The China Factor in the India-Tanzania Strategic Partnership

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The China Factor in the India-Tanzania Strategic Partnership

Tanzania’s skepticism toward China has opened new space for India to upgrade a longstanding partnership.

The China Factor in the India-Tanzania Strategic Partnership

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) walks with Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan on their way to a joint press conference at Hyderabad House, New Delhi, India, Oct. 10, 2023.

Credit: Indian Ministry of External Affairs

The recent revitalization and reinforcement of India’s engagement with Tanzania is a result of China’s deteriorating global image as an equal partner of choice offering so-called win-win cooperation in many parts of the world including Tanzania. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Tanzania has contributed to economic and environmental vulnerabilities in the East African nation; that, in turn, has created space for New Delhi to expand and consolidate its bilateral engagement with Dar es Salaam.

India and Tanzania are maritime neighbors that have traditionally enjoyed close and friendly relations and people-to-people ties dating back centuries. Tanzania, being strategically located in the Western Indian Ocean with vast energy and economic potential, holds immense importance for India as a key partner in Africa. Through strategic leveraging of shared strengths and mutual interests, India and Tanzania can forge an enduring partnership that promotes economic growth, regional integration, and people-centric development, while contributing to the shared vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the African Union’s vision for peace and security in Africa. In particular, focusing on the development of the blue economy will bring accelerated economic growth.

China and Tanzania

In recent years China has been exporting its economic and industrial overcapacities to resource-rich developing regions of the world. Beijing has undertaken multi-billion-dollar infrastructure development projects around the globe through its BRI. Throughout Africa – a continent plagued by an infrastructure deficit – Beijing has launched and completed several key road, rail, and port connectivity projects. However, not all these projects are aimed at enhancing global linkages; some are intended to serve Beijing’s resource extracting strategy. 

For example, the $10 billion Bagamoyo Port Project covering an area of about 800 square kilometers, was one such strategic investment initiative by Beijing. It ultimately did not receive a green light from the Tanzanian government, despite several negotiations and diplomatic discussions. 

In 2013, Tanzania signed a framework agreement with China Merchant Holdings International, China’s largest port operator, to build the port and accompanying special economic zone. The Bagamoyo Port, situated about 75 kms from the port of Dar es Salam on the eastern coast of Tanzania, was expected to be a modern deep-water port and one of the largest ports in the East African region in the future. The Bagamoyo port – which would include an industrial zone and rail and road links to a region hoping to exploit new oil and gas finds – when completed was expected to outcompete Kenya’s neighboring Mombasa port as East Africa’s trade gateway.

But the enthusiasm didn’t last long. Soon after taking office in late 2015, however, former President John Magufuli’s government sought to renegotiate major deals with foreign investors, including China. Eventually, due to concerns over China’s use of loans to finance the mega-project, the Tanzanian government withdrew from the project in 2019. 

The conditions that they have given us are commercially unviable,” Deusdedit Kakoko, director general of the state-run Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) told Reuters at the time. “It would have been a loss” for Tanzania to continue the project.

For China, Bagamoyo port would have also served as another “pearl” in the western Indian Ocean, offering Beijing geostrategic advantages to offset India’s influence and interest in the region. New Delhi, therefore, is adopting a policy of rapprochement with Dar-es-Salaam and seeking to fill the void as Beijing loses strategic space in the Tanzanian geopolitical landscape. 

India Steps in

During President Samia Sulubu Hassan’s state visit to India on October 8-10, both India and Tanzania elevated their relationship to the status of a strategic partnership, encompassing various domains, which include trade and investment, defense, maritime security cooperation, development collaboration, higher education, and the promotion of people-to-people ties. The strategic partnership is aimed at further strengthening the overarching framework for engagement and cooperation between India and Tanzania, contributing to peace, stability, and prosperity in each country, the region, and beyond. 

This decision followed talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hassan, during which the two leaders agreed to further strengthen defense cooperation.. Furthermore, both nations formalized their commitment through the signing of six agreements covering various areas of cooperation. These agreements encompass “cooperation in the digital domain, culture, sports, maritime industries and white shipping information sharing.”

The complex global landscape amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and the unfolding Israel-Hamas war has made the global environment uncertain, volatile, and turbulent, threatening the global supply chain. These dynamics necessitate reliable and trusted partnerships to develop capacities in the Indian Ocean region. Tanzania perfectly fits the bill as a reliable and trusted partner for India in its extended maritime neighborhood. 

It thus makes sense for New Delhi to expand the traditional linkages with Dar es Salaam. This strategic partnership signals a calibrated and proactive strategy on the part of India to reinforce and reshape its relations with Tanzania, promoting India’s status as the primus inter pares among Tanzania’s extra-regional partners and consolidating the centrality of India’s sphere of influence in the regional order and beyond. 

The elevation of bilateral ties to the level of a strategic partnership between India and Tanzania follows a goal-driven rationale of alignment and issue-based convergence. This approach aims to nurture political relationships and foster cooperation across various sectors, including trade and investment, maritime security and defense, the digital revolution, and people-to-people ties.

Economic Cooperation

Tanzania is India’s largest and closest development partner in Africa. Trade and investment cooperation serves as a key component of this strategic partnership, which will directly benefit people and businesses of both sides. In fiscal year 2022-2023, bilateral trade in goods and services reached a new record of $6.4 billion, of which India’s exports account for $3.9 billion, and imports from Tanzania amount to $2.4 billion. 

Tanzania also serves as a pivotal conduit for Indian enterprises seeking to explore opportunities within the African continent. The African nation boasts a diverse and resilient economy, offering avenues for trade and investment across a spectrum of sectors encompassing agriculture, mining, energy, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, and information technology. In 2022-23, India was the fifth largest investor in Tanzania, with about $3.7 billion in investments across several sectors. Approximately 630 projects have been executed by Indian companies, generating around 60,000 jobs locally. 

Tanzania stands as India’s primary development partner, benefiting from extensive concessional financing and capacity-building initiatives, totaling $1.1 billion in lines of credit. Indian hospitals are showing keen interest in investing in Tanzania, boosting its healthcare infrastructure. 

India’s expertise in various domains presents a promising opportunity to significantly bolster Tanzania’s economic progress. This mutually beneficial partnership can lead to increased bilateral trade and collaboration. In this regard a proposal has been put forth to establish an industrial park within Tanzania, along with the provision of vocational training facilities for Tanzanian youth, in collaboration with India. This initiative aims to generate employment opportunities for young Tanzanians, fostering their economic growth and development. 

The port of Dar es Salaam, one of the largest in East Africa, occupies a central role in facilitating trade and commerce, not only for Tanzania but also for landlocked nations within the East African region. India’s active involvement in port development and logistical infrastructure projects has the capacity to bolster connectivity, foster trade, and fortify economic integration within the region. Furthermore, India maintains its position as the preferred destination for Tanzanian nationals seeking medical tourism and advanced technical education. Notably, India has recently established an overseas campus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras in Zanzibar, thereby augmenting educational prospects for the youth of Tanzania.

Maritime Security and Defense Cooperation

India and Tanzania have a shared vision for maritime security and defense cooperation in the Indian Ocean region, representing their commitment to promoting peace, security, stability, and prosperity in the wider Indo-Pacific construct. India’s and Tanzania’s status as Indian Ocean nations means they have significant stakes in ensuring the freedom of navigation and overflight in the Indian Ocean, as well as maintaining open, safe, and efficient sea lanes for transportation and communication and preventing interference in maritime activities. 

In this regard, this strategic partnership between India and Tanzania in maritime security and defense cooperation holds significant promise, especially in light of evolving non-traditional security challenges in an ever-changing geopolitical landscape, influenced by the assertive Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean. Given their shared maritime geography and longstanding friendship, India and Tanzania are natural partners in the Indian Ocean. They share mutual concerns regarding non-traditional security threats, including piracy, drug trafficking, and terrorism. These shared concerns underscore the imperative for enhanced mutual coordination to effectively address maritime security challenges.

The burgeoning maritime cooperation between India and Tanzania highlights the significant roles both countries play in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) outlook on the Indo-Pacific. Tanzania, as India’s extended maritime neighbor situated in India’s primary area of interest, holds a prominent position within New Delhi’s maritime vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region). This vision also aligns with the African Union’s aspiration to promote peace and security in Africa, particularly through the development of the blue or ocean economy as a key driver for accelerating economic growth. 

During Hassan’s recent state visit, both India and Tanzania expressed a strong commitment to strengthening their maritime security cooperation from a holistic perspective. This expanded cooperation now encompasses a comprehensive understanding of the blue economy, which includes “tourism, maritime trade, services and infrastructure, marine scientific research, capacity in seabed mining, ocean conservation and maritime safety and security.” The mutual resolve to collaborate in these areas aims to foster the nurturing and development of holistic maritime security within the framework of the IORA. This collaborative effort seeks to ensure the peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable development in the Indian Ocean region.

The increasing convergence of interests in the maritime domain offers wider scope for deepening defense cooperation to enhance mutual capacities and capabilities to secure the global commons and support sustainable development. This collaborative effort encompasses various facets of defense cooperation, including training, information sharing, maritime exercises, and the enhancement of maritime domain awareness. 

Visits by the defense minister of Tanzania to India in August 2022 and February 2023 resulted in the expansion of defense cooperation, culminating in the formulation of a five-year roadmap during the second Joint Defense Cooperation Committee meeting in June 2023.

The primary focus lies in exploring opportunities for defense industrial cooperation, capitalizing on the complementary capabilities of India and Tanzania in the defense sector. Two defense expos held in Dar es Salaam featured the active participation of several Indian defense companies. 

Tanzania also expressed its appreciation for the deployment of the Indian Military Training Team (IMTT) at the Command and Staff College in Duluti. 

The early implementation of the standard operating procedure for the White Shipping Agreement, signed between the Indian Navy and Tanzania, is expected to significantly enhance maritime cooperation between the two nations. Increased interoperability between the Armed Forces of both sides will play a pivotal role in countering threats and ensuring regional stability and security. 


Within the framework of the India-Tanzania relationship, the upgrade to a strategic partnership signifies a high level of maturity. This maturity is evident through the breadth and depth of cooperation, the shared normative frameworks, and the institutionalized cooperative mechanisms. It is also reflected in the significant political commitment and priority that both nations attribute to their partnership. These aspects are readily observable in India’s multifaceted relations with Tanzania. 

The extensive cooperation and exchanges, which occur at various levels including governmental, business, and people-to-people interactions, both in bilateral and multilateral contexts, are not merely a result of geographical proximity. Instead, they are the outcomes of years of deliberate diplomatic and economic relationship building. This process has been facilitated through a series of regular high-level visits, sustained dialogues, and the establishment of cooperation mechanisms spanning various sectors.

Nevertheless, it is essential to recognize that the future of the India-Tanzania strategic partnership is not solely determined by the label it carries, but rather by the substantive aspects of the relationship and how both sides shape it. In this context, it is imperative to identify the driving forces that bring these maritime neighbors closer together. For India, these driving forces include concerns related to the security dynamics in the Indian Ocean region. Notably, that includes concern over China’s assertive behavior in this region, which continues to pose challenges, despite ongoing efforts to establish a framework based on rule-based order. 

However, there are several other factors that influence the elevation of the India-Tanzania bilateral partnership to the strategic level. These driving forces stem from a complex interplay of geopolitical, economic, and security considerations, among others. They include regional stability, economic opportunities, shared interests in countering non-traditional security threats, and the aspiration to contribute positively to the Indian Ocean region’s development. 

While the challenges posed by China’s assertiveness are one aspect of this equation, they are not the sole determinants of the partnership’s trajectory. As we look ahead, the maturity of the India-Tanzania relationship will be assessed by its capacity to actively shape the regional balance of power and promote robust expansion in various aspects of cooperation in the Indian Ocean region, considering the array of factors that come into play.