Why recall of top EU diplomat signals trouble for government

07Nov 2018
By Financial Times Reporter
Financial Times
Why recall of top EU diplomat signals trouble for government

THE recent decision of the European Union (EU) to recall its top diplomat in Tanzania is an indication of its strong displeasure with the government and could potentially affect the future flow of millions of euros in development assistance to the country-

Roeland Van de Geer.

if the situation further deteriorates, it has been revealed.

 Tanzania is a major recipient of EU donor money, mainly financed by the European Development Fund (EDF), to support food security and nutrition, agriculture productivity, access to energy and governance.

The EDF is expected to provide Tanzania with financial assistance totaling 626 million euros (over 1.6 trillion shillings) in the 2014-2020 funding cycle.

This is an increase from 606 million euros given to Tanzania by the EU under the previous funding cycle from 2009-2013, according to data on the European Commission's website.

However, the EU last week unexpectedly recalled its top diplomat in Tanzania, Ambassador Roeland Van de Geer, raising eyebrows on the current state of relations between Dodoma and Brussels.

"The Head of the EU Delegation in Tanzania ... has been recalled to Brussels for consultations. His deputy, Charles Stuart, is acting as Chargé d’Affaires during his absence," the European Commission said in a terse statement from its capital in the Belgian capital.

"The EU regrets the deterioration of the human rights and rule of law situation in the country and will be conducting a broader review of its relations with Tanzania."

Although the EU did not specify its concerns on the human rights and rule of law situation in Tanzania, the move comes in the wake of a controversial crackdown on homosexuals launched by the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner, Paul Makonda.

Makonda announced that he has formed a special task force to hunt down and jail homosexuals in the country’s largest city, prompting international outrage.

Following a backlash on Makonda's proposed manhunt of gays, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation issued a statement disowning the move, saying it was the RC's personal crusade.

Implications of recalling the EU envoy

The Foreign Affairs Ministry said Makonda merely stated his personal opinion and does not speak for the entire government or represent official policy.

Tanzania’s government will continue to honour all international treaties on human rights, the ministry insisted.

The United States warned Americans in Tanzania to be cautious while in Dar es Salaam, review their social media profiles and remove “images and language that may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices.”

Diplomats told the Financial Times that the decision of the EU to recall its ambassador was a strong sign of protest against the policies of the government of the day and could potentially escalate into a full-blown diplomatic spat.

Recalling an ambassador has its roots in ancient history. Once upon a time, envoys were summoned back to their own capital cities for consultations, often to explain and strategise about serious events in the host country.

Physically returning home would enable the ambassador and the foreign ministry to confer confidentially and not risk sending sensitive messages by post, courier or telephone. Sometimes, the host country would retaliate by recalling its own ambassador.

However, the embassies carried on with their business in the absence of their political heads. This is reflected by the European Commission's decision to appoint Charles Stuart as acting Chargé d’Affaires of the EU Delegation in Tanzania during Ambassador Geer's absence.

In today’s digital age, consultations between ambassadors and their home countries occur through encrypted, secure channels, hence recalling an ambassador is a symbolic gesture.

Nevertheless, an ambassadorial recall is a powerful public signal of diplomatic displeasure, according to diplomats.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Dr Augustine Mahiga, has played down the significance of the recall of the EU envoy to Tanzania.

"The Head of the EU Delegation in Tanzania was recalled to his headquarters in Brussels and the Tanzanian government was officially informed about that decision," Mahiga told journalists in Arusha recently.

"Even when I myself served as an ambassador, I was recalled home from time to time for various consultations."