22 May 2009

Tanzania: Obama, Kikwete Meet in Oval Office on Africa's Conflicts

President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania became the first African head of state to visit the Obama White House Thursday, where he discussed issues including Africa's most pressing conflicts with President Barack Obama.

According to a White House readout on the meeting, the presidents "had a valuable discussion on a range of issues" and "exchanged views on approaches to enhancing the U.S.–Tanzanian partnership, improving development policy in the fields of health, education, and agriculture, and working with other partners in the region to solve some of the most pressing conflicts on the African continent."

A Swahili-language report posted to a popular Tanzanian blog hosted by journalist Issa Michuzi said Kikwete and Obama had "debated some of the African continent's biggest challenges, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, Somalia and the current political situation in Kenya."

Ongoing tension between mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar was also raised, the report said. Kikwete had "explained to President Obama... the enthusiasm his government has for reconciliation of political issues with Zanzibar." Recent media reports have suggested that Zanzibar might wish to split from the mainland if oil is discovered offshore.

Michuzi's blog report added: "President Obama... praised President Kikwete for his leadership in improving government education, and assured him that all the aid for building infrastructure from the [U.S.] Millennium Challenge Account will speed things along, and that many projects are already under construction."

Kikwete also met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She was among a range of Obama administration officials who sat in on the Oval Office meeting, according to the Swahili news report.

Others included Director of the White House's National Economic Council Lawrence Summers, National Security Advisor James Jones and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, who was a teacher at the Malangali School in Iringa, Tanzania, in his youth. Carson was a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania from 1965 to 1968.

Tanzanians responded to the White House meeting with cautious optimism.

According to a report in the Tanzanian English-language daily, The Citizen, civil society activist Moses Kulaba said he was concerned with "our president's globe trotting," citing that words exchanged abroad often translate to little change back home.

"We need to assess that all these expensive overseas trips make economic sense to our country. I hope the President uses the opportunity to make it clear on what Tanzania wants to trade better," he said.

Nevertheless, the executive director of the Tanzania Investment Center, Emmanuel Ole Naiko, said Kikwete and Obama's meeting could boost investor confidence: "Their meeting is the best news in these times. Tanzania stands to gain from investors who often take such gestures seriously.

"The U.S. was usually last among the top 10 investors locally but since the rise in relations since the [George W.] Bush times, the country is today in fourth position in terms of foreign investment here," he told The Citizen.

Earlier in the week, President Kikwete visited California's Silicon Valley, where he met with executives at technology giants Cisco, IBM and Google. The three companies "agreed to help" Tanzania, the government-owned Daily News reported.

The newspaper said that at Cisco, Kikwete discussed the "various steps Tanzania was taking in embracing ICT fully, including that of the laying of a fibre-optic [cable] and the establishment of an IT college at the University of Dodoma."

At Google, he discussed how the government could work with the company to "accelerate development and promote efficiency." And IBM Vice President Dr. Mark Dean "assured President Kikwete that the century-old company would continue assisting Tanzania in ICT, especially the proposed IT college at the University of Dodoma."

Kikwete's meetings with technology companies come just a month before the expected landing date for Seacom, the first of three undersea fiber optic cables which will connect East Africa with Europe.

In an interview last year, Seacom's CEO Brian Herlihy told AllAfrica that Seacom "will provide free Internet access to the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania."

Kikwete also visited Stanford University in Palo Alto, where he discussed access to clean drinking water in Tanzania.

On Wednesday, Kikwete received an award from Doctors for Africa in Los Angeles for his efforts to improve health on the continent, and for steering his government toward increasing the country's health budget to 11 percent.

According to the Swahili-language report, Kikwete will spend the rest of his visit to the U.S. visiting international organizations and international financial institutions.

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