The Chanzo is hosting Digital Freedom and Innovation Day on April 20, 2024. Register Here

Close this search box.

Now Is the Time for a Bolder Tanzanian Foreign Policy

A major new research paper highlights this as a key opportunity to revive the country’s status as an economic and diplomatic leader.

subscribe to our newsletter!

Tanzania’s foreign policy engagements have taken a more dynamic turn under the leadership of President Samia Suluhu Hassan, taking strides towards a rebuilding of greater diversity and trust in external partnerships after a period of comparative isolationism under her predecessor. 

The official review of foreign policy underway since 2023 is now a chance to consolidate this revival and ensure that Tanzania’s external relations deliver maximum benefit for the country’s citizens, without compromising on core values.

Between 2022 and 2024, the international affairs policy institute Chatham House and the Tanzania office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) have partnered on a research project to analyse the status of Tanzania’s foreign policy. The project has brought together foreign affairs experts and policymakers to discuss the opportunities presented under the review process.

A newly published research paper, Reviving Tanzania’s Regional Leadership and Global Engagement: Priorities for an Effective Foreign Policy Reset, is the culmination of this process, and provides policy recommendations for Tanzanian stakeholders and diplomatic partners. The research paper can be read in full online here.

The paper contends that a slow and hesitant approach alone will not be enough to safeguard against a return to the harmful isolation of the previous leadership. Tanzania’s new strategy must decisively emphasize proactive engagement with regional institutions and global partners.


Once complete, the current foreign policy review will undoubtedly provide encouragement on numerous thematic issues. Many of these are straightforward and uncontroversial: quick wins will be achieved simply by including passing references to the ‘blue economy’ or climate change for the first time, for example. These issues are indeed important priorities, but their inevitable inclusion should not encourage complacency.

READ MORE: Reflection on President Samia’s Foreign Policy Doctrine

The real task for Tanzania’s foreign policy review lies in outlining a more assertive strategic vision, delivering proactive implementation, and aligning both of these with more effective internal coordination. The latter must include giving foreign policy a central role in Tanzania’s Vision 2050 development strategy and aligning other policies on climate change and critical minerals to take full advantage of global opportunities.

In the regional setting, Tanzania’s relations with neighbours, including Kenya and Mozambique, have been more stable under President Samia’s leadership. 

There is now a clear platform to boost institutional leadership by ratifying initiatives such as the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement (TFTA), reasserting commitment to mediation and conflict resolution, and rejoining the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. Such steps would be commensurate both with Tanzania’s historical role in the region and its anticipated economic trajectory.

Map of Tanzania’s regional infrastructure development. (Source: Chatham House).

Tanzania’s balance of trade with EAC and SADC countries, 2018–23  (Source: Bank of Tanzania figures).

On the international stage, open re-engagement with a range of international partners is already delivering greater choice and resilience in trade and foreign investment links. The paper discusses examples of this in greater detail: the pursuit of stronger ties with countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam; the consolidation of emerging strategic partnerships, particularly with the Gulf Arab states; and the repair of established relations with China, India, and Western partners.

External investment in major infrastructure projects has emerged at the forefront of Tanzania’s economic diplomacy and influences engagement with strategic country partners. But as the controversy around Dar es Salaam port shows, a lack of transparency and clear communication of benefits has fuelled a perceived separation between state and public interests.

READ MORE: How Kagera War Ended Tanzania’s Activist Foreign Policy

A gradual renewal of Tanzania’s commitment and voice on international and multilateral issues is also underway. But this renewal is yet to be reinforced by decisive action to rejoin frameworks from which the country withdrew under its previous approach. Further opportunities exist for Tanzanian leadership on global challenges and opportunities, including on climate change, critical minerals and peacebuilding.

Ultimately, a straightforward reassertion of non-aligned economic diplomacy would not fully reflect the proactive work that has already been done to rebuild Tanzania’s global image or the work that remains to be done. 

President Samia has stated that the goal of her foreign policy is for Tanzania to return to its ‘proper place’ of international leadership. A foreign policy refresh that is assertive and highlights positive aspects of strategic neutrality would be a significant step towards achieving that goal.

Tanzanian annual exports share by destination and imports share by source, 2013–22 (Source: United Nations (2023) ‘UN Comtrade Database’, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs).

Policy recommendations

The research paper presents a series of detailed recommendations aimed at both Tanzanian policymakers and Tanzania’s international partners, of which the following represent a short summary. Among the specific recommendations, the paper calls for policymakers to:

Take a more proactive approach to regional economic integration. Tanzania must seize opportunities in its immediate region, better anticipating its expected rise as the largest economy in East Africa and helping to safeguard the viability of major cross-border infrastructure projects.

READ MORE: Here is Why the Quality of Tanzania’s Foreign Envoys Has Declined. Committee Proposes Solutions

Consolidate Tanzania’s role in regional conflict resolution. To mitigate suggestions of divided loyalties and connect with Tanzania’s historical record on conflict mediation efforts, it could bolster the role of Arusha and Zanzibar in hosting talks and show leadership on wider security issues in East and southern Africa, including in the maritime space.

Rejoin multilateral governance and legal initiatives. Tanzania should rejoin frameworks from which it has previously withdrawn, such as the Open Government Partnership, and put in place legal safeguards to mitigate against future departures.

Ensure the new strategy explicitly highlights a goal to engage with, and learn from the experience of, other middle-income countries. This could include further consolidating relations with emerging partners such as Indonesia, Vietnam and countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

Embrace international leadership opportunities to advance core principles of South-South cooperation. Tanzania could signal its intent to seek non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council for the first time since 2006, harmonising with its existing peacekeeping contributions and furthering its wider agenda for UN reforms.

Be transparent about foreign investment agreements and allow dissenting views on foreign policy to be aired freely. A heavy-handed response to criticism – as, for example, in relation to port infrastructure investment by Gulf states – can exacerbate isolationist tendencies and in turn discourage the involvement of external partners in essential major projects.

READ MORE: Tanzania Should Leverage Its Soft Power to Improve International Standing

When mentioning climate change and other environmental issues, go beyond simple platitudes. The review must help create a reference point for Tanzanian officials as they engage in international forums while pursuing major oil and gas projects. The development of a critical minerals strategy should also be aligned with the country’s objectives in economic diplomacy.

Signal a new approach and distinguish the new foreign policy strategy from that of the previous administration with refreshed terminology. The new strategy must be seen as a turning point, and must reject entrenched norms of hesitation or suspicion in external relations. 

Merely retaining the same basic strategic framing of economic diplomacy and non-alignment, while simply adding new themes, would convey a message of greater passivity than Tanzania’s ambitions deserve.

Fergus Kell is a project manager and research analyst at Chatham House Africa Programme. He can be reached at or on X as @FergusKell. 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

Digital Freedom and Innovation Day
The Chanzo is hosting Digital Freedom and Innovation Day on Saturday April 20, 2024 at Makumbusho ya Taifa.

Register to secure your spot

3 Responses

  1. “Between 2022 and 2024, the international affairs policy institute Chatham House and the Tanzania office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) have partnered on a research project to analyse the status of Tanzania’s foreign policy.”
    So we commission foreign bodies to design our foreign policy? Are we free?

  2. Like Ben Barka above, I am stupefied by the idea that Tanzania, of all countries in Africa, the once leader, practically on all issues on the international agenda of the day, would now be asking two Western policy institutes to “analyse the status of Tanzania’s foreign policy” and implicitly to frame a foreign policy for the country. This is shame. There is no other way to call it. What with all the noted political scientists, the professors, some of the more brilliant ex ambassadors and high commissioners; but above all Mwalimu Nyerere’s basic documents defining our foreign policy, his anti-colonialist anti-imperialist writings and speeches, all the writings on West’s exploitation of the economies of the South – South Commission studies and reports and all; Tanzania asks these European intellectual and policy warriors to be the architects of new dynamic Tanzania foreign policy? Not even done quietly, but proudly announced as a great national achievement. Basi.

  3. Our father Nyerere once said the anti-colonial struggle is a struggle for human dignity. What dignty do we have left if we commission Britain and Germany to dictate our foreign policy to us?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *