TBY talks to Bernard Kamillius Membe, Minister of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation, on the concept of economic diplomacy, the significance of President Obama's visit, and Tanzania's regional leadership.

Bernard Kamillius Membe
Bernard Kamillius Membe studied political science at the University of Dar es Salaam. He later pursued his Master’s Degree in Conflict Management, Conflict Resolution, International Law, and International Economics at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). In 1992, he was assigned to serve as an Advisor to the Tanzanian High Commissioner in Ottawa, Canada, where he served until 2000. Previously, he had served as a national security analyst at the president’s office from 1978 to 1989. In 2000, he was elected Member of Parliament representing the Mtama constituency. He was reelected in 2005 and 2010 and appointed Deputy Minister of Home Affairs by President Kikwete after the 2005 general elections. Following a cabinet reshuffle in October 2006, he was appointed Deputy Minister of Energy and Minerals, and became Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in January 2007.

TBY You define Tanzania's current foreign policy as “economic diplomacy." What does that mean, and how does it differ from Tanzania's traditional foreign policy?

Our traditional foreign policy was centered on African unity, liberation, the promotion of neighborliness, regional integration, non-alignment, and adherence to the UN Charter. It took a long time for countries in Southern Africa, such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, and South Africa, to gain their independence. And once Africa was fully liberated, we began thinking about what came next. We decided to direct our attention to economic development. We determined that one of our pillars of foreign policy would be economic diplomacy, which we defined as promoting investment, trade, and tourism. Moreover, we actively encourage investors in extractive industries, agriculture, and communication. We have encouraged our overseas embassies to identify investors who are interested in Tanzania, while also providing Tanzanians with economic opportunities in other countries based on the information that our diplomatic missions issue the business communities through the Tanzanian Investment Center, Chambers of Commerce, and the media. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has succeeded in doing this. It has created a boost in tourism as well as greater investment in agriculture, the extractive industries, manufacturing, telecommunications, and trade. Over the past decade, we have seen fantastic development.

How would you define Tanzania's regional leadership credentials and the importance of regional integration?

We feel very powerful in the region because of our strategic location and role in the liberation struggle. We are among the creators of the East African Community (EAC). We have reached the common market in the region and now have free movement of labor, capital, goods, and services, and capital, as well as common external tariffs. With regard to the South African Development Community (SADC) region, we have reached a free trade agreement (FTA) that allows the free movement of goods. This is a market of 500 million to 600 million people, and any commodity that Tanzania produces can find its market there. However, we believe we can do better. Tanzania is strategically located in the region thanks to its deep natural harbor and being surrounded by seven landlocked countries. We have the Port of Dar es Salaam and two railway lines running from Dar es Salaam to Zambia and Kigoma, which is a dream come true. Tanzania is both a member of the EAC and SADC, and we are comfortable in enjoying this double status. We cannot abandon one region in favor of another; we believe we can serve both. We are doing our best in terms of promoting trade and investment.

One of your goals is to increase the number of Tanzanian embassies abroad. What impact will that have?

It will have a huge impact. Today, we have 35 embassies, and our mission is to have at least 50 by 2020. Four or five years ago, we had no tourists coming from Turkey and no business investment from Turkey in Tanzania. However, as soon as we opened our honorary consulates in both Ankara and Istanbul, and once flights had begun between the two countries, we saw business beginning to flow. When an embassy or an honorary consulate is opened, you can see an immediate impact as business people and tourists begin to arrive in numbers. We are now planning to open embassies in Turkey, South Korea, the Comoros, and the Netherlands.

“ Today we have 35 embassies, and our mission is to have at least 50 by 2020. "

Tanzania was one of three African countries Obama visited on his regional trip. Why do you feel he chose Tanzania, and what does this mean from a foreign policy perspective?

Tanzania invests in people. We receive a lot of development assistance, including that of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in the US. The funds that Tanzania receives are used efficiently and the results are tangible. It is certainly in the interest of the US to see how its tax-payer money is being used. It is very clear where the money that came from donors has been invested in people, infrastructure, health, and education. The people themselves will tell you that certain roads were built through MCC assistance. The US has spent millions on eradicating malaria in Tanzania, and when officials arrive they see how the public is protected against the disease-carrying mosquito—any head of state would be interested to see this. We are also a very stable nation—all neighboring countries have suffered civil wars, and despite the fact that we have 129 native tribes, we have not. The engagement of the current leadership is also highly laudable in terms of conflict resolution and mediation. The President spends most of his time working to resolve problems in countries such as Zimbabwe, Madagascar, and Somalia. The outside world looks to him and wants to learn what Tanzania is doing and why it is so committed to regional problem solving.