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'Can US shake the dragon's influence?'

Updated: 2014-08-15 09:22
By Abduel Elinaza (China Daily Africa)

'Can US shake the dragon's influence?'

The news media in Tanzania has widely portrayed the just ended US-Africa Leaders as an attempt by the US to regain influence in the country that it has lost to China.

Much of the coverage looks at the renewal of the US-Tanzania relationship in the light of Tanzania's flourishing political and economic ties with China.

A week before the Washington summit, the state-owned Daily News ran an editorial on China-Tanzania relations and efforts to narrow the trade imbalance.

China is Tanzania's second-largest trading partner and among the top five investors. And where is the US in all this? In 2011 it ranked 136th as a trading partner for Tanzania.

The Daily News says China is ready to negotiate on ways to lift Tanzania's exports to China, including increased FDI and tourism, in addition to 95 percent tariff-free agreements.

"It is hoped that the two countries are going to maintain the brotherly ties for a long time," the paper said, adding that it looks forward to "strategic cooperative partnership of win-win results".

Tanzania's ambassador to China, Abdulrahaman Shimbo, says China's FDI this year is expected to rise 50 per cent from the $3 billion of last year.

After the three-day summit, the Daily News said in an editorial: "We need to get ready for US investments." President Jakaya Kikwete wants to move away from a relationship of "aid donor and aid recipient" to one of investment and trade, it said.

Kikwete told the forum that President Barack Obama and senior officials were encouraging business "to take Africa seriously. I think this time we will make it."

The paper said it would be easy to be skeptical about the pledge and simply take it as another belated effort by the US to increase its foothold in the continent.

"America is trying to catch up with China and other major powers in exploiting Africa's natural resources."

The newspaper The Citizen ran a cover story that asked: "Can US shake the dragon's influence in Tanzania, Africa?

"In terms of trade and investment, the United States has performed abysmally in Tanzania during the past decade, compared to what Beijing has traded with Dar es Salaam over the same period."

It was not Kikwete's first visit to the US, and once again he went with a Tanzanian investment briefcase full of projects covering, among others, agriculture, cement production, food and beverages, mines, textiles, oil and gas.

But in the past 10 years it has been Chinese investors who have beaten a path to Tanzania to invest in government-to-government or business-to-business projects.

Tanzania's trade with the US in 2011 reflected goods traded valued at a paltry $316 million. In the same period, Sino-Tanzanian trade was worth $2.1 billion.

'Can US shake the dragon's influence?'

Last year, Obama visited Tanzania, waving an energy plan worth $7 billion and a message of partnership to the country and the continent. Earlier, in March, China's President Xi Jinping visited Tanzania on his first stop on an African trip, shortly after becoming the country's top leader. He signed 16 trade, cultural and diplomatic deals worth about $12 billion in Tanzania alone.

During the Washington summit, Obama convened a giant game of Let's Make a Deal between the US and Africa by bringing together nearly 50 African leaders with US investors.

Kikwete was among the key speakers during the meeting, which some Dar es Salaam analysts see as a US attempt to overtake growing Chinese influence not only in Tanzania, but across Africa.

In the New York Times, Mark Landler wrote that though Obama did not mention China, he drew a clear distinction between the US approach and that of China, which "has spent lavishly in Africa to lock up sources of minerals".

"I want Africans buying more American products," Obama said. "I want Americans buying more African products. I know you do, too, and that's what you're doing today."

But, the question is: Will Obama walk into the dragon's den, China, and manage to shake Beijing, which is already the darling not only of African leaders, but also the trading partner of choice of both small, medium and large businesses in Tanzania?

The newspaper East African says that while East African presidents and business leaders emphasized in Washington that the region was open for business, not aid, Obama said the US wanted to be an "equal" partner in Africa's growing success, a move aimed at putting China's power in check.

But how many people trust that the US, which continues to struggle with huge budget deficits following the 2008 financial crisis, will be able to deliver on its talk of new bilateral trade and investment in Tanzania?

The author is a journalist at Daily News Tanzania

(China Daily Africa Weekly 08/15/2014 page8)

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