U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris met Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan at her ceremonial office adjacent to the White House Friday, a historic encounter between Tanzania’s first female leader and the first American female vice president.

Prior to their meeting, Harris outlined to reporters the three areas of discussion: strengthening democracy, investment and economic growth, and global health.

“Our administration is deeply committed to strengthen the ties in Tanzania and to African countries in general,” Harris said. “This has been an area of attentional focus and priority for both the president [Joe Biden] and for me.”

Hassan, elevated from vice president when John Magufuli died in March of 2021, has signaled she wants to steer Tanzania’s foreign policy from inward-looking to one that draws more foreign investment. To that end, she has met leaders in Beijing, London, Brussels, Moscow and the Gulf. 

She used her speech at the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September – the first time a Tanzanian leader has addressed the body since 2015 – to market her country as a trading partner, promising business-friendly policy changes.

“My government would like to see our relationship grow further and strengthen to greater heights,” Hassan told Harris. “My only request here is to call the U.S. government to encourage more of the private sector from the U.S. to work with us.”

Under pressure from civil society, Hassan is also trying to return Tanzania to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which would be another milestone in reopening her country.

Pandemic aid 

Tanzania is one of eleven African countries the U.S. is supporting through the Initiative for Global Vaccine Access, or Global VAX, to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates in developing nations. 

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power met virtually with Hassan in March and announced an additional $25 million in aid for Tanzania. This is on top of the $42 million and the 4.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses that the U.S. government has provided the country for its pandemic response.

However, without a single dollar of the $5 billion that the administration requested for its global COVID-19 response approved by Congress, by September USAID will no longer be able to finance Global Vax for countries including Tanzania.

Africa policy

The Biden administration has laid out a set of priorities for its outreach to Africa, including COVID-19 recovery, combating climate change, boosting trade and investment, and support for democracy. 

In a visit to Kenya in November, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington sees African countries as equal partners as he outlined the administration’s policies toward a continent that receives much of its foreign aid from China, a U.S. rival.

“The United States firmly believes that it’s time to stop treating Africa as a subject of geopolitics — and start treating it as the major geopolitical player it has become,” Blinken said in Abuja, Nigeria.

In September 2021, Harris met with President Akufo-Addo  of Ghana and President Hakainde Hichilema  of Zambia. Earlier this month, President Biden spoke  with President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa. 

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