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Tanzania Opens Warm Diplomatic Relations with Rwanda

Tanzania's newly elected president John Magufuli (2ndR) shakes hands with Rwanda's president Paul Kagame (L) eyed by Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe (R) and Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni (2ndL) during the swearing in ceremony in Dar es Salaam, on Nov. 5, 2015.

A new chapter of warm relations has opened between the governments of Tanzania and Rwanda after Tanzanian President John Magufuli officially participated in the 22-year remembrance of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, according to Tanzanian Foreign Minister Augustine Mahiga.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame was among the very first African leaders to congratulate Magufuli shortly after the electoral commission of Tanzania declared him the winner of last year’s presidential poll. Kagame also participated in Magufuli’s installation.

Foreign Minister Mahiga says the administrations in Dodoma and Kigali have had frosty diplomatic relations since a disagreement between Kagame and former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete. This, after Kikwete urged Rwanda to hold discussions with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) - a Hutu rebel group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- to end its insurgency.

Magufuli’s visit to Rwanda

But Mahiga says President Magufuli’s visit to Rwanda marks a significant step towards improving relations between the two neighboring countries.He also says bilateral relations between the two East African countries could enhance the free movement of people, goods and services across their borders.Tanzania currently holds the rotating chair of the East African Community (EAC).

“This time, I think relations have become extremely warm and a new chapter is being opened, and there have been a tremendous amount of goodwill and assurances from both sides, and I think we are on a totally different trajectory in terms of relations between Tanzania and Rwanda,” said Mahiga.

“Tanzania is a neighbor of Rwanda and Rwanda goods go through Dar es Salaam. Up to about 75 percent of their imports and exports go through the port of Dar es Salaam. So both sides are really important trading partners and there is a historical relationship between the two countries. So, it is important that we maintain goodwill, political understanding between the leaders of the two countries, [and] between the people of the two countries. And at this time, what brought this visit had precisely to do with the trade and economic relations between the two countries, from a bilateral perspective, but also in the context of the East African Community.”

Regional cooperation against terrorism

He says Tanzania is cooperating with neighboring countries to combat terrorism as well as help resolve instability in the region.

Attempts have been made by regional leaders to resolve the conflicts in South Sudan and Burundi as well as combat the security threat posed by the Somali-based Islamist militant group al-Shabab. The rebel group often launches attacks in parts of Kenya and Somalia as well as attack the internationally-backed African forces in Somalia known as AMISOM.

Mahiga says al-Shabab poses both a regional and international threat. He says Tanzania is committed to the full implementation of the standing protocols between the countries in the region to enhance regional cooperation on security to combat terrorism.

“It’s absolutely important that for economic development and for economic relations and cooperation between the countries of East Africa, there has to be peace and stability and if there are any conflicts those conflicts have to be resolved,” said Mahiga.

“It is for this reason that through the extent possible, Tanzania as chair has to maintain excellent relations in the context of good neighborliness with the neighboring countries like we have just done with Rwanda, we continue to do with other neighbors. We have excellent relations with Kenya, Uganda, with Burundi, and now we have admitted South Sudan into the East African Community. Although we don’t share a border, but we have a responsibility as the chair of the community to make sure that the current ongoing conflict particularly in two countries, Burundi and South Sudan goes through a process of reconciliation and a resolution as quickly as possible.”