Summary: Tanzania’s decision to abstain the UN resolution of Ukraine sparked controversy across social media posing questions like Tanzania took that stance despite its traditional branding of being the advocate of peace and harmony?
On March 2, 2022, United Nations General Assembly held an emergency session to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The session purposely called countries to vote on the resolution demanding Russia stop its operation and immediately withdraw its troops from Ukraine.
The session saw 141 states vote in favour of the resolution, five against and 35 abstentions, including the United States of Tanzania. Before getting into details as to why Tanzania abstained UN resolution on Ukraine, let’s be aware of the meaning of the term abstention.
What does abstain mean?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines abstain as “choosing not to use a vote, either favouring or against something”. This means that no vote has been cast for or against a motion. In this regard, Tanzania has stayed neutral.
But the big question to why did Tanzania abstain? Tanzania’s UNGA decision must have surprised many people, considering Tanzania’s brand for peace and harmony. Instead, the result was quite different.
Why did Tanzania abstain?
Tanzania’s abstention to UN resolution on Ukraine lies on two main reasons, i.e. historical background and national interests. Viewing Tanzania’s decision with an unconventional lens, abstention meant standing with Russian.
Unlike Syria, Belarus, North Korea, and Eritrea, who openly chose to stand with Russia, Tanzania subtly decided to stand with Russia to secure her lofty interests in Moscow and traditional friendship. Tanzania’s abstention would only not safeguard her interests in Moscow but also guarantee the protection of her interests with the big boys of the west.
“Despite that abstaining from the vote would secure Tanzanian interests on both ends; also, there’s plenty Tanzania could have lost if it had voted in favour of the resolution”, analysts say.
A brief historical background on Tanzania – Russia relations
Diplomatic relations between Tanzania and Russia, formerly USSR, have roots from December 11, 1961, just two days after Tanganyika was officially declared Independent.
During the struggle of African decolonization, Tanzania, formerly Tanganyika, was the hub for southern African freedom fighters. Through Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, the Soviet Union provided material support and other contribution to national liberation movements in South Africa, Mozambique, South Rhodesia and Namibia.
Racism and colonialism, apartheid, discrimination and inequality on the African continent were regarded as natural evils by both Tanzania and the Soviet Union.
Was Tanzania the only African country that abstained the vote?
Tanzania was not the only country from Africa that abstained from the vote. Also South Africa, Mali, Mozambique, the Central African Republic, Angola, Algeria, Burundi, Madagascar, Namibia, Senegal, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It would be best to keep in mind that each country has a specific reason for their course.
All the above countries have a lot in common that they can afford to lose from Moscow; as Steven Gruzd from the South African Institute of International Affairs said, “Do not expect strident condemnations from those countries with a large Russian presence”.
For instance, Russia has built several military alliances with African countries facing violent insurgencies or political instability, including Libya, Mali, Sudan, the Central African Republic and Mozambique.
What’s with Tanzania?
Like many African countries, Tanzania did not issue a condemnation statement against Russia, instead only focused on messaging on welfare and evacuation of its citizens in Ukraine.
Russia enjoys robust historical and traditional relations with Tanzania and is an essential partner to Tanzania’s economy. Tanzania’s friendship with Russia is also a matter of national security, which means any attempt that could disrupt Tanzania’s relations with Moscow may also have a ripple effect on Tanzania’s security.
- Tanzania – Russia relation goes back to the cold war. That means Tanzania is in pursuit to protect its soviet and socialistic legacy with Russia.
- In 2016, Russia New Agency reported that Russian Defense Minister General Sergey Shoigu and Tanzanian Defense and National Service Minister Hussein Mwinyi have signed a Russian-Tanzanian military cooperation agreement and a contract for training Tanzanian servicemen at Russian military academies and institutions of high learning.
- In 2005, an agreement was reached on cooperation between the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) and the Russian Chamber of Commerce.
- In 2009, bilateral trade and economic forum was held in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, attended by representatives of many Russian investors and companies and many representatives of Tanzanian enterprises.
- It was also in 2014 that Russian gas giant Gazprom met with representatives of the Tanzanian Energy & Minerals ministry and the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) to discuss opportunities for gas operations in Tanzania.
- Uranium One Inc. – one of the world’s largest uranium producers, which ROSATOM State Atomic Energy Corporation owns – operates the Mkuju River Project, a uranium development project located in southern Tanzania, about 470 km southwest of Dar es Salaam.
- According to the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC), Russia invested significantly in the country in 2015, with 48 projects worth $45.23 million since 1990, thereby creating 3,342 jobs for Tanzanians.
It’s difficult for Tanzania to lose an ally like Russia. Tanzania has signed one of the oldest bilateral trade agreements with Russia. In a nutshell, Russia is the European country with the oldest trade agreements with Tanzania.
(a) The framework of implementing the provisions of the Trade Agreement (of August 14, 1961)
(b) Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation (of May 26, 1966)
Russia’s supplies to Tanzania
- Cereals (81.87% of total exports to Tanzania in 2017)
- Fertilizers (12.54%),
- Mineral fuels, oil and distillates, bituminous substances, mineral waxes (1.39%).
Tanzania’s supplies to Russia
- Tobacco and industrial tobacco substitutes (69.71% of total imports from Tanzania in 2017)
- Coffee, tea, mate, or Paraguayan tea, and spices (21.86%)
- Oil seeds and fruits; other seeds, fruits and grains; medicinal plants and plants for technical purposes; straw and fodder (7.47%)
From the above simple analysis, do you think Tanzania would take the risk to vote in favour of the resolution that would undoubtedly undermine the interests of her most important partner? However, this shouldn’t mean that Tanzania supports Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine.
Succinctly, securing national interests may override practising morality. It is not that the United States of America does not acknowledge the atrocities Israel has committed in Palestine for decades, but siding with Palestine would jeopardize her national interests.
This is too true for Tanzania over Ukraine; abstention would mean securing interests with the West and Russia, at the same time feeling sorry for the people of Ukraine.