Tanzania Possibly Returns to Anti-Colonial Roots and Enacts Bold Laws to Reclaim More Control of Its Natural Resources

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Women cheer during a ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) rally in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on October 21, 2015. CCM’s party’s candidate John Magufuli hopes to succeed President Jakaya Kikwete in what is seen as the tightest electoral race in Tanzania’s history, as the main opposition parties unite around ex-prime minister Edward Lowassa, 61, who recently defected from the CCM. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL HAYDUK (Photo credit should read Daniel Hayduk/AFP/Getty Images)

“Independence means self-reliance. Independence cannot be real if a nation depends upon gifts and loans from another for its development. Even if there was a nation, or nations, prepared to give us all the money we need for our development, it would be improper for us to accept such assistance without asking ourselves how this would affect our independence and our very survival as a nation.” —Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, from The Arusha Declaration, 1967

The diverse East African nation of Tanzania is many things to many people. Tourists flock to its Serengeti National Park, an international mecca where safari-lovers can gawk at elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo and rhino in their natural environments. Others are attracted to the vast majesty of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, or the tropical islands of Zanzibar and Mafia, home to whale sharks and colorful coral reefs. And multinational corporations are enticed by Tanzania’s wide array of mineral riches, including gold, iron, silver, copper, platinum and nickel, as well as gemstones like diamonds and rubies.

But while attempting to please many constituencies, the proud country is vying to become more relevant and empowering to its own people. Tanzania is the latest African nation to officially move toward nationalizing the substantial natural wealth that lies within its geographically diverse terrain. The Tanzania National Assembly’s recent adoption of The Natural Wealth and Resources Act of 2017 is a calculated effort to secure more control over the extensive resources and revenues that escape its borders each month. Although the legislation falls short of a full program of nationalization, it by no means lacks teeth, as it reestablishes “permanent sovereignty” over its natural resources while enabling the government to revise existing mining agreements and secure a larger portion of revenues from the international companies operating within its borders.

“The contracts which are entered into between private concerns and the country require that the government has a stake in the venture which they find to be equitable,” says Mark P. Fancher, a civil rights attorney and blogger with a focus on the African continent. Fancher notes the new legislation also provides opportunities for Tanzanians themselves to acquire an equitable stake in such ventures before further detailing the intent of the act. “The earnings are to be recycled into the Tanzanian economy, the refining of the crude oil and the other processing of natural resources has to be done within Tanzania, all of the earnings from these resources have to be maintained in Tanzanian banks and other financial institutions, and if there is any challenge or contest to the rights of the country to assert itself in this way then those disputes are to be resolved in Tanzanian courts.”

Given the powerful neocolonial, military and imperial presence in Africa as represented by the likes of AFRICOM — established in 2007 to preserve and protect international commercial interests on the continent, the U.S. Africa Command now has a foothold in in almost every country on the continent — Tanzania’s new direction represents a bold bid for autonomy on a continent where such efforts have not fared well. Only six years ago, an Obama-backed NATO coalition colluded to end both the life and four-decade reign of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, arguably the most powerful man in Africa given his oil-rich nation and his former chairmanship of the African Union. Ulterior Western motives were apparent given Gaddafi had committed billions to establishing the continent’s independence from foreign manipulation while working toward a continental gold standard and the creation of an African Union Development Bank.

“I would like to say that the balance of forces globally is shifting against neocolonialism,” says prominent historian Gerald Horne, author of numerous books on the African continent. “I would like to say that the balance of forces in Africa is shifting towards liberation from the manacles of neocolonialism. However, speaking realistically,” continues Horne, “we know that the North Atlantic countries, led by the United States of America, remain rather strong and hotly opposed to any kind of nationalization of enterprises which they perceive will damage U.S. imperial interests.”

Consistently, not everyone is thrilled about the country’s latest move toward nationalization. “It’s very difficult to say why the Tanzanian government has taken these particular actions, but it’s very clear there is a view the State is not getting a sufficient participation in the share of the revenues generated,” offered AngloGold Ashanti CEO Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan, who characterized these recent developments as “concerning.” As a major international mining company, the South Africa–based AngloGold Ashanti does hundreds of millions of dollars in business in the country. The new legislation equates to less revenues and influence in the Tanzanian sphere.

There are also those within the country who agree with the spirit of the legislation yet question how it will be applied. “The  law  talks  about  ‘equitable  stake’  without  defining  what  it  is  in  the  definition  section,” wrote the nonprofit HakiRasilimali, in a July analysis of the legislation. The Tanzanian civil society organization was concerned this lack of clarity could enable “highly unchecked discretionary powers given to the President which are susceptible to abuse just like the discretion to enter into MDAs (Mining Development Agreements) was abused by former ministers. The powers assume that all Presidents will be patriotic enough to use these powers positively.” Among other items, the HakiRasilimali analysis also sought greater clarity on the requirement for earnings to be locally banked as it questioned if this actually applied to “100% of the earnings” and to “indigenous banks or just banks domiciled in Tanzania even where they are multinational.”

It’s certainly not the first time a post or neocolonial African nation has attempted to navigate the intricacies and pitfalls of shedding foreign commercial influence and domination. Such efforts have typically come at a high cost. Well before the destruction of Libya, Patrice Lumumba, the first legally-elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was assassinated in January of 1961 after thwarting the American and Belgian governments and their common desire to continue controlling the DRC, its industry and extraordinary natural resources. Similarly, staunch pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah attempted to lead his newly-independent nation of Ghana on the road to nationalism but was ultimately deposed in a 1966 coup backed by the CIA and international financial institutions who subsequently privatized many of the country’s state corporations.

“Those who practice imperialism globally — large, western, private, multinational corporations — recognize the value of Africa’s natural resources and wealth and they have used any number of methods and techniques to ensure continuing access to it,” says Fancher, referencing how these foreign interests install “Black puppet” leaders on the continent who primarily serve to preserve and advance this access. “When there have been efforts to break with this practice, there have been other efforts to pressure countries into ensuring a continuing availability of resources.”

Fancher points to the international community’s handling of the home country of longtime and controversial African leader, Robert Mugabe. “In Zimbabwe, even the first tentative steps that were made to reclaim agricultural land were met with a fierce outcry globally through the use of propaganda and other measures and culminated in an economic embargo which, in many respects, crippled the country economically and provided fuel for those who wanted to blame all of it on the governing party.”

Tanzania — which established its independence in 1964 as a result of the merging of the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, and selected the independent-minded Julius Nyerere as its first president — was also subject to the heavy imperial hand. “Years ago, when Julius Nyerere was the head of state, he embarked on a major nationalization in an effort to move the country toward a distinctly socialist economy,” says Fancher. Nyerere’s Arusha Declaration of 1967 represented a clear and committed step toward Tanzanian self-rule, self-determination and self-empowerment. While enjoying some success, the process, notes Fancher, “was derailed after he left office and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank got involved.”

Still, some do see basic parallels in Nyerere’s seminal effort at nationalization launched a half-century ago and the autonomy-minded activities of Tanzania today.

“President Magufuli, Tanzania’s new leader, in some ways is trying to walk in the footsteps of President Nyerere,” offers Horne, after detailing how the latter established the nation as an international pan-Africanist haven for African-American civil rights and Black power advocates, as well as for South African anti-apartheid organizing. “Given the historical importance of Tanzania, the recent moves by the regime in Dar es Salaam does not surprise me at all.”

“There is somewhat of a tradition of nationalization in this country,” echoes Fancher. “And this may represent a return to that.”

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