Tanzania foreign policy since Mwalimu Nyerere era

Sunday October 13 2019

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (left) talks to the Father of the Nation Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere upon his arrival at the Dar es Salam Aiport in March 1977.

Dar es Salaam. Father of the Nation Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere is well remembered not only for his struggles to liberate Tanzania but also to liberate other Southern African countries.

After gaining its independence in 1961, Tanganyika, as it was then called before becoming Tanzania following the 1964 union with Zanzibar, supported countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique to mention just a few.

Mwalimu was a Pan Africanist, just like the likes of Kwame Nkurumah (Ghana), Samora Machel (Mozambique), Sam Nujoma (Namibia) and Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), to mention but a few.

Mwalimu, as he is fondly referred to by many in Tanzania, Africa and across the world, believed in unity. He was evenly ready to sacrifice Tanganyika freedom until other African countries attain independence.

To sum it up, Nyerere’s foreign policy majored on political relations in which it underpinned about nine principles - defence of freedom, justice and equality, safeguarding territorial integrity and political independence of Tanzania.

Other objectives were support for struggles against colonialism, racism and neo-colonialism, support for the oppressed people in the world, the promotion of African unity, the promotion of the respect for the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of other states.


In underpinning his administration’s policy of safeguarding territorial integrity, Mwalimu waged a war against Uganda from 1978 to 1979, which eventually ousted the then Uganda President, Iddi Amin.

In 1971 Iddi Amin overthrew the then Uganda President Mr Milton Obote, a socialist just like the late Father of the Nation. The hostility between Mwalimu and Amin broke after the former decided to offer asylum to Obote.

Amin cooked up allegations and, without evidence, accused Nyerere of backing and arming his enemies and retaliated by bombing Tanzanian border towns.

At first, Nyerere agreed to mediation overseen by the President of Somalia, Siad Barre, which resulted in the signing of the Mogadishu Agreement, which stipulated that Ugandan and Tanzanian forces had to withdraw to positions at least 10 kilometres away from the border. Due to Nyerere’s indifference with Amin, the war eventually broke in 1971.

Mwalimu Nyerere, who was President of the United Republic of Tanzania between 1964 and 1985, was a prominent figure in the Non-Aligned Movement (Nam). Nyerere embraced Nam as a symbol of Third World Unity. Nyerere supported the principles of the Nam on detente, disarmament, development, anti-colonialism and the struggle for a reshaping of the international economic order.

He called for an active involvement in world politics to achieve the principles enshrined in the Nam. At the Sixth Conference of Heads of State or Government of Namheld in Havana, Cuba, in 1979, Nyerere remarked that “the Non-Aligned Conference was not an organization of neutrals bound to some kind of neutrality in international arguments. On the contrary, we have positive policy commitments of our own. First, we are a group of States committed to fighting against imperialism in all its forms.

The non- aligned states are, by definition, anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist, and we are committed to the struggle against those forces”.

But socio-economic policies, which were set by Mwalimu Nyerere, when the country gained its independence, changed in 2001.

While Mwalimu Nyerere’s foreign policy majored on political relations in which it underpinned, third phase President Benjamin Mkapa’s based on economic diplomacy.

“Retired President Benjamin Mkapa was the best diplomat, who changed Nyerere’s traditional foreign policy of 1964. Under the new foreign policy, economic diplomacy is highly marked as the vision of Tanzania’s diplomacy,” argued a lawyer-cum-political commentator in one of his articles in a local paper.

Whether successful or not the new policy was to become an effective promoter of Tanzania’s economic and other natural interests abroad.

The fourth phase government under President Jakaya Kikwete also embraced economic diplomacy. Apart from attracting many foreign investors to the country, under Kikwete, who was accused of costing the government chunk of money through travel costs, Tanzania benefitted from aids, grants and aids from donors.

Two former US presidents Mr George W. Bush and Barack Obama visited the country in 2008 and 2013 respectively.

During Mr Bush’s visit, Tanzania signed a $800 million worth of grant agreement through the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). During Kikwete’s administration, Tanzania attracted many foreign investors.

Under the incumbent President John Magufuli’s administration, whose vision is to see Tanzania become an industrial economy come 2025, emphasis has been put in economic diplomacy by encouraging foreign investment.

However, unlike his two predecessors-Mr Mkapa and Mr Kikwete- who somehow implemented the policy by travelling abroad President Magufuli has made the fewest trips abroad, in fact he hasn’t travel outside of Africa as his administration enters a fourth year in the country’s top office.

He has preferred to use Tanzania’s mission abroad to conduct economic diplomacy. Sometimes, he has sent his lieutenants, especialy foreign affairs and international cooperation minister Prof Palamagamba Kabudi to represent him.

On August 22, 2019 President Magufuli met 43 envoys representing the country abroad at the State House.

During the meeting, the President’s emphasis was that the envoys should prioritize on attracting investment.

He also directed that to make sure the country’s export volume is increased.

The president also directed the envoys to look for study and capacity building opportunities for Tanzanians abroad. He emphasized that capacity building is vital in the implementation of his administration’s industrialization policy.