Navigating the Challenges of Our Time: The Impact of Economic Diplomacy

IN 1977, a decade after the Arusha Declaration, the father of our nation conducted a self-assessment of its impact and proposed that “people, not money, were the key to Tanzania’s economic development.” Julius Nyerere believed that achieving a favourable trade balance was vital for economic self-reliance, where a skilled and productive populace could reduce reliance on imports while increasing exports.

As we stand on the threshold of a new era, having borne witness to presidencies from Mkapa and J.K Kikwete to Magufuli and now, under the leadership of President Samia Suluhu Hassan, we, the generation born in the mid-1980s to the early 2000s, face unique challenges. We find ourselves in a pivotal moment, tasked with reshaping Tanzania’s foreign policy.

Central to this transformation is the concept of economic diplomacy, a modern approach that demands our attention, understanding, and adeptness.

Exploring Tanzania’s diplomatic history, we encounter figures like Dr Augustine Mahiga and Salim Ahmed Salim, whose contributions resonate through time. In 1893, Chief Engineer Bernhardt’s arrival in Tanga to initiate the construction of the central railway underscored the pivotal role of critical infrastructure in economic growth a testament to strategic diplomacy that laid the foundation for future endeavours.

Decades later, in 1975, the inauguration of the Tanzania Zambia Railway, connecting Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia to Dar es Salaam, symbolised economic diplomacy in an era defined by Pan-Africanism and nationalism. This railway, once known as the “Great Uhuru Railway,” was a product of Tanzania’s diplomatic finesse, orchestrated in collaboration with the People’s Republic of China.

Tanzania’s foreign policy involvement didn’t stop there. We became the founding member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). This historic step wasn’t just a Tanzanian experience but an epoch in African diplomacy, etching itself into the annals of our international affairs. SADC’s primary objective was combating the apartheid regime an ideology that had persisted since the founding of the Union of South Africa in 1910 and was officially enshrined as policy in 1948.

However, as we appreciate the achievements of our predecessors, we must pivot our gaze to the challenges of the present. Economic diplomacy, also known as commercial diplomacy, demands a new set of skills to confront modern complexities. Today, we witness a new generation of diplomats, such as Ambassador Togolan Mavura in South Korea and Ambassador Humphrey Polepole in Cuba.

Today the future of Tanzanian diplomacy is no longer solely the burden of the first generation. Questions abound: Should Tanzania consider joining BRICS? Are we adequately equipped to engage with the global community? What are the benefits and risks of investment treaties? Economic diplomacy extends beyond seeking foreign aid, technology and scholarships. It entails comprehending the dynamics of developed nations, emerging powers and the shifting landscapes of global power.

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Economic diplomacy is not a vessel for soliciting foreign political support but a bridge to understanding what it takes to be a developed nation. It involves attracting capital flows and valuable foreign investments. It necessitates an intimate grasp of the developed world, newly industrialised countries, the geopolitical evolution from bipolarity to unipolarity and the current landscape of multipolarity. It requires diplomatic confidence, assertiveness and results-oriented actions.

In today’s world, a modern Tanzanian diplomat faces a vastly different geopolitical landscape compared to the era of the 1940s to the late 1980s. They must embody a new African vision, possessing comprehensive knowledge of our nation across diverse theatres, disciplines and histories. This historical understanding extends beyond secondary school curricula. It should encompass events that have shaped our position in Africa, such as our issuance of a Tanzanian passport to Nelson Mandela and our involvement in the Seychelles in November 1985.

Delving into historical knowledge is fundamental to crafting the skills necessary for economic diplomacy. Learning from our elders, whose wisdom is invaluable, is key. Figures like Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, the late Ambassador Augustine Mahiga and former Speaker Pius Msekwa embarked on representing our nation abroad at remarkably young ages, making substantial contributions to shaping Tanzania’s global image.

Consider Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, who was once proposed as a UN Secretary-General due to his profound knowledge and credibility on the international stage. While he did not assume the position, his legacy as the youngest Tanzanian Ambassador endures, alongside the contributions of Dr Augustine Mahiga. These two diplomats serve as beacons of excellence and accomplishment in Tanzanian diplomacy.

In an age of globalisation, our economy is intricately tied to global developments. For instance, the 2008 financial crisis, which began in the United States but rippled across the globe, including Tanzania, underscores the need for a proactive stance in economic diplomacy.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s call for the blue economy further emphasises the urgency of aligning our diplomatic efforts with the evolving global economic landscape. In our contemporary time, the President’s commitment to boost tourism through her Royal tour programme symbolises domestic soft diplomacy to attract tourism and investment. We have witnessed an increase in tourists since the pandemic.

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To boost our foreign trade and exports, the purchase of a cargo Boeing 767-300F airline will not only continue to be the national carrier in global skies but promote economic diplomacy through exports of agricultural products and other products, including the importation of large parcels that require quick business deliveries at home.

Navigating the Challenges of Our Time: The Impact of Economic Diplomacy
FILE photo (November 19, 2022) of Zanzibar President Dr Hussein Mwinyi tasking Tanzanian envoys abroad to aggressively market the country’s business and investment opportunities in their respective duty stations.FILE photo (November 19, 2022) of Zanzibar President Dr Hussein Mwinyi tasking Tanzanian envoys abroad to aggressively market the country’s business and investment opportunities in their respective duty stations.

In my opinion, modern economic diplomacy will require national self-introspection. To prosper through visionary economic diplomacy, it is time to resolve our economic issues in ways that reflect our own environment. This includes encompassing reasonable financial policies and regulations by lowering unnecessarily high bank rates. If businesses struggle at home, expanding the middle class becomes a challenge. A country without an expanding and thriving middle class makes our ambassadors mere figures of appearance, engaged in brazen photo ops, sailing through the international community in our high commissions and embassies abroad.

If we grasp this ideal, what happened in Abuja in June 1991, when African leaders met to discuss candidates for the position of UN Secretary-General, can serve as inspiration for young Tanzanian diplomats of our time. However, the world will judge us not on the basis of geography but on merit-based credibility.

It is time for us to nurture the necessary skills among contemporary professionals in the service of our foreign policy and economic diplomacy. This includes mastery of international languages. Consider the selection of Boutros Boutros Ghali, in June 1991, former Gabonese President Omar Bongo suggested that if a candidate from Africa should be proposed, then both Francophone and Anglophone states should feel represented, including Arabic-speaking Africa.

Boutros Boutros Ghali emerged as fluent in English, French and Arabic. Our contemporary times require economic investments and we can only have strong negotiation skills if, among other qualities, we master international languages. English, French, Russian and Chinese will be necessary. In essence, soft power in economic diplomacy only comes when you have economic influence. While our robust efforts to market Swahili in international organisations, including the African Union, will shape the course of our foreign policy, attracting investments and negotiating international bilateral agreements demands intellectual vigour, creative diplomatic skills, the right character attitude and mastery of international languages.

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Tanzania is on the cusp of becoming an economic powerhouse. We, the youth, must be ambassadors for that goal. It is time to set aside unwanted arrogance, egoism and self-indulgence. No nation has ever succeeded if its young working men and women spend their Fridays discussing weekend plans, or what I term working for the weekend. We must balance leisure with substantive and objective goals. We should not yearn for power while neglecting self-investment, not only in our incomes but also in our skills. In economic diplomacy, our country must be competitive.

Our vision and negotiating skills should extend beyond our comfort zones. Running economic diplomacy at the international level, with powerful economies like China, Japan and India and five influential security member states calling the shots, is very different from running regular diplomatic and party protocols and creating bilateral relations in regional diplomacy. We must be astute enough, whether we like it or not. As we navigate this complex landscape, economic diplomacy is not a choice but a necessity.

It entails the art of building bridges with organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and UNCTAD to meet our economic needs. It entails excellent negotiation skills. It entails promoting Tanzania’s competitiveness in critical economic sectors and a commitment to free and fair trade. It also involves understanding technological revolutions like Artificial intelligence and how to establish regulations and legal frameworks to manage this sector.

Tanzanian ambassadors must emulate the legacies of Dr Salim Ahmed Salim and Augustine Mahiga. Their contributions remain unequivocal and indelible, serving as inspirations for the next generation of diplomats who will shape Tanzania’s role on the global stage.

The writer (pictured) is an Advocate of the High Court, reachable via  +255747130688 Email: