Interview with H.E. Dr. Benson Alfred Bana, High Commissioner of the United Republic of Tanzania

Interview with H.E. Dr. Benson Alfred Bana, High Commissioner of the United Republic of Tanzania

Q: Your Excellency, thank you for receiving the VIP Magazine Team. Please tell us about Tanzania.

Tanzania much as Nigeria was a British colony. After we gained independence in 1961, we decolonized progressively through peaceful discussions, we did not go through armed struggle for our independence. Moreover, as a newly independent country we had a lot of work to do to – we had to build and strengthen institutions with a local touch.  Institutions that will meet the needs of the people.  Compared to other colonies, we started from a disadvantaged side but we had a visionary pan-Africanist leader like Julius Nyerere, the founding father of the country. He managed to create and build a nation out of over 120 different ethnic tribes by uniting this fragmented, huge country into a nation – one people, common background, same vision, and same perspective.

How did we do it? We managed to achieve this feat by adopting and promoting Kiswahili as our lingua franc, a unifying language. Unlike Nigeria, we maintained regions because we found that adopting the federation system is divisive for us. Those who sought public office would want to rely on tribal sentiments, which is not healthy for the unity of the nation. Nevertheless, I am glad that Nigeria is on the right footing, that you still identify yourselves by tribes and ethnic groups. However, in Tanzania, we are all Tanzanians whether you are within or outside the country. Therefore, we managed to depoliticize tribes so people struggle for power and elected positions but they would not bank upon their tribes, their creeds or their ancestral backgrounds, they would all campaign as Tanzanians.

Early into the history of our nation, we identified the three enemies of development – poverty, ignorance and disease. Thus, we formulated policies that addressed the following – building a nation, addressing the three enemies of development as I have mentioned and progressively instituting democratic norms, fighting to become self-reliant. This has remained our model for development as a nation.  Yes! We need partners and friends from all over the world but whatever   grants    and assistance that we get from them   should be geared at helping us to become self-reliant, much as His Excellency President Buhari is doing here – consume what you produce and produce what you consume.

Back in the 60s, we pursued the liberate policy of socialism; it became our unifying ideology while the drive for self-reliance became our working strategy until date.  

Like most of the other countries in the eastern and southern regions of the continent, we hit a rough patch in the early sixties when there was an attempt by some greedy soldiers in the barracks to overthrow a legitimate government. The attempt was silenced, however crudely and with help from the then Nigerian Government in 1964. The lessons learnt from such experience greatly influenced the transformation and restructuring of the army; we were able to create an army with a Tanzanian face that was all out to defend the political leadership and address the interest of an independent people.  We also created a nation service similar to Nigeria’s NYSC program that requires school leavers to do national service. Within the same period, our father of the nation and his contemporaries at that time all subscribed to the imperatives of pan Africanism. in 1964  His Excellency, the late Julius Nyerere and the leader of Zanzibar   decided to unite the two nations Tanganyika and Zanzibar to create the United Republic Of Tanzania, because united we stand and divided we fall.

Even so, we continued in the path of self-reliance drive with   major emphasis on rural development, comparative movements.  We did not want anybody to come from without to teach us how to respect human rights, that is well embedded within the African traditions and that is why we wanted to promote African socialism, Ujamaa – distinctly different from classical socialism. Ujamaa is built within the African traditions of love and respect and in the way that we make decisions within our traditional settings in pursuit of our development in Africa.       

That is why as a guest of the Nigerian government we are proud that the Nigerian government has been able to preserve the African traditional institutions to work with the modern institutions. For us in Tanzania, we find the African traditional institutions to be quite divisive because there were element who would exploit the differences in traditions to work against our goal of a united nation. Hence, in 1962 we abolished the system of chiefs. While they maintained their titles, they are refrained from active administrative matters, as those would solely be within the preserve of the state. We have continued to grow stronger together as a nation despite the various economic challenges along the way.

Now to the present, the current government is the fifth phase government led by His Excellency President John Magufuli who is seeking a re-election to renew his second term of five years tenure. If re-elected, he will remain in power until 2025.

This 5th phase government has managed to fix the country beyond expectations. Much as President Buhari is fighting corruption here in Nigeria, President John Magufuli is also doing the same in Tanzania. When he assumed power, there were many tax dodgers and diversions. Even the public service was not functioning, as it should. He inherited an airline with only one airplane, but within four years, he has managed to revive our national airline carrier, Air Tanzania Corporation with eleven airplanes. We are now constructing a standard gauge railway line and a hydroelectric power station named after our first president, Julius Nyerere. When completed the power station will generate 2115 megawatts of electricity. We are industrializing, attracting foreign direct investments.

Q: Tanzania’s primarily agrarian economy strikes a chord of similarity with Nigeria’s agricultural sector; in what ways do you see both countries exploring the numerous possibilities in the agricultural sector and other sectors?

Agriculture is the mainstay of Tanzania’s economy, together with tourism and mining. These three are the key foreign currency generator in my country. Unlike Nigeria, we do not depend much on diaspora remittances. Nigeria is quite fortunate in that aspect, raking in 25 billion US Dollars from the diaspora. That is a big deal and we envy how you have kept your education system by generating experts who can function anywhere in the world. An example of Nigeria’s export to the world is Mr Akinwunmi Adesina, a gentleman that I greatly admire. As the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Mr Adesina is doing wonders in revitalizing and transforming the bank to a vibrant multilateral financial institution.

When it comes to tourism, I think we have the most fascinating number of tourist attractions in Africa and we are next to Brazil the world over. We have the highest mountain in Africa found in Kilimanjaro, the largest game park in Serengeti where there are many wild animals and when they migrate from Tanzania to neighbouring Kenya; it is always a wonderful experience. We also have several tourist attractions in Zanzibar. We also have a scheme for promoting conference tourism through our state-of-the-art facility in Arusha named Arusha International Conference Centre.

One of our key undertakings in Nigeria is to promote tourism to the Nigerian elite who can afford to explore the tourism opportunities in Tanzania, while also promoting Nigeria’s tourist attractions to those at home who can afford to explore the other side of the Atlantic.

Our countries share quite a number of similarities in culture and the values we cherish. It will interest you to know that some of our media houses are requesting to get some Nigerian films that they can transcribe into Swahili because the values propagated in Nigerian movies resonates sizeably with those in Tanzania.

In addition to promoting tourism, we are also interested in attracting foreign direct investors to Tanzania. We have been able to the likes of Dangote cement factory, which is the largest in Tanzania, and it is the largest Dangote factory outside Nigeria. We also have the United Bank of Africa (UBA), Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), Ecobank as well as Access Bank, all doing business in Tanzania. The Sahara Group have also invested impressively in oil and gas storage facility in my country.

Tanzania is a peaceful environment and our investment climate is friendly. We have relaxed the regime when it comes to taxation so that investors are able to take away the profits made and that is why Dangote is our good friend.

Unfortunately, we do not have a Tanzanian company doing business in Nigeria but we hope to change that soon enough.

Our third major undertaking is to explore and create space for the market of Tanzanian products. We produce a lot of coffee, tea and cotton and we are trying to obtain markets for the finished products of these raw materials. It is to that effect that we are creating Economic Processing zones, which you also have here in Nigeria.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Tanzania and Nigeria?

Now, there exists an historic partnership between Tanzania and Nigeria in the struggle for a truly independent and united Africa.

At a time, we had to go to war against the tyranny of Idi Amin, in defence of the integrity of our sovereignty. Not only did we defeat him, we chased him out of Uganda. President Museveni cannot forget the contribution of Tanzania to liberate Uganda.

In many other instances, Tanzania was instrumental to the liberation of many African countries, countries like Mozambique, Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe and even South Africa. Despite the strong opposition and attacks from western powers, we stood firm in support of our brothers under the umbrella of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to bring down the yoke of colonialism. Therefore, when we talk of decolonization in Africa, Tanzania played a major role and we are not apologetic to anyone because we understand that the independence of Tanzania was nothing if the rest of Africa remained under colonial rule.

We proudly share this commonality with Nigeria. As the “big brother of Africa”, Nigeria has supported the struggle for liberation of many African countries and stood against the subjugation and domination by foreign powers in Africa. She also plays a crucial role in stabilizing the ECOWAS region while ensuring that democracy prevails.

We all look to Nigeria as a ‘big brother’, so whatever happens to your country cascades down to the rest of Africa. That is why all African countries have a diplomatic mission in Nigeria.

Diplomatic relations between Tanzania and Nigeria dates back to the 70s. Our first high commissioner arrived in Lagos in 1970 – which means that we have been in Nigeria for the last 50 years. This is worth celebrating, 50 years of peaceful, productive diplomatic relations between the United Republic of Tanzania and the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We plan to celebrate it by December 9th (our independence day), hopeful that the COVID-19 lockdown protocol would have been relaxed enough to permit the hosting of such an event. We will look forward to hosting quite a number of important dignitaries in Nigeria.

I must emphasis the role of economic diplomacy in expediting development in Africa. Gone are the days of ‘gunboat’ diplomacy, today our roadmap is guided more by economic diplomacy as a strategy to attract foreign direct investments and trade. This comes at a time when the African Union have agreed to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area with its secretariat unveiled last month in Accra, Ghana. The purpose of the free trade area is to promote intra-African trade.

Since he assumed power in 2015, President John Magufuli has never been in any European country. However, he has toured African countries with a view to promote intra-African trade. Much like President Buhari, he believes that we have all the resources we need and we can learn to better control and manage them. It is on this path that my president was able to transform Tanzania, what we intended to achieve in 2025 we have been able to achieve it in July 2020 – that is becoming a middle-income economy. He has managed to root out corrupt elements within the government while cutting down on lavish government expenditure.

We admire and support President Buhari’s effort in urging other African nations to come up with a strategy to convince multilateral lenders to sort of renegotiate debts and push for debt cancellation especially amidst the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the economic outlook of the continent. This is a sentiment equally shared and supported by my president, Dr John Magufuli. We know that this goal achievable because frankly, the conditions and interests on debts from the international financial institutions are not always friendly.

That is why we admire the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwunmi Adesina.  He is repositioning the bank, giving it an African face. Within the tenure of his first term in office, 380 million Africans have benefitted from AfDB grants and loans aimed at agricultural infrastructure and economic propelling projects. This is why I have sent him a very big card, congratulating him on his re-election as the president of the AfDB. He is indeed not only a gift to Nigeria, but to Africa as a whole.

 His work in a very short time has weakened in a way the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international monetary lenders who would impose a lot of conditionality on African countries. These conditions oftentimes are against our values and philosophies as Africans. On the contrary, Mr Adesina as the head of AfDB looks into economic logic and promotes Africa’s interests through his agenda for the bank.

Now, Tanzania is benefitting from Nigeria through the Directorate of Technical Corporation (known as technical aid) under the Federal Ministry of Finance. We have 42 technical aid staff present in Tanzania to assist us in terms of technical capacity development at the expense of the Nigerian government. Of course, we are not the only beneficiaries of this scheme, Nigeria’s technical aid corps extends to other African countries and as far as the Caribbean States. This reiterates Nigeria’s status as a ‘big brother’ in Africa and we are thankful for this gesture.

Q: What are the other possibilities of partnership that you expect to pursue?

Well our expectations for further partnerships are vast and diverse, but I must mention that we hope to see some positive development in reinvigorating a Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) with Nigeria. As I mentioned earlier, Tanzania has a renewed national carrier and we are now working hard to convince the government of introducing direct flights from Tanzania to Abuja and Lagos. That way we can open up the West African region to the rest of eastern Africa.

Q: What are your thoughts on the political atmosphere in Nigeria?

I hear a lot about restructuring, but I think I have to be re-educated about what it means here in Nigeria. However, it is a call for Africa and I think it is a misplaced call; because sometimes abandoning an institution that you have already created may not be a good option.  You may reform or transform in terms of function but outright displacement may not be healthy for the unity of the nation. In my country for instance, some of the opposition parties are campaigning for a new constitution, but a constitution that does not deliver bread and butter to the toiling masses, to the citizenry may not be the right option.

Q: How have you been enjoy the Nigerian setting?

I came in at a time when covid-19 had invaded the country so with the lockdown I have not been able to travel to the entire republic much as I would have liked. Therefore, now that I am planning that when things ease a bit I think my first stop will be in Kaduna, then Lagos, then Port Harcourt. Because I have been in Abuja, I know quite a few place – I know Kubwa, Gwarinmpa and some other places but I have not been able to explore the beauty of this country but with time, I should be able to visit parts of some states.

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