Tanzanians are charmingly affable in this hostile world

Saturday June 15 2024

Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan. PHOTO | POOL


A current phenomenon in Dar es Salaam’s political commentary class is the interest in what we do when our Head of State travels. You have to understand the fascination — for a while there, we went through a period of paranoid shut-in that would have done a depressed basement-dwelling gamer proud.

It was jarring in a country that is used to having a certain “ease” in international affairs, based on years of experience and an independent generation that understood the hostile world and had a plan for our survival within it.

Now that we are getting out and about again, commenting on what the President is up to when she travels is a renewed sport. A recent trip to South Korea garnered some attention for a variety of reasons, including the size and composition of the courtiers that accompanied our President, the awarding of honorary degrees, the bilateral agreements that were signed. I am just glad that we are paying attention to the core of these missions: What gets inked.

As I perused the discussions on the matter, it struck me that I no longer have a feel for what our general foreign policy is, outside of the usual hunt for funds. When it comes to the wars in the Northern Hemisphere, we have kept a low profile. I think our Speaker may have offered mediation services in the Middle East recently — a beautiful, futile gesture — but, other than that, we seem to be walking the tightrope of trying to avoid drama. Locally, maybe less so, but we retain a peacekeeping ethos.

It wasn’t until the algorithm dropped a lecture titled "Prof John Mearsheimer analyses the current world affairs 2024” that it became easier to think about what Tanzania is up to. Mearsheimer espouses a theory of “offensive realism,” but his real achievement is his ability to explain America with clarity and candour.

I was surprised to hear a respected American political scientist articulate what so many of us Tanzanians say to each other at the local watering hole about the perceived world order: the Them and the Us of it.


In a nutshell, Mearsheimer renders the political landscape as “nature red in tooth and claw,” where superpowers compete for hegemony, and the rest of us kind of do our best to survive in such a world. From this complete embrace of violent self-interest, current affairs make sense: Kenyan soldiers in Haiti, Rwanda offering to hold unwanted immigrants to the UK, the genocide in Gaza, Mr Putin’s action on the Ukraine… even my President’s trip to France to discuss Clean Cooking. All different interpretations of the concept of survival, some more bellicose than others.

I also learned how foreign policy is a window into the internal conversations and the psyche of a nation. In this sense, I think that Tanzania gives a fair representation of itself, with occasional fierce debates internally about what we should be doing covered by a public image of calm charisma and affability, which affords us a little dignity as we go about the world seeing where we can pry favourable grants and investments.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]