By Isaac D. Pacheco
In 1964, three years after gaining its independence from the United Kingdom, Tanganyika merged with the fabled archipelago of Zanzibar to form Tanzania. For many people, Tanzania conjures images of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti’s shimmering plains, emerald coastal waters, and pristine beaches. More than 70,000 Americans travel to Tanzania each year to experience this natural bounty. Whether taking in panoramic vistas from atop Africa’s highest summit, exploring vibrant underwater seascapes, or getting an up-close view of wildlife on safari in one of the country’s many biodiverse national parks, visitors are treated to the legendary hospitality and warmth of the Tanzanian people.
“This is a lot of people’s once-in-a-lifetime trip. It’s an unbelievably beautiful country, just absolutely breathtaking,” said Laura Chamberlin, Embassy Dar es Salaam consular chief. “Tanzania’s infrastructure is not necessarily proportionate to its tourism goals. So, we support American citizens when obstacles arise so they may continue their trip and depart with fond memories of Tanzania and the assistance provided by the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam. American citizen services is our first priority, and every day brings something we didn’t expect, so we try to react accordingly.”
The nation’s enduring appeal among international travelers reflects its reputation as an oasis of social and political stability in an often-turbulent region. Tanzania’s durable peace can partly be credited to founding father Julius Nyerere’s promotion of ujamaa (familyhood), a concept of self-reliance predicated on creating a common identity for the country’s 120 tribes through nationalist economic policies and a shared language, Kiswahili. After an initial, unsuccessful experiment with Chinese-influenced socialism, Tanzania’s second president, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, introduced an ostensibly multi-party system and promoted a more liberalized economy in the 1990s. Although minority parties struggled to gain traction and rarely posed a viable challenge to incumbent leadership, Tanzania increasingly embraced democratic ideals under subsequent administrations.
“Tanzanians care deeply about freedom and were at the forefront of independence movements on the continent. Positive aspirations and values still resonate broadly today, particularly on the social capital side,” said USAID Tanzania Mission Director Andy Karas.
Unfortunately, Tanzania’s movement toward a truly democratic society has languished, and in some instances regressed, since the 2015 election of the current Fifth-Phase Government led by President John Magufuli. With opposition parties under unrelenting pressure and a history of wide-scale election interference, Magufuli and his ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (Party of the Revolution), are broadly expected to easily win a second, five-year term in October 2020.
“What we’re dealing with right now is an administration, a government in Tanzania that is on a not terribly positive trajectory with regards to democratic spaces and democracy in general,” said Douglas A. Morris, political and economic section chief. “This nation is not a failed state, and there is no excuse for it to ever become one. That said, they are heading in the wrong direction, and the question is: How do they adjust in an effective way and get back on course?”
Embassy officials note that Magufuli’s administration has tackled corruption, which flourished under his recent predecessors. He has also undertaken large-scale infrastructure projects, including new airports, a new national airline, a mammoth hydroelectric project at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a new administrative capital in Dodoma. Counterintuitively, the Tanzanian government’s unilateral approach to many of these ambitious projects has undermined their actual implementation. By sidelining foreign investment and placing onerous new requirements on extranational companies, government policies aimed at bolstering self-reliance have paradoxically stifled new development and forced American businesses to reconsider existing partnerships and future projects in Tanzania.
“We’re one of only a couple U.S. missions worldwide where the embassy is not in the capital. The capital is Dodoma, which is in the center of the country. Unfortunately, that causes problems,” said Morris. “We have a government that sometimes doesn’t want to hear what we have to say, and it becomes difficult for us to have those conversations with them in a timely fashion. Trying to get our messages across—and get what they’re saying back to our people in Washington—is a never-ending challenge.”
Despite recent tensions, the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania has continued to build upon a venerable partnership that began with Nyerere’s groundbreaking visit to the Kennedy White House in July 1963. Through USAID, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States continues to provide significant assistance to the country’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. The two governments are also addressing drug trafficking and regional security challenges together.
“Tanzania has historically been one of our close partners. We have had a long history of collaboration with this country that goes through building up their economic development to keeping peace and security on the borders, especially along the coast. And we want to continue that,” said Amy Hart Vrampas, deputy chief of mission. “The Tanzanians themselves want to continue with stability and peace in their country, and so we need to ensure that we continue to be able to work with this government. Right now, it’s a little more challenging than it has been in the past, but we need to continue to be engaged in this country. We have to protect their borders, which will also protect our borders.”
American officials at the embassy consistently stress the necessity of sustaining and enhancing security partnerships in Tanzania to prevent malicious actors from spreading extremist ideologies and engaging in transnational violence. The latter threat is particularly relevant to Embassy Dar es Salaam, where a terrorist bombing two decades ago dramatically transformed the Mission and led to sweeping changes in the Department of State’s approach to security at posts around the globe. A monument in the central courtyard of Tanzania’s National Museum honors victims who were killed and injured in the attacks in Dar es Salaam and at the U.S. embassy in neighboring Nairobi, Kenya. It serves as a grim reminder of why American diplomats must never let their guard down.
“We all know what happened here on August 7, 1998,” said Brinille E. Ellis, public affairs counselor. “These are global issues that know no borders. So, we have to continue our diplomatic efforts and resource commitments to advance our policy goals. We have to have our eyes, ears, and feet on the ground to be present, to work with our Tanzanian partners on issues that impact the health, safety, and security of the United States.”
The recent regression in bilateral relations coincides with a youth tsunami in the nation—more than 44 percent of Tanzanians are under the age of 15. Education and employment opportunities remain a formidable challenge for this next generation, especially for the nation’s historically marginalized girls. The Mission has taken a strong stand against gender-based violence and discrimination and is leading the charge to educate and empower Tanzania’s young women through a variety of outreach programs.
“When you look at the demographics of such a young nation, as so many nations are in Africa, you really need to think deliberately about youth. We’re doing that,” said Karas. “Evidence has shown time and time again that where you invest in girls’ education, you’re going to see a healthier home, you’re going to see a home with more food on the table, with more prosperity, a stronger community. So, I’m very proud of the work that USAID has done in Tanzania on investing in girls’ education. It has a multiplier effect. To see young girls in school, achieving and maintaining their attendance in primary and secondary and onwards, still is a huge challenge, but it’s a challenge that has a huge return in any society.”
The COVID-19 pandemic proves that protection and security plans must address public health crises. CDC, alongside the Tanzanian Ministry of Health (MOH) and other relevant stakeholders, is leveraging previous U.S. government investments in global health to prepare and to respond to the COVID-19 spread in the country. CDC staff members are working alongside national and regional government health counterparts to provide technical assistance for surveillance measures, contact tracing, and laboratory procedures.
“Our long-standing relationship with MOH has proved critical during this global crisis as previous investments in surveillance, emergency management, and laboratory are paying off in real time,” said Dr. Kevin Cain, CDC-Tanzania country director. “Our office is working with the Government of Tanzania to enact an effective response to COVID-19 as well as building the framework for a sustainable response structure moving forward.” COVID-19 is proving that disease knows no borders and every human’s health is only as strong as the weakest health-care system.
The public affairs section partnered with an alumna of the Department’s Washington Mandela Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) exchange program to produce a series of “handwashing challenge” videos. This project raised awareness of appropriate methods of prevention against the novel coronavirus. The videos benefited from the star appeal of 10 featured singers and entertainers, who offered their time and content to the video.
With an abundance of natural resources, an energized populace, and a surplus of world-class outdoor recreational opportunities, Tanzania continues to hold amazing potential for growth and development. The nation’s long-standing pursuit of peace and stability in East Africa makes it a valued U.S security partner in the region. The goodwill between the Tanzanian and American people, built upon shared values for more than 60 years, endures. While troubling developments in the country’s democratic space and the rise of ultranationalist policies have forced diplomats to recalibrate their approach to political and economic engagement in recent years, America’s dedication to Tanzania remains steadfast.
“I think it comes down to that people-to-people sort of grassroots connection, that even if political leaders aren’t talking with each other or if we find reticence in a bilateral relationship, whether it’s in Dar es Salaam or in Dodoma, the reality is that when you talk to the average Tanzanian and they meet an average American, there’s an affinity and it’s real,” said Janine Young, management counselor. “Tanzania is an important country. We can’t forget about it. We need to continue to support its political stability, its economic growth and trade, and the education of its people.”
Isaac D. Pacheco is the editor-in-chief of State Magazine.