So the friendship between Tanzania and China started before Premier Zhou Enlai visited Tanzania. You may remember that in 1964 our army mutinied, and we had to dismantle it and start building a new one. The Chinese government gave us all the hardware that was needed to equip a whole army completely free. In addition, the Chinese government helped us to train our police force, and in Moshi, they pulled down all the old buildings in the school and built new ones more suitable for a college. Premier Zhou’s official visit was not to see the wildlife and enjoy tourist attractions. He came to inspect the work that had been done with Chinese assistance, and to discuss other matters of interest between our two countries.
Premier Zhou Enlai was received with the most enthusiastic crowds that had ever been seen in Dar es Salaam. There are several reasons, the first being that there was so much anti-China propaganda from Western countries that made us sympathetic to China, a country which also suffered from foreign oppression and fought for liberation. Secondly, Tanzanian people heard a lot of good things about Premier Zhou, particularly as one of the architects of the policy of non-alignment, which was a pillar of Tanzania’s foreign policy. And finally, although at that time we had not clearly formulated our socialist ideology, the principles of Tanganyika African National Union (TANU, the ruling party of Tanzanian Mainland at that time) were socialist in orientation. People wanted to see a leader of a big socialist country like China.
I was assigned to accompany Premier Zhou Enlai throughout his visit. It was a great honour for me to travel with him everywhere. I was then the Minister of Home Affairs. Premier Zhou was a very friendly person. He was able, in a very short time, to make you relax and to feel comfortable in his company. Mwalimu Nyerere had the same gift. He always made you feel at ease. Premier Zhou spoke to us about China frankly - about the problems and difficulties that they faced and how they planned to overcome them. When Mwalimu and Premier Zhou were talking, they laughed for many times. You could see that they really liked each other, and it was wonderful to watch them.
Premier Zhou was known as a great intellectual and an exceptionally intelligent person. He understood the world politics very well, and had facts and figures on most subjects at his fingertips. He also had a very good memory and would remember even small details about all the projects. He had a clear understanding of China’s position in the world and what type of country it aspired to be.
One important point that influenced our relations with China, was that from when Tanganyika became independent, it took the position that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) could not be kept out of the United Nations, with Taiwan claiming to represent the whole of China. Tanzania never wavered in supporting the return of the PRC to its rightful place in the UN. The Chinese Government and its leaders appreciated this position which was taken as a matter of principle and justice.
Discussions about building the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA) were also in progress at that time. Mwalimu Nyerere had already visited China and met Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. After Mwalimu raised the request for support to build the TAZARA, Chairman Mao asked him, ‘Will the railway assist in the liberation of Africa?’ When he answered, ‘Yes it will’, Chairman Mao replied in four short words, ‘It will be built.’ Saying that in Premier Zhou’s presence was an assurance that it would be done as promised. That is one thing we learned. Chairman Mao made policy decisions and it was Zhou who he trusted to interpret and execute them correctly.
His visit to our country was, therefore, an important reason and opportunity to discuss all aspects of the TAZARA project. TAZARA was the biggest project to be undertaken by the Chinese Government outside China. Although on the surface, the project was a normal railway construction project, it was in reality a great deal more than that. This was the Cold War era. There were many political, economic, military and security aspects to consider. How would Western countries which refused to support it take it? How would the financial burden be shared by the three countries? How would Tanzanians view the presence of thousands of Chinese on their territory? How would Chinese and Tanzanian workers work together, and how could the safety of all the workers be guaranteed? As Minister of Home Affairs, I was deeply involved in these discussions and arrangements. The security aspect is the most important one. I noted earlier, according to what we learned, Chairman Mao entrusted Premier Zhou to oversee all important projects inside and outside China. Premier Zhou’s management genius was legendary and demonstrated in the entire period of TAZARA construction. He was very hands on and followed every step of the work, giving practical directives especially with regard to ensuring the safety and the highest level of cooperation among workers of the three countries building the TAZARA.
I have wonderful memory of Premier Zhou Enlai. His visit to Tanzania was a sign of mutual benefits of the Tanzania-China friendship.
(The article is the late Hon. Job Lusinde’s narration about Premier Zhou Enlai’s official visit to Tanzania in June 1965 when he received an interview by Mr Walter Bgoya, Managing Director of Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, on 27 March 2019.)