For the first time, President Jakaya Kikwete yesterday admitted that relations between Tanzania and Rwanda were tense but maintained it was not in the interest of his government to escalate the situation.
In a carefully worded address to the nation, Mr Kikwete expressed concern about Rwanda’s unease with him personally and the leadership of Tanzania in general, but played down fears that the matter could further strain the two countries’ relations.
The President said any hard feelings against him in the neighbouring country were misplaced and amounted to unfair and unwarranted criticism of a friendly nation such as Tanzania.
The head of state used the traditional end of the month speech to speak out on a matter that has in recent months raised political temperatures in the region and there were fears that tit could boil over into a full-blown conflict.
"I have been shocked and dismayed at the verbal attack and criticism levelled against me by Rwandan officials," Mr Kikwete said.
"What they are doing and saying does not reflect the true position …. (it is) completely out of proportion and out of context."
He accused Rwanda’s leaders of making inflammatory statements that have sent engagement between the two members of the East African Community to its lowest levels.
Without naming them, the President said: "Utterances of Rwandan leaders towards me and our country is evidence of that (turbulent relations)."
The origin of the war of words between Kigali and Dar would appear to be President Kikwete’s recent suggestion that Rwanda should negotiate with the rebels fighting it from bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kigali has been greatly offended by Mr Kikwete’s call during the last AU Summit in Addis Ababa, with state officials and the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front operatives going into overdrive in their rejection of the appeal.
Rwanda’s minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms Louise Mushikiwabo, was the senior-most official to speak against Mr Kikwete. She equated Mr Kikwete’s remarks with defending those accused of the 1994 genocide against the minority Tutsi.
Bloggers from both sides have also traded barbs and taken the stand-off to a higher level--which probably explains Mr Kikwete’s move to break the ice.
In his address Friday, Mr Kikwete declared that his call for dialogue had been misunderstood. He said he had restrained himself as there was no reason to jump on each other’s throats or escalate a non-issue. “Two wrongs do not make a right,” he added.
The President said he had chosen to ignore insults from Rwanda in the best interest of the people of the two nations.
"It is not because I do not know how to speak or that I do not have anything to say," he said.
"I haven’t done so because I do not see its benefit. I want to assure my fellow Tanzanians and our Rwandan friends that I, my government and the people of Tanzania want to have good relations and close cooperation with Rwanda as we have with all our neighbours."
He pledged that Tanzania would continue pursuing and nurturing good neighbourliness and foreign policies.