Tanzania’s decision to revive a Beijing-backed port project in the country has created a potential headache for India, which has been the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region for decades. There are fears that China could use the port for military purposes and project power in the western and southern Indian Ocean Region, people in the know said.
Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania’s new President, on Saturday said the country will look to revive the Bagamoyo Port project, days after speaking with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the phone, ET has learnt. Tanzania was the first African country that Xi visited in 2013 after becoming China’s President.
Addressing Tanzania National Business Council, Hasan, according to local newspaper The Citizen, said, “Regarding the Bagamoyo Port project, let me give you the good news that we have started talks to revive the whole project. We are going to start talks with the investors that came for the project with the aim of opening it for the benefit of our nation.”
China’s state-run Xinhua also reported the development. The port project is aimed at giving a boost to the local economy.
During the 2013 visit, Xi and the then-Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete, witnessed the signing of a framework agreement between China Merchants Holdings International, China’s largest port operator, and the Tanzania government to develop a road map for the Bagamoyo port project. The project, however, stalled a few years later due to Tanzania’s objection.
“The Bagamoyo project was shelved by Kikwete’s successor, the late President John Magufuli, who had complained about “exploitative and awkward” terms attached to the deal. Among the conditions Magufuli disliked were requests from China that no other port should be built in Tanzania–from Tanga in the north to Mtwara in the south,” Japan’s leading media platform Nikkei Asia reported on Sunday.
After negotiations on Bagamoyo stalled, China Merchants focused on port development in Djibouti, where China has its sole overseas naval base, Africa experts told ET, adding that this may have played a role in shaping Magufuli’s decision.
India, for decades, has been the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region and shares strong security ties with Mauritius and Seychelles in the Western Indian Ocean Region. India and Tanzania share close ties since the Cold War days and are partners for South-South Cooperation. In the post-Cold War period, India and Tanzania initiated economic reform programmes around the same time alongside developing external relations aimed at broader international political and economic relations, developing international business linkages and inward foreign investment.
India is Tanzania’s largest trading partner, accounting for 16% of its foreign trade. It is also among the top five investment sources in Tanzania, and as per Tanzania Investment Centre, Indian investments in Tanzania add up to $ 2.2 billion, according to an external affairs ministry note.