatric ward in a public hospital in Zanzibar. And a few weeks ago, I landed here for the second time in my life at the JNIA, but returning as the US Ambassador and I have to tell you, it is a great honour and great privilege.

When I got off the plane and walked down the way, there was some protocol to welcome me, and I heard that word ‘KARIBU’. I hadn’t heard that word in 30 years, but I heard it once again. And I will tell you, from my perspective, there are some things that are drastically different over that period of time and there are some things that are still the same. Dar es Salaam is totally different. It has become like the New York City of East Africa. Also in terms of the infrastructure projects, you can see the bridges going across and the roads being prepared so there is a great achievement from what I saw over the 30 years ago.

And what’s the same? When I came here, as a physician, it was during summer, treating kids with Malaria, Tuberculosis, Parasites and extremely Malnutrition, and I think we did good work.And also I had an opportunity to meet Tanzanian people and I have to say it that I found them kind and generous and they treated me as I was a member of the family. So that has not changed!

The other thing that has not changed is the beauty of your country. The park system that you have here, is a national treasure, and it is not only a national treasure, but it is also an international treasure. Everyone wants to visit it and I am so pleased it remains intact and can be enjoyed by generations to come. The other things are; the beauty of the beaches and Indian Ocean.

You are assuming office as envoy after more than three years’ absence of a full ambassador to Tanzania. The acting envoy Ms Dr Inmi Patterson also left amid murmurs of diplomatic disquiet; How is this situation informing your settling

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I am following on the heels of Chargé d’Affaires Inmi Patterson. I have to say that I have the deepest respect for the work she did here. I am intent to take the things she did and enhance them by strengthening the relationship and also create new programmes to strengthen this friendship. But the point I want to leave you with, is that the relationship between Tanzania and the US, is not related on to one Ambassador or Chargé d’Affaires, but it is a long-standing relationship. I think probably everyone in this room has seen an iconic photograph of your first President Julius Nyerere visiting our White House and shaking hands with President John Kennedy. So this long-standing relationship that we enjoy today, was established a long time ago.

Our political system in the US is a slow process. From the time I was actually approached being the Ambassador, until I actually got here, it is all over a year, so the process is slow. Your background has to be checked, and you have to be interviewed by the Senator. In reality, I had opted to be here in April, but Covid-19 slowed my arrival. So I don’t want Tanzanian people to feel that in any way the US government does not value its relationship with Tanzania. We have always considered you as a very stable diplomatic partner country in East Africa. When I had a chance to meet with your Tanzanian political officials, they reiterated how pleased they were to have a full-time US Ambassador to Tanzania. I am US President’s representative in the country and I am authorized to interrupt with the host government as if I am speaking for the President of the US.

You are also returning at a time of great change in the country both in terms of socio-economic development; What did you mean when you wrote recently that you seek to foster a new era of engagement between the two countries that directly extends to the people of Tanzania

Our relationship with Tanzania is a long-standing one, it goes back to 60 years. But the relationship has to change over time, because Tanzania has changed frankly, and so is the US. I will tell you, across Africa and across the world, we opt to move to the era which focuses on supporting countries and also focuses on trade as one way to strengthen our bilateral relationship with the countries. This is a good opportunity for me to tell you what are my priorities areas; investing in the business climate, health, and lastly empowering youth in the country.

Health

Let me just focus on the two health programmes that we think have been especially beneficial for the host countries. They involve HIV and Malaria. The programmes have actually made a big differences in the country. I will start with HIV; there are these we call Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) and

Antiretroviral (ARV). It is not only in Tanzania, it is across Africa and the world, if we now diagnose someone is being HIV positive, we enrol them into Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, hence these people can live long and healthy and beproductive. So now HIV is just perceived as a normal chronic disease like hypertension and diabetes. It is estimated that our PrEP programmes have saved about 18 million lives. Here in Tanzania, our PrEP programme is strong, so in the area of HIV/AIDS, we have made some great efforts and we intend to continue that effort.

The other area is Malaria. It is just a fact that Malaria is a problem in Africa. About 10-12 million Tanzanians get Malaria each year, and the US is committed through President Malaria Initiative, to decrease that number. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a branch here in Dar es Salaam which is overseeing all Malaria programmes implemented in the country. We are very focused on diagnosis as quickly as possible and effective treatment, especially for pregnant women. But the other side of the coin which is really close to what we are doing in Africa, is prevention. A report by the USAID show that the US is about to issue about 2 million treated bed nets across the country.

I am very pleased to say that through the work that we have done, the prevalence rate of Malaria in this country has been cut into a half. However, there is still work to be done. And the last thing, I want to say about health, you know we are living in the globe and it is very easy for a new emerging infection to arise and then spread all over the globe because there is such movement of people across borders, we saw that from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in early 2000 and then Covid-19 recently and even Ebola in African continent and we think it is important for the governments to be prepared for whatever the next emerging infection is.

We don’t need to invest in health here, our goal is to help your economy grow and become more prosperous country so that you are able to take care the health of your own people and at that point we will be more happy to step aside and let Tanzanians to take care of Tanzanians and take care of HIV and Malaria. In the meantime, we are your friends and we are here to help.

Covid-19

As you know, Covid-19 is a global problem. I will speak what I know best. In the US, we still continue to have a problem with Covid-19. Each and every day there are new cases diagnosed with the infection. I am very pleased to say that, cases of Covid-19 in the US begin to decrease as we continue to reinforce health guidelines; good hand washing, wearing of masks in the public and social distancing.

We have invested money here in Tanzania, I think it is almost $6 million to help in the fight against Covid-19 particularly for prevention so that Tanzanians can practice public health guidelines and reduce the transmission. Another thing, whether it is good hand washing or social distancing, that protects people from other diseases not just Covid-19, and so they are good public health practices for everyone to learn not only for Covid-19 but for other diseases as well.

Going back to business, you mentioned earlier that business climate is among your three priorities that you are looking forward to improving in the country. Can you clarify

During my tenure here, I want to strengthen the long-standing bilateral relationship between Tanzania and the US. I will feel successful if I will see more Tanzanian products sold in the market places in the US.

Your coffee, tea, cashewnuts, the list is endless. So I would like to see Tanzanian products being available in the US. And again, I would also like to see more American products available here in Tanzania. I want to foster the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

The second element is the business investment and it is the strongest priority for me. I want to see Americans invest in this country so that we can increase tax revenues for the government and more importantly, it can be an engine for employments for Tanzanian young population in particular.

Personally, I see the resources this country has, I think the opportunities are endless from energy to other infrastructure projects, from healthcare to agro-business. The opportunities for American investors are there and I have met with many investment communities and they have seen great potential all across Africa to invest here and bring jobs to the continent including Tanzania. So that is what I want to do moving forward. I am also passionate about supporting tourism in particular in your game reserves. I love animals since I was a child.

Even when I went to University I undertook the study of animals. So I want to see those resources are preserved not only for this generation, but for the future generation, and not only for the Tanzanians but for the world. And I want to commend Tanzania, for what they have done so far in relation to poaching and wildlife conservation. I want this wonderful national treasure that you have preserved to be shared with everyone in the country and in the world, and I acknowledge it generates significant revenues for the country. So I am going to work very closely with the Tanzanian government on wildlife conservation.

What will you do to make sure you convince Tanzanians and authorities to engage with the US in trade. There is this fear that giant economies want to dominate the economies of poor countries instead of creating a win-win situation in business.

Certainly, the way I look at American investment in the country needs to be a win for the Tanzanian people and a win for the American business community. And I think that can easily be achieved, and I know there are probably some examples in the past where the companies came to Tanzania and didn’t create a win-win situation in business with Tanzania. I am committed that any company that I will bring here remains competitive and productive for the people of Tanzania. One things that I will do in my power is to ensure Tanzanians accorded opportunity to run businesses by American investors.

This country is rich in so many resources, whether you are talking about agriculture or minerals. What I think could be done is to ensure that there is no middleman of some sort for your products here such as cashews. They have to be processed here before they go to the market either in the US or Canada or anywhere. And when I mentioned agro-business earlier, I would love Tanzania to develop mechanization to increase the level of local processing.

You have spoken passionately on youth empowerment; what does US have in store for the youth programmes

As I look at the demographic of the country of Tanzania, you are a young population, you have an exploding group of young people, and they will be entering the job market in the next couple of years. That will be great as they can fuel the economic development. But they need to have education and technical skills that are needed to acquire jobs in the country.

And I see this as a great opportunity for collaboration between the Tanzanian government and the US. My perception about the Tanzania young people as I watch them in the streets around this country is, they are hard workers and they are highly motivated, they are thoughtful and they will do anything and that is going to serve the country. Making sure they are empowered to be the engine for the economic growth for the country to move forward is key. We think education is so important and we have been involved in education for the last 60 years in the country. We think every Tanzanian boy and girl should have an opportunity for good public education, not only primary but secondary. We also have a special interest in young girls especially as related to secondary education. We want them to have access to secondary schools and we want them to have means to complete that education and move on if they desire.

Tanzania has adopted an economic diplomacy approach to replace the older political approach so as to grow its economy. But there are still those who feel that we are coming from a disadvantaged position. What is your take on this

I think the future vision of Tanzania by the Tanzanians is very similar to the vision that the US has for the Tanzanians. We want you to have a strong economy, we want your people to live healthy lives and to have opportunities for a good education. So we have a lot of things in common as related to development goals for Tanzanians.

If you go back several decades, when our Ambassador came to your country, the thought was the Ambassador would just interact with the host government and that would be the end. But to get businesses into the country and to deal with some of the issues such as education, we need to bring in and partner with other groups like the private sector and Civil Society Organizations other than just the host government. There are a number of Civil Society Organizations that can be helpful to help us achieve the shared vision that we have for Tanzania. These include international like the World Health Organization, UN Women organisation or other organisations that I will partner with to help us achieve the goals that we have.

Some of those who have a shared vision with the government include the Tanzanian diaspora community. Those Tanzanians have migrated out of Tanzania and now are living in the US. I have had a chance to meet with some, they love Tanzania and they want to see Tanzania prospers. They are another group that will be so supportive in achieving the goals as related to a shared vision that the US and Tanzania have.

What is your view on civil society groups’ contribution to development and how can they help to achieve a shared vision that the US has for Tanzania

It has been only a few weeks since I started serving the country as an Ambassador here, so I am still learning. They have been reports about the suppression of civil society organisations from having a space to do their work. I will everything in my power to ensure that they do have the opportunities in this country because ultimately Tanzania benefits and the people of Tanzania benefit. If these groups are focused on the health or education or agriculture issues, they are part of the solution and they need to be at the table. So anything I will do, surely I will be interacting with these groups during my tenure as Ambassador.

Talking of politics; Tanzania is in an election year. We have seen your recent tweet calling for a peaceful election. What is your general observation so far

The US has a strong commitment to the principles of democracy and basic human rights. Back in January, we learnt of President John Magufuli’s commitment to a fair, free, transparent and inclusive election. We want to do anything in our ability to help achieve these goals. Democracies are so important. We know from history, those countries that had democratic principles and embraced the basic human rights for their citizens were peaceful over a long time and they were economically prosperous over a long time.