The Israel-Hamas fighting that began on October 7, 2023, has divided the opinions of many Tanzanians. Some support Israel and their biblical claim to the land, while others support Hamas and their struggle for a free Palestine.
The Tanzanian government has remained neutral in the conflict, calling for a ceasefire and the implementation of a two-state solution. On both sides of the debate, Tanzanians are dissatisfied with the government’s response and prefer that it take a side.
Emotions were heightened with the announcement of the death of compatriot Clemence Felix Mtenga, who was said to be among two Tanzanians captured by Hamas.
Tanzania issued its first public statement on November 7, 2023, reiterating the importance of observing international law, calling for a cease-fire, and urging the resumption of the peace process to achieve the two-state solution.
The statement, however, didn’t appease either side of the conflict, with both invoking the government’s moral imperative to support their cause.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is one of the longest continuous conflicts in the world, dating back decades.
The current conflict could be traced back to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which declared the British government’s support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
For over four decades, Tanzania’s foreign policy was guided by Presidential Circular No. 2 of 1964, which specified that Tanzania’s foreign policy priorities would evolve around racial equality, collective self-reliance, and a world at peace.
This helps us understand why, in 1973, Tanzania, then Tanganyika, was the first African country to recognise and open diplomatic relations with Palestine. Tanzania had forged diplomatic ties with Israel in 1964, but they were severed in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War, only to be reestablished in 1995.
Another critical component of Tanzania’s foreign policy in the first few decades was non-alignment. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is an international organisation established during the Cold War era to provide a platform for countries that did not formally align themselves with the United States or the Soviet Union.
Founded in 1961, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has grown to encompass 120 member states, representing over two-thirds of the United Nations’ membership. The NAM helps explain why Tanzania has historically tried to maintain relations with conflicting countries.
In the developing years following independence, Tanzania’s foreign policy was charted by a seminal speech delivered by President Julius Nyerere in Mwanza on October 16, 1967.
This address, presented to the National Congress of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), served as a beacon illuminating Tanzania’s foreign policy priorities.
Titled Tanzania Policy on Foreign Affairs, the speech reaffirmed Tanzania’s unwavering commitment to the fundamental principles of non-alignment, African unity, and African liberation, underlining the need to “guard the integrity and security” of Tanzania and its commitment to following “a policy of non-alignment.”
In the same impassioned address, Nyerere focused on Britain’s involvement in Southern Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe, particularly the authoritarian regime of Ian Smith.
Nyerere unequivocally condemned Smith’s oppressive rule, characterising it as a blatant violation of fundamental human rights and a brazen act of defiance against the African people’s yearning for self-determination.
The speeches above illuminate Tanzania’s foreign policy under Julius Nyerere’s astute leadership in the formative years of independence. Tanzania emerged as a beacon of hope for nations and peoples striving for self-determination.
This unwavering commitment was exemplified by Nyerere’s early support for an independent Palestine, a stance that eventually resulted in diplomatic tensions between Tanzania and Israel.
In November 2022, President Samia Suluhu Hassan initiated a comprehensive review of Tanzania’s foreign policy to refine its strategic direction and align it with the nation’s evolving economic priorities.
While President Samia has already demonstrated a clear emphasis on economic diplomacy, this review aims to establish a codified framework rather than represent an abrupt departure from established foreign policy principles.
The review will delve into Tanzania’s current international engagements and seek to optimise strategies for leveraging these relationships to foster economic growth and development.
The question is why the Tanzanian government has yet to take a definitive stance on the ongoing conflict between the Palestinian and Israeli states. Is this hesitation due to its longstanding policy of non-alignment, or is it a calculated measure to safeguard its economic interests? It is a combination of both factors.
Realism and constructivism
The Tanzanian government’s support for the existence of both the Palestinian state and the Israeli state is evident in its advocacy for a two-state solution and its continued diplomatic engagement with both nations. This stance aligns with the principles of realism and constructivism in international relations theory.
The realist perspective emphasises pursuing power and national interests in an anarchic international system. From this standpoint, the Tanzanian government’s non-alignment policy is a strategic move to maintain its autonomy and avoid entanglement in the conflict.
By maintaining diplomatic ties with both sides, Tanzania preserves its ability to navigate the political landscape and maximise its influence. The nature of realism implies that governments cannot consistently achieve the moral high ground.
Conversely, constructivism focuses on the social construction of reality and the role of shared norms and institutions in international relations.
From a constructivist perspective, the Tanzanian government’s support for both the Palestinian and Israeli states reflects its belief in the importance of dialogue and compromise in resolving conflict. Tanzania seeks to foster a more peaceful and stable regional order by promoting a two-state solution.
The Tanzanian government’s approach blends realism and constructivism. While its non-alignment policy protects its national and economic interests, its support for a two-state solution reflects its recognition of the need for cooperation and conflict resolution.
This pragmatic approach reflects Tanzania’s long-standing commitment to world peace and stability.
While the government’s neutral stance may not satisfy either side of the conflict, it is likely the most pragmatic approach for a nation like ours. Some may argue that Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president, was not afraid to take a stand, but we now inhabit a world vastly different from the 1960s and 1980s.
Even with Nyerere’s renowned tenacity, he was willing to adapt when circumstances demanded.
Let us not forget that Julius Nyerere, the staunch advocate for African unity and Pan-Africanism, stood by Biafra’s declaration of independence and broke away from Nigeria in 1967.
Tanzania was the first African nation to recognise Biafra’s sovereignty, and only Ivory Coast, Zambia, and Gabon followed suit.
I wholeheartedly endorse a thoughtful discussion about our future relationships with both Palestine and Israel, but it must be conducted with composure and objectivity, devoid of emotional attachment.
After all, we do not reside in an ideal world!
Thomas Joel Kibwana is an international relations and business development expert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on X (Twitter) as @thomasjkibwana. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at email@example.com.