Why Dar is hot, and the rest of us are not

Friday June 7 2013


By Charles Onyango-Obbo

As far as the East African, and indeed African, diplomacy show goes, Tanzania right now is that girl on the dance floor that every boy wants to dance with.

If it is a Chinese leader coming to Africa, he must stop in Dar es Salaam. If it is a Western leader visiting, tea with the president at State House on Ocean Road will inevitably be on the cards.

And now in the first week of July not only has US President Barack Obama decided to cherry pick only Tanzania to visit in the region, but former American president George Bush and his wife Laura will also be in town for a First Ladies conference.

An article in this paper, “Why Obama chose Tanzania for his Africa tour” explored three possible reasons why Dar is hot. First, it has vast oil, gas, and mineral reserves that have been discovered in recent years, so the Americans don’t want the Chinese to feast on the goodies alone. They want a piece of the action.

Second, its leaders are not involved in any major domestic or international controversy. Rwanda has not shaken the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo M23 off its back properly yet.

In Kenya, The EastAfrican reported, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto are still battling the ICC cases. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni is about to outlast not only Obama in office, but has seen off four American presidents already — Ronald Reagan, George Bush Senior, Bill Clinton, George Bush Junior.


Third, it is the most stable country in the region, thus offering greater certainty for doing things.

Yes, but this is not all. First, as the headquarters of the Organisation of African Unity’s Liberation Committee and more than half a dozen Southern African liberation movements, Tanzania used to have the diplomatic clout African countries only dream of today.

What happened over the past 25 years or so was a surrender to an isolationist backlash that that overexposure caused. Tanzania, then, is returning to form.

And partly because of that, it is the only country in the region whose political reserves have not yet been tapped out. Rwanda has to keep 24 hours DRC watch as well as peacekeeping in Darfur and the two Sudans’ border; Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya are still wading through Somalia’s murky political waters.

And Tanzania has the largest unspent store of energies that can be unleashed through political reforms. That is is beginning to happen with the writing of a new constitution. If the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi modernised Tanzania, whose economy is now virtually neck and neck with Kenya’s in size, it could show its East African Community partners dust.

Then, there are things that are only whispered. As the blog Lesley on Africa suggested, the controversial US Africa Command (Africom) is eyeing Tanzania as a long-term partner. It quotes the Africom Commander Gen Carter Ham as telling the Senate Armed Services Committee:
“We are deepening our relationship with the Tanzanian military, a professional force whose capabilities and influence increasingly bear on regional security issues in Eastern and Southern Africa and the Great Lakes region.”

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @cobbo3