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Tanzania Should Leverage Its Soft Power to Improve International Standing

Recent changes in the early 2000s saw the addition of economic diplomacy as a key pillar in Tanzania’s diplomacy. However, the country’s biggest potential for foreign policy lies in its cultural attraction.

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Brand Finance, a brand valuation consultancy, recently released its 2024 Global Soft Power Index, which ranked Tanzania 93rd in the world. The US was first, the UK second, and China third. 

According to Brand Finance, soft power is a nation’s ability to influence the preferences and behaviours of various actors in the international arena –states, corporations, communities, the public, etc.- through attraction and persuasion rather than coercion. 

Soft power is also cultural power—the ability to influence without coercion. Joseph Nye, the American political scientist who wrote after the Cold War, observed that a nation’s power future lay in its cultural influence, political values, and foreign policy. 

The triumph of liberal democracy in what Francis Fukuyama declared the End of History made the US the sole superpower after the Cold War. Historians call this the unipolar moment. The US’ cultural values became the embodiment of its power. 

It was the era of the globalisation of American values. Hard power, such as a military arsenal and economic and technological advancement, often produces soft power.

The production of soft power is both implicit and explicit. 

READ MORE: What Explains Tanzanians’ Obsession With Superstition in Football?

Public diplomacy is now at the centre of many nations’ foreign policy. The aim is to image and reimage their nations abroad. 

Emerging powers such as China, Turkey, South Korea and many others are tacitly using soft power bargaining in areas such as infrastructural diplomacy (China), religious diplomacy (Turkey), K-drama and K-pop (South Korea). 

While these countries have understood the power of soft power and its international influence, Tanzania has yet to appreciate its potential as an exporter of culture.

Cultural attraction

Tanzania has historically pursued a traditional, state-led foreign policy. Recent changes in the early 2000s saw the addition of economic diplomacy as a key pillar in its diplomacy. But Tanzania’s biggest foreign policy potential lies in its cultural attraction. 

While touring St. Paul’s Chapel in New York in 2019, a security officer saw my Tanzanian wristband and immediately told me he knew Diamond Platnumz. The chapel, which is directly across the street from the World Trade Center, suffered no physical damage after the 9/11 attacks. 

READ MORE: Tanzania’s Envoys Must Deliver. Here Are Some Tips to Ensure Efficiency

Diamond Platnumz is the face of Tanzanian popular entertainment. In 2020, he made history as the first sub-Saharan music artist to get one billion views on YouTube – not a mean feat. Tanzania’s Bongo Flava music, a hip-hop genre, has become one of the country’s greatest exports.

Entertainment joints across the continent and far afield play Bongo Flava. Purely sung in Kiswahili, Tanzania’s national language, the music reverberates and universally entertains. In Kenya’s popular public transport, the matatu, Bongo Flava music dominates the airwaves. 

Tanzanian gospel choirs are also very popular in Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). During the nervy moments at Kenya’s national election tallying centre in Bomas, the Mtakatifu Kizito choir entertained the guests. 

Tanzania’s film industry also has some appeal. The late film superstar Steven Kanumba had already gained regional appeal before his sudden death in 2012. The longevity of Tanzania’s ruling party, Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), has also become an interesting subject in academic and social discourse in the region. 

The persona of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the country’s first president and the ideas he espoused gained immense global recognition. Tanzania has modelled itself with a distinct cultural identity through the deliberate national building project of language homogeneity.

READ MORE: Grand Receptions Aside, What Could Tanzania Actually Get From China?

Music, film, art, and culture are conceived and produced in Kiswahili. The aggregate of these is what British anthropologist Karin Barber calls popular arts and cultures—the product of everyday life.

Karim Mandonga, a novice and inexperienced boxer, gained popularity in Kenya and the East African region. Mandonga’s meteoric rise and popular regional acclaim are an extension of Tanzania’s cultural attraction. 

Mandonga, popularly known as Mtukazi, gained massive publicity in Tanzania in 2022. His verbal antics before and after fights became a source of entertainment. It was evident that Mandonga’s biggest talent was not boxing but the gift of the tongue and boisterous bravado aimed at scaring off his opponents. 

Lyricism and vocalisation became his brand, and with it, he attracted media attention. Tanzania’s top football clubs, Yanga and Simba, have also gained some international appeal, which can be used as a soft power for Tanzania.

It is high time that Tanzania maximised its unique cultural soft power and diplomacy to leverage its international standing, as Mandonga has shown.

Nicodemus Minde holds a PhD in International Relations from the United States International University- Africa,  Nairobi. He can be reached on X at @decolanga. 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

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