President of Tanzania lauds Seattle, seeks investments and dodges media

The President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, swung by Seattle Thursday for a whirlwind visit to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and to give a talk downtown hosted by the World Affairs Council that was focused mostly on boosting foreign investment in his country.

That same day, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon named Kikwete to chair a new initiative aimed at reforming global health – a UN High Level (they are almost always called ‘high level,’ by the way) Panel on Global Health Crises. Created in response to the Ebola crisis, the panel includes outgoing USAID chief Raj Shah.

At the Seattle event, the President’s new job aimed at fixing global health never came up, moderator Chris Elias, head of development at the Gates Foundation, allowed only students in the audience to ask questions after Kikwete spent most of the time boosting his nation’s business investment opportunities and celebrating Tanzania’s strong connections to Seattle.

Humanosphere would have liked to ask Kikwete some questions, having recently done a series of reports examining those connections and Tanzania’s progress on various aspects of development. But there was no opportunity for media questions. There were, however, plenty of folks from Kikwete’s entourage filming his talk.

President Jakaya Kikwete speaks in Seattle

President Jakaya Kikwete speaks in Seattle

“Bill and Melinda Gates are exceptional human beings,” Kikwete told the crowd of several hundred gathered to hear him speak at the Four Seasons Hotel. Tanzania, he noted, has had a long and fruitful association with the world’s largest philanthropy on a number of initiatives intended to improve health and agricultural productivity in the East African nation.

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“Many lives are being saved through their support,” he said.

Also not mentioned at the event, which was pulled together based on very short notice from Kikwete’s delegation, is a proposed new law supported by his government that would severely restrict the use and publication of information by researchers, academics and media.

As reported by The East African Newspaper, this ‘draconian’ law would make Tanzania “one of the harshest territories for publishing firms, researchers and academicians to work.”

That, by itself, would appear to make Tanzania an odd partner for a philanthropy like the Gates Foundation, which has long pushed for better analysis and metrics in global health and development. Establishing a law whereby government approves all data and statistics – including the threat of jail for ‘improper’ use of data – tends to hinder independent inquiry or analysis.

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But, again, this didn’t come up yesterday when Kikwete spoke to the Seattle crowd. The President lamented the lack of American investment in Africa, in general – “Trade between Tanzania and the United States is not worth talking about … too small” – and poked fun at the fact that American airlines tend to mostly fly to South Africa while many other countries have direct connections to Dar es Salaam or Kampala.

“I am in Seattle to encourage investments and trade in Tanzania,” Kikwete said.

Kikwete spoke of his country’s many business opportunities in tourism, manufacturing, oil, gas and mining. “There are a number of offshore blocks still available.” He spoke of the need to improve agriculture beyond the subsistence level (one key area of collaboration with the Gates Foundation) since so many of Tanzania’s poor are farmers. Kikwete suggested this was also an investment opportunity and that his government is already working with many agri-business multinationals to advance farming in Tanzania. “There are abundant opportunities in agriculture as well.”

At the end of the hour-long event, Elias asked Kikwete a few questions such as “What are you most proud of?” and then opened up the floor to questions from students only.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.

  • Amy Hagopian

    I’m so sorry you didn’t get to ask questions, Tom. When someone has been following a subject, they should be invited to question the speaker. That’s annoying.