Dar es Salaam. In July 2021 the African Union President Moussa Faki Mahamat granted Israel observer status. That decision triggered protests from various African countries.
While some known staunch Israel supporters on the continent - such as Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda - remained silent, Tanzania protested the decision through the Southern Africa Development Cooperation (Sadc) in a statement issued in August. The Israel observer status was, however, suspended early this month.
It was somehow surprising that Tanzania would have to join the chorus of those who opposed Faki’s decision given its efforts in recent years to warm up its relations with Israel following the adoption of economic diplomacy. These efforts led to the opening up of the Tanzanian embassy in Tel Aviv in 2018 and refrained from voting against the Jewish state in the UN and some other international forums. Tanzania had severed diplomatic relations with Israel in 1973 following the Yom Kippur War. It started restoring relations in 1995, despite the fact that the Palestinian status had not changed.
Tanzania’s protests to the Israel’s AU saga might have been totally technical- aimed at the alleged violation of rules in the admission of Israel. But it would still go against the grain of Tanzania’s foreign policy that highlights economic diplomacy. Analysts say that giving Israel observer status in the AU would have increased the opportunity to engage the Jewish state on its policies on Palestine that most African countries oppose. It is the same reason that Tanzania and other 45 countries (85 percent of all African countries) opened diplomatic relations with Israel. In addition to closer engagement with Israel on diplomatic and political issues as regards the Palestine question Tanzania decided to open an embassy in Tel Aviv to be able to benefit from Israel’s economic and technological prowess in areas of IT, agriculture, defence as well as tourism.
But the Israel observer status issue just like Tanzania’s oscillating positions in the Sahrawi issue in Western Sahara, has served to highlight challenges of implementing economic diplomacy issue; where at times the need to stand up for principle in international relations overrules any economic benefits that may be accrued. The dilemma Tanzania faces now on its foreign policy is not new.
When Tanzania was implementing principled foreign policy based on liberation diplomacy after the Presidential Circular No. 2 of 1964 government officials had to constantly address complaints that the young had put more emphasis on principles at the expense of its economic interests.
Despite repeated denials about sacrificing its economic interests Tanzania soon realised that in international relations and diplomacy it is usually the actions and not public pronouncements that comprise the real foreign policy. President Julius Nyerere admitted that despite the fact that the foreign policy emphasized on the defence of freedom, justice and equality as well as on the principles of African unity and African freedom it would be prudent for Tanzania to compromise in those cases where the country’s economy would be totally ruined by its principled stance.
“…It would be foolishness if the country with [anti-colonialism] principle allowed its own economy to be destroyed and all its people’s hopes of progress to be sacrificed by a degree of involvement beyond their strength. Yet, at the same time, if the principle means anything at all some sacrifice will certainly be demanded. The question becomes whether the sacrifice can be made without disaster and whether the possible gain from making the sacrifice is, directly or indirectly, great enough to make the risk and the sacrifice worthwhile” Nyerere said in a speech to the Tanu’s National Executive Committee meeting in June 1966.
As Tanzania commemorates 60 years of political independence - and looks ahead to the next six decades - it is important, analysts say, for the country to review the implementation of its foreign policy so far and weigh the pros and cons of economic diplomacy. The most important issue they argue is to put the country’s economic house in order in terms of overhauling the soft and hard infrastructure, investing in developing skilled labour and ensuring economic policy stability, among other things.
Economic Diplomacy is the process through which countries tackle the outside world to maximize their national gain in all fields including trade, investment and other forms of economically beneficial exchanges, where they enjoy comparative advantage. When the country adopted the foreign policy centred on economic diplomacy in 2001 it was clear that diplomatic missions were to be a critical component of the implementation.
The functions of the missions were to; monitor and report on conditions and developments in the commercial, economic, cultural and scientific life of the host country; develop commercial, economic, cultural, and scientific relations between the host country and the home country. To be able to do this it required competence in implementing the said policy especially among the diplomatic missions.
The controller and auditor general made a major review of the implementation of the economic diplomacy policy in June 2015 and discovered serious deficits that needed to be immediately addressed. Some of the major ones such as opening more embassies have been addressed ever since but others such as budgetary shortfalls still plague Tanzanian embassies to date.
The CAG says Tanzania’s diplomatic missions still do not have adequately and appropriately skilled personnel to do this effectively. “The government has not significantly leveraged the availability of economic and commercial expertise in various departments and in the business sector in order to beef up its economic diplomacy capacity. There is a need for staff with competency in trade, investment and tourism promotion, technology transfers as well as global economic governance to explore advantages of diplomatic missions,” the CAG says in his report.
Lack of coordination and effective communication with sector ministries was another problem;
“The Missions abroad need to have first-hand information regarding various developments happening in the country through ‘one stop centre’ which can be arranged within the ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The information can range from economic developments, tourism and advantages obtained so far through the missions. This will assist the missions to improve further their activities while delivering the expected benefits,” says CAG.
The CAG also notes that there is no effective coordination between the ministry of Foreign Affairs and other sector ministries to ensure availability of this information and taking appropriate actions including strategizing.
“The absence of coordination and effective communication may derail smooth operations of various mission’s activities. Also, many of the activities that constitute commercial diplomacy are predominantly in the sphere of the private sector and therefore require close cooperation between government and the business sector to achieve national-policy objectives,” CAG notes.