13 April 2016

Tanzania: The Untold Cost of Magufuli's Stance on Foreign Travels

Photo: Ram Horizonte Betancourt/Wikipedia
Julius Nyrere International Airport, Dar es Salaam Tanzania

Dar es Salaam — The quest to save money and direct it towards improving social service delivery is what drives President John Magufuli's 'policy' on foreign travel.

Dr Magufuli confirmed this shortly before he began his maiden trip abroad since he came into power last November.

The Head of State went to Rwanda last week on invitation from President Paul Kagame. In his speech during a State banquet, President Magufuli said many countries had invited him, but owing to his quest for austerity measures, he had to turn down all the offers.

"This is my first trip outside my country (as a president). I've responded positively to President Paul Kagame's invitation. You know, I don't like travelling abroad because I am fond of saving," he quipped in a speech he delivered shortly before the two heads of state inaugurated a bridge across Rusumo River, which separates the two countries.

In the past five months, President Magufuli has skipped at least five key international events where he was expected to, for the first time in his tenure, met with other world leaders.

Instead, the Head of State sent representatives, including the Vice President, Ms Samia Hassan Suluhu, and Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, to only a handful of international fora.

He has, in addition, banned regular overseas trips abroad by the habitually restless ministers and other senior civil servants, who now have to seek clearance from his office before flying out.

While this seems to be working considering the billions of shillings the President's Office says it's saving, it's the sustainability of this approach that many are now questioning. Of particular concern is where this would take Tanzania in terms of foreign relations. There is no denying that many of the trips that former presidents and senior civil servants made over the years cannot be justified against the huge bills they came with, but at the same time, one cannot deny the significant diplomatic and economic benefits therein.

Prof Gaudence Mpangala of the Ruaha Catholic University (Rucu), says Tanzania needs to cut down expenditure on foreign trips but skipping important international and regional meetings by the Head of State is not the way to go.

"It's not a good thing for other nations to have a negative view of Tanzania, for that will affect its relations with those countries. The President needs to focus on both internal matters and international ones as well," he said.

He says the tendency to skip international meetings at a time when diplomatic ties play a critical role in the economic development of nations all over the world could impact negatively on Tanzania.

Many though strongly defended those foreign trips, believing they were inevitable for a poor country like Tanzania, President Magufuli has opted for making a good use of envoys and foreign ministers in addressing foreign affairs and international cooperation.

But it is well known that many Tanzanian embassies are ill-equipped in terms of human and financial resources for them to carry out their duties effectively.

No indication so far is in sight showing Tanzania's economic diplomacy foreign policy will change in the near future, calling into question the effectiveness of Dr Magufuli's method of remote handling of foreign affairs and international relations.

President Magufuli has so far shown that he wants to treat each country equally. He has also shown a strong resolve in making Tanzania dependent, insisting his focus on revenue collection and prudent expenditure of the public funds.

Dr Magufuli apparently wants to reduce influence from foreign countries, especially those which have been assisting Tanzania financially.

Article 7, Section 149 of the 2015 CCM election manifesto states that the party will ensure the government strengthens foreign relations.

The manifesto tasks the government to continue participating in regional integration and strengthening economic diplomacy in the nation's interests.

It insists that the government should strengthen its relationship with other nations and international organisations and prop up economic diplomacy and ownership of embassy buildings in various countries.

The party manifesto further insists that the government must participate in the implementation of a work plan for the East African Community (EAC) single currency and the construction of roads and railways to connect member countries.

Moreover, it adds that the government should continue with talks along with other EAC partner states on the implementation of the trade and investment partnership with the US and the EAC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement.

Political analysts and foreign affairs specialists said President Magufuli was so far on the right track, citing 'a good example' he has shown by concentrating on internal affairs, a stand which cement his ambition of seeing an independent Tanzania. There are still, many issues to be settled locally before he ventures out, they said.

Prof Mpangala said Dr Magufuli's focus on internal issues than the foreign ones was a correct way, as Tanzania could benefit more from its foreign policy if it had a strong economic base.

Prof Mpangala said Tanzania's active membership in different regional and international bodies well explained the importance the country attached to international relations.

He said democracy was directly connected to foreign relations, citing the recent decision by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Board of the US to withhold its development budget support it lined up for Tanzania in protest against the Zanzibar election rerun and the country's Cybercrime Act.

University of Dodoma (Udom) lecturer Paul Loisulie said Dr Magufuli was strategically avoiding travelling overseas to set a framework for public servants. He is walking the talk, but it is also one of the cost cutting measures.

However, Mr Loisulie said in what was misconstrued to be a snub towards the international community; the country was now suffering from the MCC Board's decision. "By any means, the MCC Board's decision will affect Tanzania's economy for quite sometimes. We might be pretending that we're not scared of it, but it will cost us," he said.

He added: "As a result of the government forcing its way to the Zanzibar election rerun regardless of pleas from opposition parties and the international community, we have lost some credibility as a democratic country.

"Tanzania is known to be at fore front in conflict resolution and diplomatic approaches. I am afraid we've lost moral authority as a nation in international community following the Zanzibar fiasco."

Dr Kitojo Wetengere of the Centre for Foreign Relations (CFR) said Dr Magufuli has taken over the country when it was facing a myriad of challenges, ranging from huge debts to poor performance among civil servants and corruption.

"This justifies Dr Magufuli's priority to address internal hiccups before he shifts his attention to foreign affairs," he said, explaining that economic diplomacy required the country to improve its internal policies for it to engage with other countries effectively.

"You can't keep pace with other nations in equal footing in foreign relations while many issues inside your country are going astray," he said.

He attributed Dr Magufuli's style of focusing on internal matters to his ambition to see Tanzania stand on its own feet and avoid donor dependency.

Prof Peter Kopoka of the University of Dodoma said it was too early to judge whether Dr Magufuli's government was implementing the country's foreign policy well or not, noting, however, that good international relations was healthy for the nation.

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