Although the political relations between Tanzania and Israel have been frigid in the past, an increasing number of Israeli companies are setting up operations in the country and the first large batch of tourists is expected to arrive this month to mark the new era. Report by Aamera Jiwaji.
The commencement, in April, of chartered weekly flights by Israeli national airline El Al to Kilimanjaro will make Tanzania the second African country to have a direct flight link with Israel, after South Africa. When the first batch of 150 Israeli tourists touch down at Kilimanjaro International Airport, it will signal strengthened relations between Tanzania and Israel, in a way that nothing can downplay.
Tanzania’s Tourist Board is understandably excited at the thought of 6,000 Israeli tourists arriving in its Northern Zone Tourism Circuit every year. But the move is a surprising one in view of the chequered diplomatic history between the two countries. Under President Julius Nyerere, Tanzania was overtly anti-imperialist and built its foreign policy around the support of oppressed people across the world. Nyerere was at the forefront of fighting apartheid in South Africa and supporting the liberation of Palestine. It was within this context that Tanzania broke all ties with Israel during the Yom Kippur war of 1973.
The shift away from socialism eased tensions between the two and in 1995, they resumed diplomatic relations. A slur by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in 2011, however, threatened to derail these gains after he grouped Tanzania with Mauritania and Tripolitania (a region in Libya) and implied that all three were irrelevant to international geo-politics. This hurdle was also overcome and Israel has now consolidated its foothold in the Tanzanian economy, which is among the fastest growing on the continent.
The Africa Development Bank Group projects Tanzania’s 2014 growth at 7%. Uganda is expected to grow by 5.5%, while Kenya will fall just below at 5.2%.
Anthony Muthusi, a partner at tax advisory firm Ernst & Young Kenya, says “Tanzania is forecast to be one of the top five fastest growing economies between now and 2015 by the International Monetary Fund, and has outperformed its peers.”
It is a prediction that has caught the attention of Israel, and Israeli Ambassador Gil Haskel, who is based in Nairobi but covers Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Seychelles, spoke candidly about his government’s growing interest in East Africa.
“When looking at East Africa, Tanzania is a prime investment and economic activity target because of its high growth in recent years, and what is considered a steady political scene,” he said.
In March, Tanzania held its first ever Tanzania-Israel Business Investment Forum in Dar es Salaam. It was the first networking event to focus on economic relationships between the two countries, and its event brochure underlined how the convention was designed to “foster strategic alliances and solid business partnerships between private small and medium scale businesses from Israel and Tanzania”.
The similarity between the climate and natural resources of Africa and Middle Eastern countries has meant that Israel’s solar, water and agricultural technologies have found a good fit in Tanzania. Israel’s reputation in the sectors of renewable energy, agriculture and IT has also defined its engagement in Tanzanian business space, and today approximately 20 Israeli companies have invested there.