IN the last fortnight, Tanzanian Foreign Minister, Dr Augustine Mahiga made a four-day official visit to Iran – that was from October 10th to 14th, this year.
This visit is consistent with Tanzania’s principled foreign policy of allowing no one to choose friends or enemies for the country, most importantly in the light of recent attempts to isolate a couple of countries by some western powers.
Actually, in so far as Iran’s relations with Tanzania are concerned, there has been exchange of visits between the two countries in subsequent years following the triumph of the Iranian Revolution spearheaded by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Fourth phase Tanzanian President Ally Hassan Mwinyi visited Iran in the 1980s, as did speakers of the Union and Zanzibar parliaments among others.
It was in the light of the visit of Foreign Minister Mahiga that I sat down with a senior official of the Iranian embassy here, Mr Mohammad Dehghani who revealed to me the historic cultural linkages between the two countries, some of which I was not aware hitherto!
Said he: “The visit of Dr Augustine Mahiga the Foreign Minister of the United Republic of Tanzania is very important in several areas and has great impact. “Both mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar islands are very well known in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Then came something I didn’t know: “This is due to the long history of existence of the Shiraz tribe in Tanzania and the east coast of Africa which originates from Iran. Along with the Shiraz tribe, there is the Baluchi tribe, which migrated into Tanzania more than 150 years ago.
“Culturally, the Shiraz are present not only in Zanzibar but on Tanzanian mainland of Bagamoyo and Kilwa - along the Tanzanian coastal belt. “The presence of almost more than 200 Persian language words in Kiswahili is evidence of the deep cultural relations between Iran and Tanzania,” said Mr. Dehghani.
Now, on reflection, I have been looking at the past of our country if there is any trace of what the Iranian diplomat told me.
Looking at the political history of Zanzibar, which along with mainland Tanganyika, constitute the United Republic of Tanzania, there has been an early predominant political party, the AFRO-SHIRAZ PARTY (ASP) headed then by a leading architect of the Zanzibar Revolution, Mzee Abeid Amani Karume.
This party, revered on the islands and across the country before its merger with the mainland Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) was instrumental in spearheading the armed revolution, which got rid of Sultanate rule on the island.
It is only after its merger with the mainland TANU to form the current Chama Cha Mapinduzi (Party of the Revolution) that it is no longer mentioned but it is of course revered historically.
So when one looks at the ASP in its full name, one comes across two words, ‘Afro’ and ‘Shiraz’. So, clearly, my Iranian source of this information makes sense to me!
In a wider sense, this is humanity, which is mutual, and the distance we are to each other, does not alter the facts of cultural linkages that bind us intrinsically, isn’t it?
It is now important to look at the relations between our two countries in the intervening period. As seen earlier in this perspective, there have been high level visits between leaders of the two countries almost immediately after the triumph of the Iranian Revolution, which overthrew a monarchy known as the Shah.
High-level visits between the two countries have taken place, with the fourth Tanzanian President Ali Hassan Mwinyi visiting the Persian country. “The official relations between the two countries were started after the Islamic Republic of Iran opened its embassy in Dar es Salaam in 1984.
“In the intervening period since then, political relations between Dar es Salaam and Tehran is good, Tanzania being the first countries to hail the Iranian Revolution and condemn subsequent Iraqi aggression,” according to the Iranian official.
Since then, there has been exchange of delega tions between the two countries in various areas with Tanzanian government officials including the mayor of Dar es Salaam visiting Tehran.
“Tanzania is one of the most secure peaceful countries in Africa, choosing flexible economic policies and encouraging foreign investors,” told me the minister-counselor of the Iranian embassy here.
Iran is gearing up to work with Tanzania in the fields of agriculture, fishing, irrigation, small industries and many others such as health services.
“The recent visit of the Iranian navy ship was an appropriate message for friendship between our two countries and the holding of the Shiraz cultural week the other day is evidence of the strong ties between Tehran and Dar es Salaam,” in the words of the Iranian diplomat.
As I began, my country is on the right path, in line with the founding principles of founder President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of allowing no one to choose friends or enemies for our country.
We are free, independent and sovereign people. Our hands of friendship are there to shake the hands of all who respect our independence and sovereignty as a nation.