29 April 2002

Tanzania – Zimbabwe cooperation intensifies

Western countries are reported to be increasingly alarmed at the close links between the Tanzanian government and the beleaguered regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. The first indication of serious donor concern came over the Tanzanian government's controversial purchase of a $40 million air traffic control system late last year. Critics, who included Britain's Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short said the purchase was unnecessary, unsuitable and too expensive for the government's needs. With the row unsettled, Britain suspended $14.3 million of its planned $93 million in budgetary support aid for this year last month, ostensibly over concerns with Dar's spending plans. Denmark has also suspended aid and the government in the Netherlands is also critical, as are the World Bank and the IMF.

But what is particularly causing concern in the West are the apparently growing links between Dar es Salaam and Harare following Robert Mugabe's controversial presidential win. President Benjamin Mkapa was one of the few African leaders to offer unqualified support to President Mugabe on the win, sending him "our warmest congratulations," on the "deserved presidential mandate" with the Tanzanian poll monitors declaring the election free and fair. Last week, Tanzania's minister for Finance Mr Basil Mramba told The East African in Arusha that white Zimbabwean farmers have been making inquiries with his government to set up large-scale commercial farms and that the government was currently considering them.

Now there are reports of growing business and military links between the two countries. The latest edition of the London-based newsletter Africa Confidential says there are "growing business ties between Tanzania's and Zimbabwe's elites, particularly over the supply of arms and military logistics to armed factions in Burundi and Rwanda. Tanzania is an important ally of Zimbabwe in the Congo war. It can supply FNL, Alir and MaiMai groups which are critical to Harare and Kinshasa's battle against the Rwandan and Ugandan armies and the local rebel forces in eastern Congo." This issue is "worrying some neighbours and officials in Washington and London," the newsletter adds. "Zimbabwe-Tanzania trade links are growing fast, prodded by high level backing in Harare and Dar. The government faces a crisis of confidence amid mounting allegations of corruption, gem smuggling and covert operations."

Tanzanian officials are being accused of smuggling Congolese diamonds and other precious stones in deals with Zimbabwean officials and Dar es Salaam is said to be a key port for trade with both rebels and the Kinshasa government. Donors are also concerned about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the country and believe that corruption is running out of control. While Tanzanian police have received training from US specialists in counter-terrorist training following the 1998 bomb attacks in Nairobi and Dar, there have been several accusations that Islamic fundamentalists are using trade in the tanzanite gem for money laundering activities. The accusations have led the price of the tanzanite to drop by half in the United States, the biggest market. These factors, according Africa Confidential are "damaging the political credibility" of the government which remains highly dependent on Western aid. (East African / Kenya)

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