Preparing for spontaneity: Kissinger and Nyerere in the Wikileaks cables

The folks at Wikileaks have just released another huge batch of US diplomatic cables, this time dating from 1972-1976. They’re calling them the Kissinger Cables, after the controversial US Secretary of State at that time.

With nearly two million cables, this is a vast resource for historians with an interest in US diplomacy at the height of the cold war.

There are over 4,000 cables sent from Tanzania, as well as nearly 11,000 cables sent to the country, making it rather more than an afternoon’s work to look through. But skimming through, there’s clearly a wealth of information here, most particularly on Tanzania-Uganda relations during this difficult period, and on President Nyerere’s views (privately expressed to various US diplomats) on African politics.

But as with the previous release of US diplomatic cables, it’s the little details that are most intriguing.

I found a brief report on Nyerere’s 1973 road accident, about which there was a media blackout at the time in Tanzania.

Also on Nyerere, here’s a fascinating “sketch” of the President, intended to brief Kissinger before his 1976 visit to Tanzania. The sender’s clear admiration shines through his reservations about Nyerere’s economic policies and geopolitical allegiances.

There are some sour grapes about the Chinese-built TAZARA railway.

And how about this, signed by Kissinger himself, which clearly refers to Nyerere, Kaunda and Mobutu as “chiefs”. Hardly diplomatic.

Alas, some of the most interesting sounding cables are missing, with subject lines like “the Mbeya Cement Project – A study in sow motion (sic)”, “TAZARA tidbits”, and “In Tanzania, a robust private sector is hiding in Iringa region, and doing quite well.” And my favourite: “When in Iringa, just call me Bwana Kazi.”

Finally, I stumbled across this gem of diplomatic protocol, in preparation for Kissinger’s visit:

“Consistent with Tanzanian relaxed attitude to protocol, presentation of gifts during high level visits are a sometime thing, likely to involve spontaneous and last minute gestures. It would therefore be well to be prepared.”

Apparently “spontaneous and last minute gestures” require good preparations. Only in the world of diplomacy.