President Samia Suluhu Hassan this week took advantage of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to woo investors from the US and the European Union to Tanzania, promising a raft of policy changes that will make the business environment investor-friendly.
In her first attendance of the Assembly, and six years since a Tanzanian president last addressed the UNGA (it was Jakaya Kikwete who last addressed it in 2015), the Tanzanian leader used her address to market her country as a trading destination.
“I want to take this opportunity to invite you to trade more with our country,” President Samia told a joint gathering of US investors and the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation on the sidelines of the Assembly.
On Wednesday, she participated in a meeting between Tanzanian and US business people and urged strengthening of trade between the two nations.
She expressed her dissatisfaction with the balance of trade between the two countries, quoting 2019 figures which show that Tanzania imported goods worth $241 million and sold goods worth just $46 million.
“The United States invested $5.55 billion and employed 44,118 people while Tanzania invested only $1 million – a small amount compared with the size of the US economy in the world and the opportunities available in Tanzania,” she said.
“I would like to see trade increase, as Tanzania is a member of the East African Community and also the Southern African Development Community, which provides opportunities for US investors and traders in a market with a population of 450 million people, which is favourable for investment.”
President Samia also informed the business people that her country had finally signed the agreement for the African Continental Free Trade Area, through which Africa is relaxing trading conditions in a market of 1.3 billion people.
Political observers say the country stands to benefit immensely from President Samia’s participation in the Assembly.
“She has made deliberate attempts to improve the image of the country both regionally and internationally by visiting all its neighbours,” noted James Aggrey Mwamu, a former president of the East African Law Society.
Areas where the country stands to gain include strengthening economic diplomacy, attracting investments and promotion of tourism.
“Her international travels are very significant. What she is telling her neighbours is that they can deal with her,” Mr Mwamu said.
Her decision to reverse the national approach and sentiment around Covid-19 and roll out of vaccination fits in with US President Joe Biden’s plans to contain the virus that has ravaged people worldwide.
She also met with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, president of World Bank David Malpass and director-general of World Trade Organisation Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
“They agreed to co-operate in the areas of economic growth and combating the Covid-19 pandemic,” said a dispatch after the meetings.
Shift in foreign policy
The talks in these meetings signalled a shift in Tanzania’s foreign policy under President Samia from inward-looking to embracing the world for growth.
“It is not by sheer coincidence that I chose to attend the UN General Assembly as my first trip outside Africa since I took office. I did so out of my deep sense of conviction and faith in multilateralism in solving the challenges facing our world today,” she told the audience in her address to the General Assembly on Thursday night.
“Under my stewardship, Tanzania will remain a formidable member of the United Nations and a dependable supporter of multilateralism. We will keep our arms open to those who embrace us and engage with us.”
Ahead of the meetings, civil rights groups had presented a petition on a list of laws and policies they say should be change to make Tanzania better. The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), for instance, asked the Tanzanian President to address gaps in media laws and political and civil society regulations and freedoms.
Critics charge that she has gone back to some of the old practices, citing the recent arrest and detention of opposition leaders on charges they claim are politically contrived.
President Samia, who is promising the world that Tanzania has turned a new page, offered to correct some of the laws on investment and governance, which are necessary for stability.
“Aware of the nexus between economic growth and governance, we managed to maintain peace, political stability with a vibrant democracy and institutionalised good practices, upholding rule of law and human rights,” she said.
She added that her administration is implementing “gender-responsive macro-economic plans,” noting that, as a woman, the burden of expectations is “heavier on my shoulders” to balance the equation. That will include reforming the budget to ensure more funds go to programmes for women and girls, stimulus packages like easily accessible credit lines to uplift women from poverty.
She gave no timelines but said her government “is reviewing policy and legal frameworks in order to come up with actionable and measurable plans to ensure economic empowerment of women but also other aspects pertaining to gender equality and gender parity.”
Recently, the International Monetary Fund approved $567.25 million in emergency financing package to Tanzania under the Rapid Credit Facility to address health, humanitarian and economic costs of the pandemic.
“This emergency financing will help finance Tanzania’s urgent balance of payment needs stemming from the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the Fund said.
Tanzania had received Covid-19 support before, even when the John Magufuli administration denied the virus’s existence within its borders.
As Covid-19 ravaged the world, Magufuli did not initially lock down the country, and mostly doubted its existence. He also closed the door on some external partners.
This week, President Samia admitted that Tanzania was impacted by the pandemic as other countries, citing the collapsing tourism sector, which has been the mainstay of the economy.
“Developing nations must be assisted in addressing the socioeconomic impact of Covid-19. We cannot afford to take refuge on the onset of Covid-19 as an excuse for not making progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goals,” she told the Assembly.
The SDGs are meant to be achieved by 2030, but the pandemic could derail progress unless efforts are made to help the poor, she argued. First, countries that committed to the various climate change programmes will have to honour their commitments on green investments, she noted.
Paris climate pact
Tanzania will demand that the rich countries, mostly responsible for pollution, pay their $100 million committed funding by 2025, under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Samia expressed hope for economic growth, but noted it had slowed down from 6.9 percent before the pandemic to the current 5.4 percent forecast.
She also met and held talks with the president of the Council of the European Union (EU) Charles Michel, who identified four priority areas for discussion: Covid-19, climate change, security in Mozambique and the digital revolution.
Among other things, President Samia said her government is strengthening health infrastructure, even in the face of challenges in accessing medical equipment and the required human resources to deal with the pandemic.
“I wish to extend our invite to the European Union to consider working with us in those areas,” she said.
Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye also attended the Assembly while Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta participated virtually.
President Ndayishimiye told the audience his country is now past the war years, but was still facing a war against poverty.
“The only enemy that remains a threat to citizens, in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic — which is common to all of us — is poverty,” Ndayishimiye said on Thursday.
“We must make concerted, structural changes that will enable a quantum increase in investment and technology transfers, not as charity but out of solidarity,” President Kenyatta said in his recorded address on Wednesday.
“A fast developing Africa will offer the entire world the benefit of its demographic dividend of youth and vast economic opportunities. African can become an engine of sustainable global growth but also as an exporter of peace, stability and transformative prosperity.”
Common enemy in Covid-19
During crucial sidelines meetings Covid-19 was cited as a common enemy, even when leaders discussed trade deficits, food security problems, climate change or intellectual property rights.
At the UN Food Security Systems Summit, for example, the World Health Organisation reported that three billion people in the world have no access to a healthy diet, the reason for 60 percent of ailments in the world. During the pandemic season, the WHO said the situation got worse, affecting 370 million schoolchildren who relied on school meals.
“Health and nutrition need to be a core, cross-cutting and rights-based underpinning of food systems transformation. Fair, equitable and sustainable transformation must start now,” WHO said on Thursday after the summit on food security.
“Food systems in all regions of the world need to be reimagined to deliver nutritious, safe, diverse, and affordable foods, to combat hunger, food insecurity, malnutrition, and food-borne illnesses, and to prevent non-communicable diseases.”
Leaders said better food security systems will lie in innovation and new technology that will be less hazardous to the environment but produce nutritious food products.
President Samia noted that it was disheartening to see Africa’s tally of vaccinated people at three percent as the rich seek booster shots for Covid-19.
Almost all African leaders who spoke called for better green investments and a role for the continent as a partner, not just a recipient of aid.