Tanzania-China Relations go back into the 1950s to the present
By Prof. Maurice N. Amutabi
The emergence of China as major industrial giant in the present millennium has provoked tremendous interest and triggered off a sense of apprehension among the major global powers, especially the U.S. and Western European states. China’s ascendance in Africa is new, but not in Tanzania, where it has been operating in many sectors since the 1960s as one of the most trusted and reliable development partners. Tanzania has enjoyed special relation with Tanzania, largely as a result of the great bond created during the Cold War when the two countries were regarded by the capitalist West as socialist and communist bastions. Tanzania enjoys a special place in China’s foreign partnership priorities. Many elites in Tanzania and many other African countries are trying to woo China as a partner in order to enhance their economic status regionally and internationally. The emerging consensus in Tanzania seems to suggest that China has boosted the fortunes of many people by extending soft loans and fair lending terms that would not have been possible under IMF and World Bank in the past fifty decades. Many import-export businesses are thriving and Dar-Es-Salaam port has more arrivals and departures from and to China than anywhere else in the world. It is interesting to note that one of the peculiar characteristics of engagement is the primacy of global geopolitics on one hand versus national economic interests, in influencing and shaping the political, socio-cultural and economic interaction between China and Tanzania.
China appears to have good intentions for Tanzania going by the quality of development that is taking place in the country with Chinese assistance. In 2012, China’s trade with Africa reached US$200 billion, an increase from $170 billion in 2011. The United States has seen trade with Africa decline to $100 billion in 2012 from $120 billion in 2011. The hosting of 48 African heads of state in 2006 in Beijing, China demonstrated this mutual understanding. China’s success has also been boosted by her rich historical relations with African countries during the colonial era, as much as by the adverse impact of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPS), imposed on most African countries by the neo liberal leadership of the West in the 1980s.
From the 1980s, Chinese presidents have visited Africa more than Western Presidents and Prime Ministers combined. Former Chinese President Hu Jintao, visited 17 African countries in a period of just 10 months. During his ten year rule as President, Hu Jintao visited over 20 African countries including giant regional players such as South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria to the smaller players such as Mali, Mauritius, Namibia and Cameroon. This is different from the approach of US Presidents who visit only demonstrated democracies. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping made his first overseas trip to Africa, making it clear that the continent was the number one priority for China, and as expected Tanzania was among the countries that he visited, indicating to the world the special place of Tanzania in the mind of China. President Xi Jinping visited many African countries with goodies that no western country or United States has been able to match.
Tanzania-Zambia (Tazara) Railway is perhaps one of the most successful and single-most transformative investment projects by China in Tanzania and Zambia, costing a lot of money. Therefore, the infrastructure development in Tanzania today owes a lot to China new focus on Africa, where China is engaged directly or indirectly with over 35 out of 55 countries on the continent. China has systematically demystified aid and removed all the obstacles the West has previously put up as conditions for aid. The argument is that accessibility for funds is much less complicated and the terms and conditions are much more flexible than many lending facilities across the world. China is embraced in Tanzania; recent trips by Chinese leaders easily confirm this closeness. One of the nations that achieved the highest level of integration and cohesion in Africa is Tanzania. The factors that make Tanzania the best model for cohesion and integration in Africa lies in the fact that the country has never experienced major political instability which scholars attribute to the ethos and values of Ujamaa ideology. What many observers have noted is the shared similarity in terms of reverence for founding father of the Nation Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, in ways similar to Mao Zedong for China.
A visit to Kariako market in Dar-Es-Salaam reveals that Chinese electronic products and automobiles are increasing moving into the Tanzanian market. Foto trucks are increasingly joining the fleet on Tanzanian roads. Untapped Tanzanian market that was increasingly getting disillusioned with expensive European and Japanese goods serves as magnets for Chinese manufactured goods. Tanzania now serves a rich terrain for re-investment of Chinese capital in areas of service provision such as banking as well as infrastructure development. Complementary to the significant Chinese economic and political interests are vigorous cultural expansionism exemplified by the introduction of Mandarin (Chinese language) in a number of colleges and schools in Tanzania. Complementary to the significant Chinese economic and political interests are vigorous economic and cultural exchanges visible at places such as Kariako.
The revolutionary treatise called The Great Leap Forward by Mao Zedong has often been compared to The Arusha Declaration of Tanzania by first President Julius Nyerere and which placed Tanzania on a great socialist development pedestal. Nyerere enjoyed special relation with the founder of Communist Party of China, Mao Zedong. The success of the Communist Party of China encouraged young revolutionaries in Tanzania such as Nyerere. Nyerere embraced socialist ideas in ways that were different from other countries, because he created his own philosophy of development, known as ujamaa. Ujamaa was a hybrid of sorts, borrowing heavily from Nyerere’s upbringing in Butiama among a large Zanaki family, influenced by his Catholic upbringing of hard work and consideration for the needy. Ujamaa was also largely informed by Karl Marx and the twin Marxist ideologies of socialism and communism. Nyerere was also influenced by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward as well as other socialist revolutionaries such as Argentine Che Guevara, among others. Nyerere was also influenced by the writings of William Shakespeare, especially the controversies surrounding industrialization in which the peasants constantly found themselves under the exploitation of the landed gentry. Nyerere embraced these many influences and used them to shape the kind of development we see in Tanzania today.
China’s interests in Tanzania are diverse. It has moved into areas of oil and mineral exploration in Tanzania, as well as agricultural development. At present, China is involved in the construction of over 20 major official road improvements in Tanzania. Those opposed to Chinese expansion in Tanzania have argued that Chinese strategy is motivated by the need to exploit the rich mineral and petroleum resources in Tanzania, due to the high demand for fuel needed to power the rapid industrialization process back in China.
In conclusion, China is aware that she has to devise a new friendly approach towards African leaders in order to access vital raw materials in places like Tanzania, which are also coveted by the Western countries, as opposed to the Western powers that have a patronizing attitude. Nevertheless, China’s success will be determined by her ability to persuade Tanzania that China is not going to be an exploiter but a dependable development partner, operating under mutual respect. There has been a lot of negative media and propaganda on the investments and activities of China in Africa by the Western media, which are easily ignored for obvious reasons. China stood with Tanzania during the Cold War and during the tough times of SAPS and many in Tanzania associate more freely with the Asian giant more than western powers. They see in China a friend who has a similar past, embedded in socialist ideals and policies that promote the interests of the ordinary person.
Prof. Maurice N. Amutabi is the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic Affairs), Kisii University. Amutabi@yahoo.com