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Tanzania’s View of Regional Security

Tanzanian President Samia Hassan's recent speeches give insight into the country's stance on regional security

Tanzanian President Samia Hassan on a state visit to Rwanda

Two speeches in Dar es Salaam on 22 January gave a rare insight into Tanzania’s view of regional security issues. General Jacob John Mkunda, Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), and President Samia Suluhu Hassan were speaking at the Seventh Meeting of the CDF and Commanders. They highlighted how Tanzania’s internal security is linked to conflicts in the region, including in Cabo Delgado, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Both touched on recruitment for armed groups in the region within Tanzania, the deployment of the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) in Mozambique, and the security risks presented by refugees. Touching all these issues, one way or another, is Rwanda.

This article was first published on 20 February 2024 as part of the Cabo Ligado Monthly: January 2024

General Mkunda first highlighted  the “growing problem” of “terrorism and extremism,” speaking of youth aged 15-35 being radicalized and sent to join “terrorist groups, in particular in DRC, Mozambique, and Somalia.” President Samia returned to the subject later. “We can’t say they are Mozambican groups or DRC groups,” she said. “They are groups of Tanzanians as long as there are Tanzanians in them.” For President Samia, maintaining internal security would depend on conflicts in such countries not spilling over into Tanzania, either through the return of Tanzanians involved in such groups or through communities of refugees from neighboring countries becoming channels for the entry of small arms into the country.

General Mkunda presented little new about Tanzania’s security operations in southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique and was correct to state that security operations have prevented the conflict from spilling over into Tanzania. President Samia, in her remarks, echoed this but mentioned the presence of two separate forces on the border that prompted Tanzania to establish a bilateral security arrangement with Mozambique. One was the “terrorist” group  which “crosses from time to time to commit acts of terror on our side.” In a clear reference to the RSF deployed in Palma, her other concern is a “foreign force which is beside our border.”

President Samia did not expand on Tanzania’s concerns about Rwanda. Indeed, Rwanda was not mentioned when the conflict in Cabo Delgado was discussed. This reticence was likely due to Tanzania’s involvement in the Southern African Development Community Mission in DRC (SAMIDRC), which is now fighting the M23 Movement in North Kivu province, alongside the bilaterally deployed National Defence Force of Burundi. M23 is widely considered to be backed by Rwanda, while RSF was reportedly active there as recently as 7 February.

One element of conflict spillover from Mozambique that Tanzania has prevented is refugee flows. Refugees that have arrived, most notably after the attack on Palma in March 2021, have been quickly returned. Tanzania has been adamant that long-term refugee settlements in the northwest have been a significant source of insecurity. It has prevented the growth of such settlements in southern Tanzania, and in recent years has been pushing for the return of refugees in the northwest to Burundi and DRC. At the Dar es Salaam meeting, General Mkunda stressed this point, accusing them of being “unsuccessful asylum seekers and economic migrants.”

There is evidence that refugee settlements in Tanzania’s Kigoma region are sites of political violence. Over the past five years, ACLED data show Kigoma region to have the highest rates of political violence in Tanzania over the past five years, concentrated in Mtendeli, Nduta, and Nyarugusu refugee camps there. However, the recent spikes in violence followed a 2019 repatriation agreement between Tanzania and Burundi. Violence against civilians by police accounted for a significant number of such incidents recorded.

Tanzania’s refugee burden, for the most part, arises from unrest in the Great Lakes countries. What direction that will take while the Tanzania contingent of SAMIDRC is in conflict with M23 in DRC, and President Samia is suspicious of Rwanda’s presence across the border in Mozambique, remains to be seen.