As the Middle East question has outlived the generation of leadership at the time of independence into the youth generation of the intervening period, and now being handled by many who were children at independence, it has gone through many winters. With each event the problem is reexamined, but the basic premise of the issue, occupation and solidarity, remains.
Tanzania’s outlook on the Middle East question has passed at least two stages, or rather moved from one stage to another, which basically relates to its own broader insertion into global politics. There was a time that our foreign policy basically targeted facilitating national independence (or liberation, via armed struggle) for countries under colonial yoke and apartheid in the southern part of the continent. When that phase ended with the release from prison of Nelson Mandela in February 1990, the country had to recast its foreign policy, gradually.
An equally important dimension of the shaping of foreign policy has been the country’s development perspectives since independence, where roughly the period of the struggle for national independence and especially armed struggle within the vicinity of the country’s borders encouraged a militant outlook. It was part of a survival strategy as those opposed to ending the colonial yoke or apartheid were looking for gaps in national cohesion to sow chaos. In that context our support for the Palestinian cause was without reservations for three decades or so.
In basically the same matrix, the change in southern Africa was also related to changes inside the country where foreign policy was moving from political solidarity to economic diplomacy, reflecting changes in economic policy, to embrace reform and pursuit of foreign markets and attracting investors. This effort now spans two decades or thereabouts, and its effects are there for all to see, and also tie up with discords within the Palestinian context and Arab world as a whole in their attitude towards the strategic issues involved. It is a matter that has drained energies both in the United Nations and the various capitals, as to what is the best solution.
Tanzania has for once never stepped into that platform to give ideas on how the Mid East crisis can be ended, as it is an exclusive preserve of the big powers, capable of ensuring that the actors on the ground do their bidding. For us, we have only emphasized in the past decade and more so in the past two years that we take our Middle East relations like any other in the world, without special favor or sharp reservations arising from our previous militant outlook. Peacemakers like Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin were shot dead in cold blood by those who detest peaceful methods of solving crises, and they shout at us not to change views.
That situation reminds us of the position that Mwalimu Nyerere adopted in opening ties with China in the mid-1960s to strident Western criticism, that ‘we wish to be friendly with all, and we will never allow our friends to choose our enemies for us.’ It is a maxim that applies to this day. (ends)