The Mainstream Media is ginning up an infowar campaign against Tanzania’s President because of his vociferously pro-family socio-conservative policies and his recent decision to double down on his country’s decades-long strategic partnership with China, fearmongering about his allegedly “authoritarian” tendencies despite him publicly declining to amend his country’s constitution to remain in power beyond the end of his possible second term in 2025.
Tanzania, if the average Westerner has ever even heard of it, is usually known for its foreign aid-dependency, safari expeditions, and the island paradise of Zanzibar, rarely making international headlines after the end of the Old Cold War once its legendary founder Julius Nyerere’s proud support of socialism and anti-colonialism during his two decades as president was no longer as geopolitically relevant as it once was. Nowadays, however, the country’s back in the news for all the wrong reasons, with the Western Mainstream Media ginning up an infowar campaign designed to paint its current President John Magufuli as the latest “African tyrant” after his committed support of pro-family socio-conservative policies and his doubling down on Tanzania’s decades-long strategic partnership with China.
Tanzania’s Strategic Trajectory
His populist hands-on style of “leading from the front” in support of his country’s sovereignty and the anti-corruption successes that he’s presided over since his 2015 election have made many Western countries wonder whether this promising but impoverished African country is finally rising from its knees and beginning to take control of its own destiny. That, however, will be much easier said than done after former President Nyerere’s socialist experiment ultimately proved to be a disaster and utterly destroyed the country’s economy, resulting in the ignoble present-day distinction of this South African-sized nation of over 55 million people being one of the most foreign-aid dependent countries in the world where Western financial support accounted for an astounding 33% of government spending in 2010-2011.
Western states and institutions therefore command significant influence over Tanzania’s domestic and international affairs by dint of their enormous financial contributions to the country’s budget, which they’ve recently begun to weaponize after Magufuli started to vociferously support pro-family socio-conservative policies that contradict their Liberal-Globalist dogmas. Breaking with the “politically correct” expectations imposed on African leaders by their so-called “Western partners”, Magufuli spoke out against birth control and encouraged his citizens to have as many children as possible, which some observers see as troubling given that Tanzania already has one of the highest birth rates in the world and the UN’s 2017 World Population Prospects report forecasts that its population will quintuple to more than 300 million people by 2100.
Magufuli’s “Fall From Grace”
Furthermore, Magufuli controversially reaffirmed his country’s immediate post-independence ban on pregnant schoolgirls continuing their education in state schools, alleging that it contributes to society’s immorality by setting a bad example for others. Together with this, he also banned USAID and other foreign organizations from promoting “family planning” policies in the country’s media space. Of the many criticisms being leveled against his leadership, however, the one thing that he’s not guilty of is the so-called “anti-gay witch hunt” that the police forces of his country’s largest city of Dar es Salaam were reportedly ready to carry out. The regional governor’s personal comments on that matter were condemned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but that development was largely left out of international coverage on the issue.
In response to his internationally contentious pro-family socio-conservative policies, Western donors suspended a whopping $310 million in aid over the course of just two days after coordinating a campaign of pressure against his government, hoping to force it into backtracking on its positions under pane of further impoverishment and potential unrest in the event that their financial support for his country isn’t immediately resumed. Instead of bending to their will, however, Magufuli stood up to the West by denouncing its meddling and praising China for its apolitical approach to aid, emphasizing that “China are true friends who offer help without any conditions.” In the context of the ever-intensifying New Cold War, his backing of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) was interpreted as a geopolitical ‘defection’.
“Containing” China Through Hybrid War
It shouldn’t have been surprising that he’d turn to China in response to the West’s financial pressure to reverse his socio-political agenda, however, since Tanzania has been in a strategic partnership with the People’s Republic for decades already. In fact, China’s first modern-day Silk Road was the TAZARA railway that Beijing funded in the 1970s to connect to the copper-rich anti-Apartheid state of Zambia via their shared socialist ally Tanzania. The coastal country still functions as an irreplaceable Silk Road transit state in China’s contemporary grand strategy, but its exploding population prospects also make it attractive for reasons of its future labor and consumption potential, be it in as a cheap offshore manufacturing center for Chinese companies and/or a marketplace for their overproduced goods.
Tanzania’s progressively pro-Chinese tilt, and especially over the past year or so prior to its full-on pivot in recent days, hasn’t come without its Hybrid War risks, however, which the author analyzed in detail in a comprehensive risk analysis published in January 2017. The forecasted scenario of jihadist-driven “Swahili Coast” destabilization has evidently been the goal that foreign forces have been trying to provoke, taking advantage of the largely porous and poorly governed trans-border region between southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique to generate a terrorist crisis in the latter that could easily travel northwards all the way through Chinese-friendly Kenya and up to Somalia in complicating China’s Silk Road access to the entirety of East Africa and the continent’s resource-rich hinterlands.
Weaponizing Narratives About The “African Tyrant”
Concomitant with the West’s suspension of $310 million of foreign aid to his country and the festering terrorist threat along his country’s southern borderland, the weaponized infowar narrative is being advanced that Magufuli is a ‘dictator’, which wrongly implies that he wants to ‘cling to power’ in spite of publicly declining to amend the Tanzanian Constitution so that he could remain in office after the end of his possible second term in 2025 like many other African leaders have recently done. He may be ‘zealously assertive’ and ‘hands-on’, but he’s not an ‘African tyrant’ in the stereotypical sense of what the West often condescendingly portrays its geopolitical opponents in the “Global South” as being because he’s committed to continuing his country’s tradition of peaceful leadership transitions.
Tanzania is nowadays officially a multiparty democracy, albeit one where Nyerere’s Chinese Communist Party-allied Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has remained in power since independence, and the 2020 election presents an opportunity for foreign forces to meddle in its democratic process by fearmongering about China’s deepening influence there if Beijing decides to replace Western aid with its own combination of loans and grants. These infowar efforts could potentially be focused on exacerbating the preexisting ethno-regional tensions in the offshore semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar in order to provoke post-election violence that could in turn be manipulated to make the vote seem “scandalous”, thereby triggering (further?) Western sanctions and contributing to Tanzania’s incipient Hybrid War destabilization.
Tanzania’s Magufuli is fast becoming the latest “African tyrant” to be talked about in the Western Mainstream Media, with his strong pro-family socio-conservative policies being the main reason because of how controversial they are outside of his country. As the democratically elected leader of a sovereign state, he has the right to implement whatever policies he sees fit so long as they’re within the ambit of his nation’s laws, which they are, and his people can always vote against him and the ruling CCM during the upcoming 2020 elections if they’re genuinely unhappy with the path that he’s taking Tanzania down. At the moment, however, most of the grumbling about him is coming from abroad, which is why his “Western partners” suspended $310 million of aid to his country.
China will probably swoop in to fill the void with a combination of loans and grants in order to prevent the West from shaking Tanzania’s foreign aid-dependent system to its core, with the added benefit being that Beijing has self-interested reasons for building its partner’s capacities so as to see it sustainably succeed on its own as one of the most strategic Silk Road hubs in Africa. There are still many destabilization scenarios that could transpire before then, including the spread of Mozambican-based terrorism northwards all along the “Swahili Coast” and externally exacerbated separatist tendencies in the semi-autonomous offshore region of Zanzibar, but provided that Tanzania applies the proper “Democratic Security” measures for countering these Hybrid War threats, then it might emerge as one of East Africa’s leading states sometime in the future.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.