Where is Tanzania in Africa’s history?

Tuesday September 29 2020

Kasera Nick Oyoo is a research and

Kasera Nick Oyoo is a research and communications consultant with Midas Touché East Africa 

By Kasera Nick-Oyoo

Tanzanians go to polling stations for the October 28 general election this year after campaigns that officially started on August 26, and end on October 27.

Some of the ongoing campaigns have been rigorous, indeed, raising issues that have included the country’s policy on international relations.

This sent me searching on the web where I came across some pertinent comments by one of Africa’s elder statesmen, Ghana’s founding President Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972; President: 1957-1966).

Although the comments were made many decades ago, they remain true today.

“It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity. Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world,” President Nkrumah reportedly said in 1961. [Source: ‘I Speak of Freedom: A Statement of African Ideology’ (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1961), pp. xi-xiv.

As politicians crisscross the country seeking to woo voters, they are heard making all manner of promises if elected into political leadership.


Both the veteran ruling CCM party and the political opposition are at cross-purposes, and whether or not they can really be part of this dream of a united Africa is highly debatable.

As of today, Tanzania is yet to ratify total acceptance of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area pact (AfCFTA). While inconclusive, this may nonetheless point to the ‘(Donald) Trump-esque America for Americans’ that the fifth-phase government of Tanzania is implementing in the United Republic!

The approach, however, is in essence positive – and is highly commendable, although it has many challenges. The first challenge is: what is the place of the United Republic of Tanzania in the comity of nations?

This then brings forth more questions... For example: is it possible for Tanzania to be an independent nation – or does the independence of any nation mean that it cannot cede certain ground so that it can comfortably coexists with other nations?

These questions become even more relevant when you compare the approach used by the first-phase government (1961-1985) of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (1922-1999).

After his retirement as President in 1985, Mwalimu addressed the South African Parliament in Pretoria on October 16, 1997, saying – and I paraphrase here – “we shall remain small nations if we continue with this approach of ‘oh Tanzania, oh South Africa...’ We must unite to face a world out there that had a huge start ahead of us...”

Now, the economic diplomacy we pursue seems like we are putting all our eggs in one basket i.e. a basket whereby we must win while they lose – whoever they are!

How, then, can we ensure that our membership of the African Union (AU), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) means more than membership of mere ‘talking-shops’ that are without continuing and sustainable value-addition using the building blocks that the likes of Mwalimu Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah and Nelson Mandela stood for?

We seem to want to stop some fellow member-nations of the East African Community from selling their products and services in our country, while we expect them to continue opening up their markets to our products and services as a matter of course.

Regarding the 16-nation Southern Africa Development Community, we are obsessed with reminding South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, etc., that we were crucial to their attaining independence and/or freedom from oppressive rule in the bad old days.

This way, we are bound to end up in untenable situations.

Since all we do in Tanzania is talk, talk, talk, our fellow member-nations are steadily and silently forging ahead in development terms.

Admittedly, Tanzania’s one-year chairmanship of the Sadc – which ended last August – was mostly fraught with the global Covid-19 pandemic. But, that should really be no excuse for any shortcomings that may have arisen at the time.

At the African Union level, we have not ratified the ‘single trading bloc’ AfCFTA pact, suggesting our reluctance to open up to a continent-wide free trade area...

Our otherwise gung-ho approach to co-operation locally, regionally, continentally and globally is nonetheless severely constricted by a narrow vision of, and ambition for, political office.

We don’t seem inspired by the ideals of our long-gone founding fathers... What, pray, do Tanzanians want of their place in history as Africans?