DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday encouraged Tanzania’s fragile progress toward a more inclusive government, stepping onto the front lines of America’s push to strengthen democracy in Africa as part of her weeklong trip to the continent.
Standing alongside Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania’s first female president, Harris cited recent decisions from Tanzania such as lifting a ban on opposition rallies and encouraging more press freedom as “important and meaningful steps” toward democratic reforms. Hassan has undone some of Tanzania’s more oppressive policies even though she came to power as a member of the ruling party.
“You have been a champion in the sense of democratic reforms in this country, and in that way have expanded our partnership,” Harris said.
Hassan noted Tanzania’s participation in a virtual summit on democracy hosted by the White House this week, saying it “sends a clear message that the fathers of democracy recognize our efforts in building a democratic nation.”
The Tanzanian leader is finishing out the term of President John Magufuli, who earned a reputation for stamping out dissent, arresting critics and forcing them into exile, before he died in office. Hard-liners have been uncomfortable with some of Hassan’s changes, however, which could cost her in the next election two years from now.
The meeting between Hassan and Harris, the first woman to be America’s vice president, was a noteworthy show of support from the United States as it deepens its outreach to Africa. Harris announced $560 million in U.S. assistance for Tanzania, some of which will require congressional approval. The money is intended to expand the countries’ trade relationship, as well as encourage democratic governance.
Hassan also pushed for the U.S. to make long duration visas available for Tanzanian citizens, something she said would improve ties between the countries. Issues with U.S. visas, from availability to processing delays, have generated frustration around Africa.
“There’s so much excitement here, and people are saying it’s like madam president’s efforts in changing the country are being rewarded with recognition from an economic and political superpower that is the U.S.,” said Tanzania-based analyst Mohamed Issa Hemed.
America’s push on democracy is a delicate issue here. Washington has backed African dictators when it believes doing so serves U.S. interests and that has led to accusations of hypocrisy. In addition, the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol raised questions over whether democracy remains secure even in the world’s most powerful country.
When the U.S. promotes democracy, it risks a backlash from Africans who sense paternalism. Some African leaders also see the issue as a backdoor effort to meddle in their internal affairs and strengthen opposition politicians. They note that China asks no such questions about democracy when its looking to cut lucrative deals in Africa.