Of diplomacy gone awry and spectre of resource nationalism

Tuesday May 19 2020

By Kasera Nick Oyoo

In a strange turn of events, Covid-19 has tested Tanzania’s international relations docket the most after our health docket.

Which is worrying, considering that with 62 foreign missions represented in Tanzania along with 30 or so international organisations, we ought to be doing very well by any standards as anywhere where it matters  be it in Europe, the Americas, the Far East and not to mention African continent  we have reciprocal representation.

For the avoidance of doubt, Tanzania has some of the most well trained and highly qualified diplomats in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation.

This ministry, which until recently was led by none other than the late respected diplomat Augustine Mahiga, not to mention former minister Asha-Rose Migiro, has enough diplo-matic heavyweights in vari-ous directorates, who can be relied upon when push comes to shove.

Apart from Migiro, other diplomats of high standing include Mbelwa Kairuki, now ambassador to China, Samuel Shelukindo, Wilson Masilingi (US), Liberata Mulamula, Peter Kallaghe (former High Commissioner to the UK) and Suleiman Saleh, just to mention but a few veterans with huge international gravitas.

However, whether their insight prevails over politics is another matter.Yet even as economic diplomacy has become a cornerstone of international relations, Tanzania’s diplomatic boiling pot seems to be elsewhere other than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself, and here is why:


First, no matter what the technocrats and the very able minister Palamagamba Kabudi say and do, there is a whole lot of undiplomatic happenings that leave a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, the min-istry tends to be defensive, more like it has a hammer and sees every problem as a nail. Secondly the generalisa-tion of accusations against all manner of enemies is, in itself, undiplomatic.

Good diplomatic practice requires the unwritten golden rule –keep your friends close, your enemies even closer.

These days it is difficult to know if we are practising this because even those we swear to be our best friends seem to have taken a tactical one step back.

Those in the know may take offence, but why kill the messenger? We seem to be enjoying the best of ties with Turkey.

Third, which is related to the first, it matters little what we say when the things happening at border control points point at high-handedness by a section of government officials.

This statement may well be true of what our neighbours do, but when officials apply the law to the letter and impound livestock, this can be perceived as belligerence in matters that can be settled amicably, just as the setting ablaze of day-old chicks did not go down well in some quarters, regard-less of what the law says.

Fourth, it is important that we mean what we say and say what we mean.

There have been concerns about our involvement with regard to the Southern Africa Development Community and the East African Community, although Prof Kabudi has dismissed this as a “figment of the imagination of our detractors”.

In the meantime, no visit by a regional leader has taken place in the recent past. This is not a criticism, but a statement of concern. When tough questions are asked, the ministry responds with hard-hitting statements that are uncalled for.

Do they not say that when you find yourself in a hole stop digging?These days, it has become the norm for members of Parliament or regional administration officials to do and say as they please on matters that have implications on international relations.

A siege mentality seems to have been created for reasons that are not very clear. There is no doubt that resource nationalism will attract virulent opposition. How we deal with it will surely set a diplomatic precedence.