President Jakaya Kikwete has recently ended a four days visit to the Sultanese of Oman that may have been a watershed in certain regards, if not in relation to the foreign policy of the United Republic, then in its ties with a former 'settler colonial power' for Zanzibar.
There is a sense in which Zanzibar is an extension of Oman, and the Gulf in general, not just in its culture and traditions but also in its actual generations, where it is sufficient to look at a photo of deposed Yemeni leader and those in Zanzibar who carry his family name, to notice the proximity. If this visit is properly used, it should mark the moment of burying half century long hostilities.
What was also instructive about the visit was the manner in which it mirrored a similar exercise from former US President George W. Bush, who spent four days in Tanzania a few months before his country went to the polls, where his 'designated successor,' Senator John McCain lost to President Barack Obama.
The succession in Tanzania is still a bit of a long way off, but Tanzanian politics are more vibrant and fractious in that regard than the US, in which case President Kikwete is in this or that regard lost from the horizon. He still has many decisions to make, including how to prepare the 2015 polls and current foreign policy initiatives, which matters.
There is a psychic if not methodical relationship between US President Bush spending four days in Tanzania early 2008 and President Kikwete making a four day tour in Oman, for the simple reason that while Tanzania is vast in terms of what there is to see, it is tiny in strategic terms.
On the contrary Oman is tiny in its physical expanse or 'what there is to see,' but is pivotal in many regards, not least in how it could assist President Kikwete to handle in a competent manner recently rising pressures on the solidity of the Union, culturally tied with Oman and the Gulf. For the US president, the issue was to see at close range a major humanistic enterprise for instance in the 'rolling back malaria' program, anti-HIV-AIDS, etc.
Similarly, plenty has continued to be said and spread in the grapevine about the proper intentions of the visit by President Bush, and even recently, at the end of President Obama's first term, the long shadow cast by the Bush visit was still in evidence, as JK had to affirmatively denounce rumours he had 'sold Kigamboni to President Bush.' Given the sort of layout of a stretch of skyscraper model city in the planning stage beyond Magogoni Creek to the old ideological school where Mwalimu Nyerere gave his first major 'ideological class' in January 1962, the story is not worth spiking just yet. Building such a skyscraper city requires a clear and firm investment strategy, where foreign investors obtain full land rights, not leases,
Whether or nor the spate of travels by President Kikwete, considered the best travelled Tanzanian leader so far - and many of his detractors in the country will say he might be the most travelled leader in Africa or in the world - has been able to move all the inches it requires from 'Socialism and Self Reliance' he learnt in secondary school and up to university, CCM and the military, to accepting foreign investors wholeheartedly is unclear.
There is still plenty in national thinking that forcefully demands the government to look upon foreign investment as a necessary evil, and that the future of the country lies with the government pumping money into parastatal organisations to raise infrastructure, even industries. Change is hard.
Still there is one area where the contribution of foreign travelling to harken change is undeniable, though in his often softspoken manner, President Kikwete has let others take the credit for what he personally did - and also denying others who brought him into that position the credit they deserve.
Newspapers and opinion makers in the country have more or less settled into the conviction that ex-Isles president Amani Abeid Karume and opposition leader Seif Shariff Hamad just decided to use Zanzibari culture to bury the hatchet. And many have been heard over the past year to ask CCM and Chadema leaders to learn from that wisdom!
Just how far Tanzanian and Omani relations have had a chance to improve owing to the thaw in Zanzibar cannot be said, for it is hard to identify Maalim Seif and those around him with any of the Gulf powers, from Iran to its adversaries in the Gulf zone. Still the ties between JK and his CCM network were said to be excellent in 2005 in relation to Iran, not due to religious affiliations but the old revolutionary candor that resonates significantly with some anti-American quarters around the world, as Dar es Salaam was for year a 'Mecca' for liberation movements. Clearly it isn't this anti-Americanism which underlined his four days stay in Oman definitely.
While the visit by George W. Bush may have helped to push the government's resolve a bit more along the way to freer skies and other initiatives that are taking awfully too long for compilers of data on 'Doing Business Environment' at the World Bank, it wasn't his main interest.
That is the work of negotiators in USAID, and US policy directives with the IMF and especially the World Bank, while the US president was concerned with his own initiatives, as anti-malaria programs were initiated by the US Embassy with the personal stamp of the president sought and provided, only partially as part of a wider US foreign aid focus. It goes without saying that President Kikwete must have succeeded in cultivating the goodwill it needs for the US president to take keen interest in Tanzania about malaria, AIDS.
It was the proper successor of President Bush who may have helped to bring about the thaw in Zanzibar on the one hand, and pressures in Zanzibar itself which may have led to the visit by JK in Oman, so that in case there is indirect influence at the social level with the likes of Uamsho leader Sheikh Farid Had Ahmed, it could in that case be positively exercised. The president may be aware that following the path taken by zealots in President Goodluck Jonathan's government, to embark on a terror campaign against an as yet peaceful Boko Haram isn't the way forward but positive engagement. At times it pays far more to pre-empt the foreign ties of some nascent revolutionary group than to use excessive force to dismantle its following.
The secret of the thaw in Zanzibar doesn't appear to be locked up in any secret ties or consultations between Maalim Seif and President Amani while he was in office but elsewhere.
The fact that not so long back the Isles president had declared in public that 'we still have our 1964 matchetes' should be sufficient indication that there was little or no goodwill up his sleeve for any such initiative, and in keeping with Newton's laws of motion, some 'external push' was needed, not by providing wisdom but actually furnishing a threat.
No one would be better placed for that sort of role but the commander in chief, but in keeping with protocol, kept it in shrouds, to allow the Isles rivals to sort out their own terms - to conform to his terms to the Isles revolutionary government, that there was no way out on this one.
Simply put, it required a bit of memory for those who follow what is published in newspapers and also took note of some diplomatic reactions. This was on the registration of voters in Pemba mid 2009 - a precociously early exercise intended to scan and weed out anti-CCM voters so as to sweep CUF from strongholds in that island. Known CUF supporters would be turned out when seeking to register.
This situation was noticed by foreign diplomats and some dismay was heard in that direction, which attracted little attention in the local setting, for scarcely anyone in the Union government can comment on an internal matter of the Isles authorities. And foreign diplomats talk to the Union government, not seek to advise the Isles revolutionary authorities on how to protect the revolution from foreign agents, the Hizb legacy and the rest, which shows why a four day visit to the Hizb heartland is something of a revolution.
Just as the four days visit to Tanzania by ex-president Bush was a landmark in view of Tanzania's old culture of revolution and anti-US sentiment at the heart of its inellectual life, so is the four day visit to Oman a clear watershed in what we think of the Gulf, so bringing Zanzibar to change its course.
There is something in the four agreements signed between JK and the Omani authorities which if properly implemented could go a long way to change a few things in how 'the 'doing business' environment is regulated.
One is an intention by the president to send a high powered team of the Tanzania Ports Authority to learn how the Sohar port functions, with a well organized international management company in place. In these days of trying to clear spiders' webs in the port and in other usually cosy and undisturbed parastatal organizations, having a model that provides a clear path to reform isn't a bad idea, instead of endless dispute in boards of directors, with parliamentary radicals inquiring why investors were listened to....
More substantively is an agreement covering educational needs for Zanzibar, which could help in restoring a sense of balance in the comprehension of Isles history and culture, where supposed enmity with the Gulf, Oman or Yemen as such, is unhelpful.
Having failed for 48 years to conduct free and fair elections in Zanzibar, it would help a lot if those who determine policy and national orientation there accept that no one has answers to schisms of an ethnic, religious or class type - and that perhaps if a stabilising class of investors from Oman and elsewhere that can create jobs if it can purchase land was there it would help out. There is more to gain by creating real jobs than by creating police and FFU jobs to contain Uamsho.