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Tanzania- China ties aim for increased industrial cooperation

Thursday January 14 2021
Magufuli pic

President John Mgufuli shakes hands with China’s State Councillor and Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi after the contract-signing ceremony in Chato District, Geita Region yesterday for the construction of 341km-long standard gauge railway sections by two Chinese companies. PHOTO | STATE HOUSE

The historic and continuously evolving Tanzania-China friendship is here to stay, taking coloration of the present developments reminiscent and required of any society, now that industrial cooperation is on top of the agenda.

More recently, this was reaffirmed in a visit by Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi upon meeting Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli in the latter’s hometown, Chato, with President Magufuli reiterating the need for increased industrialization in Tanzania and the African continent at large.

Minister Wang’s visit is a continuation of China’s diplomatic tradition whereby the Foreign Minister chooses African countries as the destination of his first overseas visit in a year, a tradition that has stayed for 31 years.

The strengthening of industrialization for value addition and manufacturing of finished products comes amid Tanzania’s efforts to break the enduring colonial tradition of regarding African countries only as producers of raw materials and their people as solely consumers of imported products.

With China catching up with the West in industrialization and occupying an increasingly big market share in the world for its affordable and accessible technologies, the developing world is poised for meaningful progress on the industrial fronts given its closeness with China.

Some of the China-initiated enabling mechanisms that seek to bring the world closer include various projects under the umbrella of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), whose wings are currently spread nearly across the entire developing world.

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As far as Tanzania is concerned, it should be remembered that since 2018, China tops the list of foreign investors in the country, overtaking Britain which was at the helm for several years. And this is the trend in several other African countries, thanks to China’s commitment to strengthening its ties with Africa and South-South cooperation.

Historically, China already has a mark on Tanzania as far as industrialization and infrastructure development are concerned given its history of helping with the establishment of crucial industries such as the China-Tanzania Friendship Textile Mill popularly known as Urafiki, the Ubungo Farm Implements, and several related efforts which characterized much of the 1960s and 1970s.

State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s official visit to Tanzania is a follow-up to the phone conversation between President John Pombe Magufuli and President Xi Jinping of China which occurred on 15 December 2020, for the recognition of the brotherhood between the two countries dating back to the times of our founding fathers, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Chairman Mao Zedong leading to, among others, the construction of the historic Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA).

With the TAZARA persisting for decades now and both Tanzania and China ensuring its continuing cooperation in business, the two countries prove to be ‘all-weather friends’ and charting out new avenues to strengthen their cooperation, and currently Tanzania is seeking China’s support for its industrialization drive.

It is no wonder then for China to pledge a massive support in the construction of the 341-km section of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Mwanza to Isaka. The SGR railway project will facilitate movement of people, goods and services between Tanzania’s different regions as well as with neighboring countries.

In the wake of Tanzania’s appeal for assistance in strengthening its industrial sector, China could further help by directly investing in industrial activities, through transfer of technology in its various forms, as well as capitalization and financing arrangements, and in fact the rising Asian power has been doing some of these at remarkable levels, though more work still needs to be done.

Many Chinese investments in Tanzania have benefited the local communities. For instance, the Sunshine Group’s investment in sunflower seed oil production has not only made high-quality edible oil more affordable to Tanzanians, but promoted sunflower plantation and increased the income of the farmers. The sisal farm built by China-Africa Agriculture Investment Co., Ltd. in Morogoro Region has transformed a 2,000-hectare wasteland into a major sisal fibre production base, and provided over 10,000 job opportunities for local villagers during the past 20 years. The local employees have also learned advanced technologies and acquired managerial experience through working and training programs conducted by the company.

Stable production will lead to more employment opportunities for Tanzanians, affordable products and services that would be produced locally, increased revenue collection and an increased level of people’s satisfaction which in turn will lead to a socially and politically stable society.

China continues to help Tanzania in many other areas including education, healthcare, fishing, water and sanitation, and other industries for recognizing the sectoral interdependence that is natural and pertinent to human survival and welfare.

The practical developments in Africa-China relations are a culmination of the various efforts and resolutions made at different times, including the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). The resolutions adopted in these important meetings entail the grooming of a ‘healthy’, “harvest’ and ‘industrialized’ Africa.

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Sweba Unuki is a social affairs analyst based in Dar es Salaam [email protected]