U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan met on Friday at the vice president’s ceremonial office adjacent to the White House, a historic encounter between Tanzania’s first female leader and the first American female vice president.
Before their meeting, Harris outlined to reporters three areas of discussion: strengthening democracy, investment and economic growth, and global health.
“Our administration is deeply committed to strengthen the ties in Tanzania and to African countries in general,” Harris said. “This has been an area of attentional focus and priority for both the president [Joe Biden] and for me.”
The U.S. and Tanzania recently signed the Open Skies Air Transport Agreement, which establishes a civil aviation relationship between the two countries. The two leaders welcomed the investment of nearly $1 billion from American companies in Tanzania’s tourism and energy sectors, according to a readout provided by the White House.
Suluhu, elevated from vice president when John Magufuli died in March 2021, has signaled she wants to steer Tanzania’s foreign policy from inward-looking to one that draws more foreign investment. To that end, she has met leaders in Beijing, London, Brussels, Moscow and the Persian Gulf.
She used her speech at the 76th session of the U.N. General Assembly in September — the first time a Tanzanian leader has addressed the body since 2015 — to market her country as a trading partner, promising business-friendly policy changes.
“My government would like to see our relationship grow further and strengthen to greater heights,” Suluhu told Harris. “My only request here is to call the U.S. government to encourage more of the private sector from the U.S. to work with us.”
Former Ambassador to Tanzania Mark Green, who is now president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, said the meeting was a good sign for bilateral relations as well as U.S. interests in the continent.
“We know that the continent is looking for U.S. investment. We should pay attention, and we should look for opportunities to partner whenever we can,” Green told VOA.
Under pressure from civil society, Suluhu is also trying to return Tanzania to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which would be another milestone in reopening her country.
Tanzania is one of 11 African countries the U.S. is supporting through the Initiative for Global Vaccine Access, or Global VAX, to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates in developing nations.
U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power met virtually with Suluhu in March and announced an additional $25 million in aid for Tanzania. This was on top of the $42 million and the 4.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses that the U.S. government had provided the country for its pandemic response.
However, without a single dollar of the $5 billion that the administration requested for its global COVID-19 response approved by Congress, by September USAID will no longer be able to finance Global Vax for countries including Tanzania.
The Biden administration has laid out a set of priorities for its outreach to Africa, including working toward COVID-19 recovery, combating climate change, boosting trade and investment, and supporting democracy.
In a visit to Kenya in November, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington sees African countries as equal partners, as he outlined the administration’s policies toward a continent that receives much of its foreign aid from China, a U.S. rival.
“The United States firmly believes that it’s time to stop treating Africa as a subject of geopolitics — and start treating it as the major geopolitical player it has become,” Blinken said in Abuja, Nigeria.
However, beyond the administration’s effort to combat the pandemic on the continent, there has not been much movement in other areas. Build Back Better World — an infrastructure investment program that the administration has been touting as a better alternative to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, scheduled to launch this year — has been delayed.
Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine is likely to continue to be the focus of the administration in the months to come.
“Certainly there are a lot of fires burning right now and I think the Biden administration is spread thin,” Green said.