Dar es Salaam. A section of Tanzania’s scholars, activists, and members of the general public have in the past few days been sharing their concerns with the activities by former United Kingdom Prime Minister Mr Tony Blair in Tanzania, with some questioning his motive behind his recent two visits to the East African nation.
Mr Blair, whose full name is Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, has made the two visits to Tanzania, with President Samia Suluhu Hassan being the host of each visit. On July 22, 2021, President Samia hosted Mr Blair at the Dar es Salaam’s State House, whereby the two, according to official reports, discussed ways through which Tanzania and Mr Blair’s Tony Blair Institute for Global Change can work together in the areas of technology, energy, agriculture and COVID-19.
Founded in 2016 by Mr Blair who serves as its Executive Chairperson, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change is a London-based non-profit company whose mission is to “support political leaders and governments to build open, inclusive and prosperous societies in a globalised world” by “developing policy and advising governments,” according to the think-tank’s website.
On September 29, 2021, President Samia once again hosted Mr Blair, this time at the Dodoma’s State House, with the agenda of the meeting not revealed to the public, raising suspicions over the exact motives behind the former leader of the UK Labour Party’s activities in Tanzania.
Mr Blair has also travelled to Zanzibar and held talks with the semi-autonomous archipelago’s President Hussein Mwinyi on September 30, 2021, at the Vuga-based State House. Among other things, Mr Blair promised his host to help him on “improving the governance systems and building strong institutions,” according to the government-owned newspaper the Daily News. Apart from Tanzania, Mr Blair has also toured Kenya and Zambia.
Blair’s services aren’t cheap
Perhaps there has been no staunchest observer of Mr Blair’s growing interests with Tanzania than Dr Thabit Jacob, a faculty member at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and a keen follower of Tanzania’s developments.
“Tony [Blair is] back in Chamwino [Tanzania’s State House in Dodoma, the capital]. His services to autocrats and wannabe dictators aren’t cheap,” Dr Jacob commented on Twitter following Mr Blair’s second visit to Tanzania. “How much are we paying him?”
In a March 2020 story, The Africa Report described Mr Blair as “the man who whispers in the ears of Africa’s presidents.” According to the Paris-based magazine, over the years, Mr Blair has offered his services to then Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Guinea-Conakry’s then-President Alpha Condé, Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame to name but a few.
So persistent has been Dr Jacob’s inquiries into the real motives behind Mr Blair’s visits to Tanzania that one member of Mr Blair’s team reached out to him to “clarify” things. “In Africa, our support to most of the governments we support is free to them,” said the source whose identity was not revealed. “We are a not for profit [organization]. Same with Zanzibar, there will be [zero] cost to the government.”
In an interview with The Chanzo on Monday, Jacob commented that Mr Blair’s works in Africa and elsewhere “leaves a lot of questions.” He added: “[Mr Blair] has been in the news doing [Public Relations] PR deals for authoritarian regimes which totally disqualify him to offer the so-called good governance advice.”
In 2014, for example, Mr Blair faced criticisms for advising Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev on publicity after the Kazakh police had shot 15 unarmed protesters. Following the incident, Mr Blair reportedly commented: “Tragic though [the deaths] were, they should not obscure the enormous progress that Kazakhstan has made.”
Presidential mission to rebrand Tanzania
With a track record of ‘advising’ world leaders on image-building, some observers are sceptical that Mr Blair may be planning to sell the same service to the government and particularly to President Samia. Analysts point to President Samia’s interests in ‘rebranding Tanzania’ as evidence that the Head of State will most likely become the latest client of Mr Blair’s services.
On June 28, 2021, when closing the 12th Tanzania National Business Council (TNBC) meeting in Dar es Salaam, President Samia revealed that people from the largest media houses in the world were interested in branding her and the country. She told businesses leaders who had gathered for the meeting: “What they want is to rebrand the female President as well as the country to tell the world there is this person. If we support them, the country will take a step.”
“In the spirit of transparency, I was concerned about [the lack of] disclosure of the details of engagement between [the government of Tanzania] GoT and [the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change], if there are any fees involved, how much, who pays,” Dr Jacob told The Chanzo in an interview. “We need to ask more questions in the spirit of good governance.”
Asked under what arrangement are Mr Blair and his institution are engaging with the government, the Government’s Chief Spokesperson Mr Gerson Msigwa did not respond to our specific questions apart from hinting that Mr Blair was not offering any services to the government.
The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change also refused to comment for our stories despite initially agreeing to do so. The Chanzo asked Mr David Mills, who introduced himself as working in the institute’s press team if Mr Blair has any deal with the government of Tanzania that the Tanzanian public needs to be aware of and if Tanzania’s taxpayers have any reason to be worried about it.
Shrinking civic and political space
Given his history of providing services to world leaders who have no respect for democratic and human rights principles, some analysts are concerned that this is exactly what Mr Blair is intending to do in Tanzania given the country’s present political situation. Mr Blair’s interests in Tanzania comes at a time when President Samia has dismissed calls for constitutional reforms, saying she first needs time to fix the economy before embarking on the issue.
She has also decided against lifting a ban on political rallies imposed by her predecessor John Magufuli. Meanwhile, the Tanzanian Police Force is leading a crackdown on opposition politicians, especially those from the main opposition party CHADEMA whose dozens of members and leaders remain in police custody under what the party calls “spurious” charges.
Mr Blair’s bidding also comes at a time when the government has charged CHADEMA national chairperson Mr Freeman Mbowe with terrorism, a case that has attracted massive international attention, threatening to put Samia’s plans to ‘rebrand Tanzania’ at risk. In the case, Mr Mbowe and three others are accused of taking part in conspiracies to commit terrorist attacks, including bombing petrol stations and mass gatherings of people.
Dr Aikande Kwayu is a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She thinks that these political developments are the reason why President Samia might be interested in the services provided by Mr Blair and his institution, saying the Head of State “wants to eat her cake and still has it.”
“[The Samia Administration] understands that it does not fare well in the areas of democracy and human rights and thus it seeks to detox or to cleanse its image at the global level,” Dr Kwayu told The Chanzo in an interview on Wednesday. “This is probably why [the administration has] invited the services of Mr Blair who’s an international figure and come and assist them on the issue.”
The public’s right to know
Dr Kwayu notes that if Mr Blair is providing any services to the government the public should be informed of the type of services provided, what expected outcomes are, and how much will the service cost the taxpayers, adding that any possible engagement between the government and Mr Blair should be open.
A foreign affairs analyst working with one of the European countries’ embassies in Dar es Salaam who preferred anonymity agreed with Dr Kwayu’s emphasis on transparency during an interview with The Chanzo on Thursday, saying that transparency is the key as it facilitates oversight as well as accountability.
“At the end of the day, without accountability, there will be no advantages from the perspective of the general public of engaging with anyone leave alone with Mr Blair and his institute,” noted the expert who thinks there might be some advantages in the government’s engagement with Mr Blair, especially in the area of knowledge and expertise in governance.
“Tony Blair Institute for Global Change thus has a moral and ethical obligation of informing its stakeholders — including Tanzanians — what its activities are in Tanzania,” added the analyst. “There must be a level of transparency. It has to inform the public because its work is about the people.”