by David Brewin

Relations between Tanzania and Israel have become much warmer during the last two years following a surge of tourists from Israel and the visit of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu to Uganda. Planes full of Israeli tourists now arrive regularly at Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar airports. However, as this edition of TA goes to press the surprising decision of President Trump that the USA will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could have serious consequences for relations between the two countries.

Trade and diplomatic relations between Tanzania and Israel were first established in 1963 but were severed in 1973 following the Arab-Israeli war, while diplomatic relations were re-established in 1995. Israel has been operating until recently from its embassy in Kenya in its dealings with Tanzania. The number of tourists visiting Tanzania has risen from 3,007 five years ago to 14,754 in 2015. The Israeli Ambassador said Tanzania was now among African countries that Israel has been looking to for business and diplomatic cooperation.

Relations were strengthened further when President Magufuli expressed his intention to open an embassy in Tel Aviv in a letter addressed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and hoped that the establishment of an embassy in Dar would make it easier to process visas and help to boost trade between the two countries.

Turkey and Portugal: rail contract
A joint venture between one Turkish and four Portuguese firms has won a tender for construction of 205 km of Tanzania’s new standard gauge railway, part of the 1,216 km stretch that will eventually link Dar es Salaam with the rest of the country as well as with Rwanda and Burundi. The two firms beat 39 other bidders to win the tender after meeting both technical and financial criteria for implementation of the project, which will take 2½ years. The line will run parallel to the existing central railway line built by the Germans 120 years ago. This consortium will be responsible for the stretch linking Dar es Salaam with Morogoro.

Oil exploration
Tanzania has entered into an agreement with Uganda to help in the search for oil in Uganda’s Eyasi Wembere Basin and Lake Tanganyika. This puts in doubt Tanzania’s previous agreement with Democratic Republic of Congo signed a year ago to work on joint oil exploration in Lake Tanganyika.

Charm offensive
President Abdel Al Sisi of Egypt recently visited Tanzania as part of a four-state tour of Africa. His objective was to drum up support for Egypt’s position on the use of water in the Nile Basin prior to a meeting of the countries through which the Nile flows. Tanzania recently ratified a Nile basin common framework agreement that Egypt opposes as it lobbies for its own renegotiated and updated Common Framework agreement.

President Al Sisi pledged support for the Nile Basin countries in return for favourable sharing terms of the Nile waters which he said were a matter of life and death for his people. The Nile Basin countries dispute Egypt’s historic share of the Nile’s waters.

Fears over Kenya dam proposals
A 10-year plan to build several dams on the river Mara and its tributaries could pose a threat to the rich animal and plant life of the Serengeti ecosystem. The river Mara flows from Kenya into Tanzania and is the only permanent source of water for Masaai Mara and Serengeti reserves and the herds of wildebeest and other wildlife that migrate between the two countries. Conservationists are concerned that the dams will reduce or even eliminate flows in the river at some times of year and lead to environmental problems, and could spark a diplomatic row between the two countries unless the East African community agreement is invoked in support of sections of the proposed project. Experts say that international efforts are needed soon to save the Serengeti as Kenya stands to reap all the economic benefits from the dams while Tanzania could remain saddled with environmental problems.

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