How Tanzania’s foreign policy has evolved in the past 60 years

What you need to know:

  • From the visionary leadership of Julius Nyerere to the pragmatic approach of President Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania's foreign policy has evolved significantly, reflecting the shifting dynamics of the global landscape

Dar es Salaam. As Tanzania commemorates the 60th anniversary of the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar, the nation finds itself at a critical juncture in its foreign policy evolution.

From the visionary leadership of Julius Nyerere to the pragmatic approach of President Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania's foreign policy has evolved significantly, reflecting the shifting dynamics of the global landscape.

The recent speed of reforms in foreign policy proposed by the Tanzanian government signals a proactive stance aimed at leveraging economic diplomacy to propel the nation's global relations and development agenda forward.

Since gaining independence, Tanzania has remained steadfast in upholding its core principles of sovereignty, equality, and African unity.

The legacy of Julius Nyerere, fondly known as Mwalimu, laid the foundation for Tanzania's foreign policy, rooted in non-alignment, self-reliance, and support for African liberation movements.

However, as the global economic landscape evolved, so did Tanzania's approach to foreign relations.

Under President Samia Suluhu Hassan's leadership, Tanzania has embarked on a bold path of economic diplomacy, recognising the pivotal role of trade, investment, and strategic partnerships in driving national development.

This shift reflects a pragmatic response to the realities of globalisation and the need to adapt to emerging challenges while seizing new opportunities on the international stage.

A renowned scholar in international trade who lectures at Cape Town University (South Africa), Prof Ernest Mabura, emphasises the importance of Tanzania's strategic shift towards economic diplomacy.

"Tanzania's decision to prioritise economic interests through active and sustainable economic diplomacy is a practical response to the changing global dynamics,” he told The Citizen through a WhatsApp interview.

By fostering closer ties with international partners and leveraging economic partnerships, he said, Tanzania aimed to propel its development agenda forward.

He insisted on the nation's renewed focus on regional integration.

"Tanzania's commitment to strengthening regional economic integration, particularly within the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), reflects the vision of fostering a self-sustaining economy and promoting peace and stability in the region," he added.

The scholar further highlighted the importance of Tanzania's engagement with multilateral institutions such as the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU).

"By reaffirming its commitment to multilateralism and supporting the UN in its quest for international economic development, peace, and security, Tanzania has been demonstrating its role as a responsible global citizen," he said.

Impact on global relations and development agenda

In recent years, Tanzania has emerged as a key player in the global arena, not only in terms of its diplomatic engagements but also in its ambitious development agenda.

Under the leadership of President Hassan, Tanzania has been actively seeking to strengthen its ties with various countries and international organisations while prioritising sustainable development initiatives at home.

The reforms undertaken by Tanzania's government have far-reaching implications for the nation's global relations and development agenda, according to analysts.

By prioritising economic diplomacy, Prof Mabura said, Tanzania will eventually keep attracting foreign investment, stimulate exports, and enhance its competitiveness in the global economy.

"We have already seen how investors are increasingly flocking to the country, not because of other factors but due to the apparent motivation of a promising business environment that attracts investors," he said.

A seasoned diplomat, Dr Mary Miringa, highlighted the significance of building strategic partnerships and fostering closer ties with international entities.

She said that traditionally, Tanzania has maintained strong ties with fellow African nations, particularly through its membership in regional organisations such as the EAC and the African Union (AU), which have been instrumental in promoting regional integration, trade, and security cooperation.

The country, she noted, has actively engaged with global powers such as China, the United States, and European countries to attract foreign investment and support for its development projects on both the mainland and Zanzibar.

The recent Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched by China, she said, has offered Tanzania opportunities for infrastructure development and economic growth, although it has also sparked debates regarding debt sustainability and potential geopolitical implications.

She told The Citizen that Tanzania's commitment to advancing its political, economic, social, and cultural interests on the global stage is evident in the country's readiness to align with the current world's demands in order to gain supportive allies for its agenda.

"We have begun to see the grievances of the diaspora being addressed, which is a positive step and is attributed to the policy reforms that have been taking place. President Samia's government has clearly outlined how it seeks international cooperation, and this is already proving fruitful," she explains.

However, Tanzania's global relations and development agenda face several challenges that require careful navigation, according to a foreign relations expert, Dr Charles Mmari of Mzumbe University.

One of the primary concerns, he said, is ensuring that foreign investments and partnerships align with Tanzania's long-term development goals and priorities, amid critics’ concerns about the potential for exploitation or dependency resulting from certain agreements.

“Tanzania's diplomatic engagements must navigate geopolitical tensions and power dynamics that often shape international relations. As a developing nation, we must balance our relationships with various global actors while safeguarding our sovereignty and national interests,” he noted.

He added that the delicate balance requires strategic diplomacy and prudent decision-making to maximise the benefits of international cooperation.

In addition to external challenges, he said, Tanzania also faces domestic hurdles in achieving its development objectives.

Persistent issues such as poverty, unemployment, and inadequate infrastructure continued to hinder progress despite ongoing government efforts.

Addressing these challenges, he suggested, required not only external support but also domestic policy reforms and investments in human capital and innovation in both Mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar.

“However, the current leadership has signalled a willingness to engage with diverse stakeholders and pursue sustainable solutions to complex challenges,” he explained.

By fostering partnerships based on mutual respect and shared goals, Tanzania can contribute positively to the global community while realising our aspirations for inclusive and sustainable development, he further added.

Zanzibar as a crucial component

Zanzibar, with its rich cultural heritage and strategic significance, plays a crucial role in Tanzania's foreign policy calculus.

The reforms initiated by President Hassan extend to Zanzibar, reflecting the government's commitment to promoting regional integration and preserving cultural heritage.

As Zanzibar commemorates the 60th anniversary of the revolution this year, it stands as a testament to Tanzania's unity in diversity and its determination to forge a path of prosperity for all its citizens of both parts.

"In person, I am pleased to hear that some challenges of the union continue to be addressed; this is encouraging towards another 60 years of our union," says Dr Mmari.