For decades, Tanzania, hampered by its former socialist policies, was the butt of jokes within the East African Community. But things are now very different, reports Aamera Jiwaji.
Tanzania has borne the brunt of a fair share of jokes which mock its excessively polite dialect of Kiswahili compared to the brash, dictatorial version Kenyans speak; and its lack of aggression in business matters which has seen the Tanzanian market flooded with Kenyan companies and talent.
But three things happened in 2013 which have put to rest the notion that Tanzania was a nothing more than a sleeping giant (or a sleeping dwarf, according to wits in Kenya).
First, the country, which boasts 1,424 kilometres of coastline and 10 (major and minor) seaports, announced two mega projects that would expand its Tanga and Dar es Salaam ports, and effectively dwarf both of Kenya’s ports: the Mombasa port, currently the second largest on the continent after Durban and the much-touted $24.7bn Lamu port that is yet to be constructed. It was an aggressive opening move by the demure nation, especially since Kenya had already lost Rwanda’s business and now stands to lose Uganda.
Second, Tanzania was the only country in the region to host US President Barack Obama during his Africa visit in July 2013. The Kenyan blogosphere and twitterati exploded with scorn and then feigned lack of interest as the American president gave a cold shoulder to the country of his father’s birth and opted to build trade and business ties with Tanzania.
Third, which sent shivers across the region’s spine, Tanzania snubbed a number of meetings of the East African Community (EAC) and alluded to a preference towards the South African Development Community (SADC).
It was an impression that was entrenched when Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, speaking at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December, described in detail longstanding links between Tanzania and South Africa dating back to how Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela sought exile in his country.
These three events have forced the East African region to reappraise the Tanzanian economy’s potential, and acknowledge that it is a country building a narrative of strong growth.