THE Indian High Commissioner to Tanzania, Mr Debnath Shaw, has been here for only six months for his duty of service.
Staff writer MASEMBE TAMBWE recently interviewed him about how he assesses the country so far, what he hopes to accomplish during his tenure of office and what Tanzania should expect in the coming years.
QUESTION: You have been in Tanzania as High Commissioner for six months so far, describe the economical, social and political status of the country in your view?
ANSWER: Tanzania is a very vibrant country and very important within the East African region. The economy is growing at a very healthy rate and though it has its challenges as India does on issues with poverty eradication and others, the prevailing peace and the vision being portrayed by the younger generation is very encouraging.
Q. Whenever new High Commissioners come for a mission, they usually come with a game plan or strategy, what would be yours?
A. That's a very good question. The relations between Tanzania and India date back for many years and so while I plan to keep strengthening those, I would like to improve relations among the people of Indian origin living in Tanzania. I would like to engage the people more and to have more friendly relations with them.
Q. Do you plan on continuing where the former High Commissioner left from or you are starting afresh?
A. I would like to do a mixture of both really. Every mission comes with different objectives and therefore I will continue from where my predecessor left from but also have some new elements. For starters we would like to have our own premises, we are renting this one at the moment and we hope these to be finished by the end of the year.
Q. What best practices have you learnt from your predecessor?
A. Fortunately I know Mr Kocheril Bhagirath personally and I know that he is a charismatic and a very outgoing person and has helped out a lot of people during the time he was here. He left with a very good reputation both as a High Commissioner and as an individual. I would like to continue from these traits and enjoy my time here as well.
Q. India and Tanzania historically share a lot in common and have enjoyed bilateral relations for decades, how would you describe the status of the relations today?
A. Both countries still share very warm and friendly relations and these relations are expanding to other fields. What I see missing, however, is the lack of information of what is happening in Tanzania by our media (Indian media) and unfortunately many media rely on what they see from other print and broadcast as well as social media instead of communicating with the High Commission to get accurate information. This is a challenging area and we are working on it.
Q. Every High Commissioner comes and wants to leave behind a legacy, what would you want yours to be after your term of service in Tanzania elapses?
A. I would like to be remembered by the people at the bottom, to touch the lives of these people. Let me tell a small story, when I was in China, I ran into a farmer who told me that during the 1960s his brother went to India and they lost touch. The farmer only had a name and no address or a photograph.
Anyway with the help of our agencies, we were able to trace the brother who had opened a Chinese restaurant in India and after more than 30 years they got reunited. After some weeks, I received a sack of nuts with no forwarding address, the feeling was indescribable.
Q. We understand that India now has a focus on Africa policy, why this policy now and what is in store for Tanzania?
A. We recently had an exercise of reassessing our foreign policy on the 1990s of looking East policy. This was largely as a result of lack of resources and our individual problems. After reassessing, we decided to look beyond the East and are now venturing into Latin and South America and beyond.
Tanzania is already feeling the effects of the policy as India now provides more education opportunities, more exchange programmes, increased patients seeking high quality health services as well as increased trade and investments. There is even a small level of investment by Tanzanians in India.
According to statistics from the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC), imports from Tanzania have increased by 130 per cent in 2012 and that 480million US dollars of exports were reported by TIC in that year while in 2011, it was pegged at 200million US dollars which is a huge jump by all means in one year.
Q. Chinese influence to Africa is overwhelming, is it a threat to India economically?
A. Not at all. China and India are neighbours and we have a long history together and though we have had our differences, we trade with each other and are friends. China happens to be our (India's) largest trading partner and we have a lot of Chinese companies operating in India.
Q. Do you have any plans on starting something where people in Tanzania who are interested in learning Hindi can be taught?
A. That's another good question. It is possible if there are people from Tanzania interested in learning Hindu language. There are short courses being taught at the Delhi Public School but it's very limited. It is something that can be worked on at the Indian Cultural Centre.
Q. India is more advanced in terms of having world class universities and colleges which accommodate African students including Tanzania. Can you give a breakdown of how many Tanzanian students, who have studied in India, say in last five years?
A. Unfortunately I don't have the exact figures but between 4000 and 5000 visas have been issued to students from Tanzania for the past three years. Apart from issuing visas, we supported the creation of a virtual classroom at the University of Dar es Salaam where 300 students were registered in 2010.
We are providing the link and plan to continue maintaining the link until 2015 though we have received a request to extend this for another five years and we are considering this request.
Q. There have been reports of foreign students, especially Africans being intimidated by indigenous (Indian) students. How safe are these students in Indian universities.
A. Yes there are such reports with a recent case in Punjab. However, let me say this, local authorities are very conscious and are on the outlook. In the recent case, the local authorities responded quickly, the student received medical assistance and the family was transported to India to see their child. More local authorities are being sensitised and universities have been urged to provide separate accommodation for international students. This is all to ensure their safety in Indian Universities.
Q. Your country borders Indian Ocean as does Tanzania. What is your contribution in curbing pirates in the Indian Ocean?
A. We in India, unlike other nations, have not joined any coalition because of our philosophy of seeking UN resolutions. We have put individual naval vessels however and they are helping protect the waters and have even apprehended between 70 and 80 pirates in the Indian waters. We are, however, very thankful to other nations for their commitment and are happy to partner with them in rescuing Indian nationals.