Tanzania: Bated Breath Over Us Visa Plan for Tanzania

Dar es Salaam — Tanzania has reportedly been included in a list of countries that the United States government was considering for select travel visa restrictions over unspecified reasons, it has emerged.

Several US media outlets reported on Tuesday that the Donald Trump administration is considering to add Tanzania - alongside Eretria, Nigeria, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Sudan - to its immigration restrictions list.

There was no immediate comment or reaction over these reports by Tanzanian authorities as efforts to reach out to officials of the ministry for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, as well as the government spokesperson, were futile by press time.

However, The Citizen understands that Tanzania has not 'qualified' for the visa restrictions yet as other credible sources within local diplomatic circles indicated that the US authorities were reviewing the country's fate before the final list is announced next week.

This information is reiterated in an interview that The Wall Street Journal carried with US officials who admitted that the list isn't final - and that the White House was this week still debating whether to include one or two of the said countries.

The naming of Tanzania in the possible US blacklist elicited anxiety as people took to social media to speculate upon the reasons behind the move - and what, if any, could be the impact of such an eventuality.

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Tanzania and the US have enjoyed cordial bilateral and strategic relations over many years and former US Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama visited Tanzania during and after their time in Office.

The country has been a major recipient of support from the US worth billions of dollars under several programmes, including The President's Emergency Plan For Aids Relief (PEPFAR), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative, Power Africa, and many others. The US has since 2017 blocked travel by individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea, and by political officials from Venezuela. The administration briefly included Chad on the ban list, but removed the country in April 2018.

It was not immediately clear why President Trump was considering visa restrictions on the new seven countries. But the Wall Street Journal quoting US officials reported that the countries wouldn't necessarily face blanket bans on travel to the US, but could have restrictions placed on specific types of visas, such as business or visitor visas.

The publication also said some of the countries could be banned from participating in the diversity visa lottery programme, which awards green cards to people in countries with low levels of immigration to the US. US Embassy press officer Ben Ellis declined to respond to our specific questions over the matter but confirmed to have seen the reports, saying: "We don't have anything to add at this point. We won't speculate."

Mr Innocent Shoo, a diplomacy and international relations commentator from the Centre for Foreign Relations yesterday told The Citizen the move on the probable travel restrictions would be both "extraordinary and deeply unfair."

He said that such decisions are normally taken against countries thought either to supporting terrorist activities or have notorious human rights records.

"It is true that Tanzania has some serious human rights problems but it is relatively better off if looked at from a global perspective. That makes me very surprised to see that the US wishes to take such a controversial consideration against Tanzania," he said.

Mr Shoo warned that the move would hurt relations between Tanzania and the US. But Mr Deus Kibamba, an expert in international relations said the only rational reciprocity Tanzania can make is to re-examine its human rights record and align its activities with both national and international laws to avoid finding itself in such lists. "The reports are both saddening and depressing," said Mr Kibamba yesterday.

Another political science lecturer, Dr Muhidin Shangwe, said the US travel restrictions on Tanzania and other African countries, if true, was miscalculated."

"The American influence on Africa has been declining and to a great extent this decision will contribute significantly in that direction," he said.

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