Tanzania eyes ‘new day’ in US relations with presidential visit

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Tuesday, 26 April 2022 16:28

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan meets with Vice President Kamala Harris in Harris' ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus, Friday, April 15, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan meets with Vice President Kamala Harris in Harris' ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus, Friday, April 15, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania ushered in a new era of friendly ties with American officials and investors over the past week during her US tour after relations soured during her late predecessor John Magufuli’s six-year term.

In her first official visit since taking over from her former running mate following his untimely death in March 2021, Tanzania’s first female president paved the way for the unfreezing of US government aid while overseeing $1bn in new business deals in the fields of tourism, conservation, and clean energy sectors. She still needs to convince sceptical lawmakers however after scheduling her trip while Congress was out of session.

Built around the launch of Peter Greenberg’s documentary Tanzania: The Royal Tour, Samia’s visit started with a White House meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris on 15 April during which the pair discussed “Hassan’s efforts to strengthen democracy and human rights in Tanzania” and a “number of areas of cooperation in our bilateral relationship, including health, agriculture, and infrastructure,” according to a White House readout of the meeting.

From there she travelled to premieres of the documentary in New York and Los Angeles as well as an SC Johnson insect repellent research centre in Wisconsin before returning to Washington on 22 April for meetings with business and think tank leaders.

“It’s a long historical relationship. And we have been working well, cooperating well. But as human beings, some way, somehow, it didn’t go well,” Samia said at an event at the Wilson Center. “But now, after my discussion with Kamala Harris, I’m expecting the future to be bright.”

Frozen aid

Relations with the US went downhill almost immediately following Magufuli’s election as the populist president oversaw democratic backsliding before emerging as a leading coronavirus sceptic.

In March 2016, the Millennium Challenge Corporation suspended a proposed $470m grant to Tanzania after election results in Zanzibar were nullified. New funding has also dried up under the Feed the Future Initiative, the global food security initiative started under President Barack Obama, Samia said at the Wilson Center.

“The Feed the Future programme – Tanzania was about to benefit, and it was stopped. But we had a good chat with Madame Kamala. We had a frank discussion and (she told) me why these two programmes were stopped,” she said. “And the US is seeing that those reasons are now not there in Tanzania, and so they’re thinking of listing Tanzania back to benefiting in these projects.”

A spokesperson for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which oversees Feed the Future, told The Africa Report that Tanzania has continued to receive funding under the programme over the past five years.

“The US government, led by USAID, is currently leading a process to select the next round of Feed the Future target countries and Tanzania is eligible for consideration,” the spokesperson said.

The objective was also to give a democratic space to everybody…So that’s my move. And I think God will help me on that.

Samia has notably earned kudos in Washington for several steps she’s taken to undo her predecessor’s policies. These include allowing adolescent mothers to return to school, lifting the ban on four newspapers and meeting with exiled opposition leader Tundu Lissu.

“The objective was also to give a democratic space to everybody,” Samia said at the Wilson Center. “So that’s my move. And I think God will help me on that.”

Wilson Center CEO Mark Green, a former Republican member of Congress from Wisconsin and ambassador to Tanzania who led the US Agency for International Development (USAID) under President Donald Trump, hosted Samia at the think tank.

“I say, respectfully, as a friend of Tanzania, I think that perhaps the biggest concern here was that we were losing democratic space,” he told Samia. “Yet, at the same time, we see it being restored. And we are your champions. We think that’s that those are our great moves.”

Deals, deals, deals

The Tanzanian president has also earned praise from the business community. On 22 April her delegation signed new private-sector investments and public-private partnerships in Tanzania worth at least $540m.

These include a memorandum of understanding between the Tanzania Trade Development Authority and the US Chamber of Commerce to build business linkages, co-host public- and private-sector trade policy dialogues and collaborate on trade and investment forums.

“What an incredible first year you have had in office – just transformational,” Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Marisa Lago gushed at a 22 April US Chamber of Commerce event with Samia. ”Your leadership has set such a new and exciting tone for the partnership.”

The country also recently signed an Open Skies Air Transport Agreement that establishes a “modern civil aviation relationship between the United States and Tanzania” that “promotes increased travel and trade and helps spur economic growth,” the White House said.

“There was a long, healthy, productive relationship,” Green concluded in his discussion with Samia. “There was a brief time when it was perhaps strained a little bit. But Tanzania is coming in out of the cold and is open for business.”

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