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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Kosovo gets no in recognition appeal

21st April 2011
Minister Bernard Membe

Tanzania has ruled out possibility of recognising Kosovo insisting that it does not want to jeopardise its long-standing relations with the Republic of Serbia.

This was said by Bernard Membe, the Foreign and International Cooperation minister in an exclusive interview with The Guardian.

Speaking by telephone from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he was attending an international meeting on controlling pirates, minister Membe said recognition of Kosovo will be difficult at the moment because of the Western Saharan question.

The minister was responding to a call by a Kosovar pilot, James Berisha who has embarked on a global campaign to push leaders to recognise Kosovo’s sovereignty.

Membe stressed that Tanzania’s historical and geopolitical ties with Belgrade make it unlikely to formally acknowledge the self-declared Republic of Kosovo.

The Foreign Minister said: “Anything that disrupts Serbia is not acceptable to Tanzania,” adding that it is inconceivable that ethnic Albanians, who are a Diaspora in Kosovo, can lay claim to what is historically Serbian turf.

It is a relationship that goes back to the now defunct Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), under General Josip Broz Tito, whose ideals mirrored Tanzania's own socialist aspirations.

As SFRY's successor, Serbia considers Kosovo part of its territory, and has refused to acknowledge the self declared Republic's independence or its asserted right to self-determination.

Berisha is currently in Tanzania where he wants the government to recognise his home country as an independent republic. The pilot has flown to over 86 destinations across the world so far, all in the name of Kosovan autonomy.

Dubbed ‘Flying for Kosovo’, the campaign is an attempt to generate public interest in the question of Kosovo self-rule, and to get citizens to exert pressure on their own governments into supporting Kosovo’s quest for international recognition.

The campaign has the full backing of the Republic’s Foreign Ministry, according to the pilot.

Africa's position on the Republic of Kosovo is a much more complex affair, as it overlaps with several unresolved sovereignty issues currently on the African Union (AU) agenda.

Of the 53 African nations, only 12, including Malawi, Djibouti and Swaziland, have recognised Kosovo's self-asserted status as a sovereign nation.

None of the East African Community member states - including Tanzania - has formally recognized the Baltic state; and it is not looking like it will happen any time soon.

Membe revealed that the question of Kosovo's recognition had come up during his tenure as Chairperson of the AU Council of Ministers; and that at the time; Africa gave an unequivocal 'no' to the US and the EU's attempts to get the continent to acknowledge Kosovo.

According to Membe, the AU said it’s not backing the Kosovo cause because Western nations had refused to back their campaign to get Western Sahara declared a sovereign nation, despite repeated pleas.

“Africa is ready to recognise Kosovo – even tomorrow morning – if the UK and the US acknowledge Western Sahara's sovereignty,” Membe insisted.

The Minister revealed that the new republic needs to be recognized by at least 96 countries to be considered for United Nations membership. At present, only 75 of 192 UN members recognize it.

“We (Tanzania) wish them all the best, and hope that they get will the 21 countries they still need,” said the Foreign Affairs minister.

“Kosovo is part of Serbia, as Pemba is to Tanzania” emphasised Membe, adding that Tanzania enjoys “excellent bilateral relations with Serbia” and that it’s not looking to do anything to upset this delicate balance.

“Supporting Kosovo would contradict the national stance (on the question of its sovereignty relative to Serbia)” the minister reiterated.

Berisha is hoping to meet officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on his campaign before flying on to Burundi.

The pilot told The Guardian that in the context of international relations, being Kosovan is akin to being an abandoned child.

In the European Union, Kosovo has won recognition from 22 states, including the UK and France. The Republic is also formally acknowledged by the US.

In Africa and the rest of the developing world, the Kosovo cause continues to slowly gather momentum, but progress is not exactly remarkable, Berisha, who looks optimistic, says.

“We don’t want to be the abandoned child anymore,” emphasised the pilot, adding that he won’t rest until at least 75 per cent of the UN membership recognizes Kosovo’s right to self-determination.

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