Tanzania has long been at the forefront of African affairs and has taken a leadership role in East Africa. Tanzania's influence has been greatest in the regional arena, and the country adopted an active role in the Organization for African Unity (OAU) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). From the time of Tanzania's own independence, the government has openly supported liberation movements throughout southern Africa. Tanzania maintains close ties with Uganda, Mozambique and Zambia. The East African Community's collapse in 1977 resulted in a complete breakdown in relations between Tanzania and Kenya. However, under the leadership of Mkapa and his colleagues, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, a close relationship between the three countries was reestablished with the signing of an East African Cooperation treaty in Arusha, Tanzania, on 31 November 1999.
During Mkapa's first term, relations with Burundi were problematic. In July 1996 the Mkapa administration, in cooperation with other regional governments, imposed sanctions on the Burundi military regime following the overthrow of a democratically elected Hutu led government by Tutsi extremists. Relations remained uneasy as a civil war erupted in Burundi and Tanzania was accused with complicity in rebel attacks. This issue was exacerbated by an increasing number of Burundians seeking refuge in Tanzania throughout 1996 and 1997. Despite the tension between the two states, peace talks aimed at bringing an end to Burundi's civil war were hosted in Tanzania's northern city of Arusha. The slow-moving talks were facilitated by Julius Nyerere and, after his death, Nelson Mandela, the former South African president. Mkapa's administration continues to work toward peace in this region.
In 2003, Mkapa and South African president Thabo Mbeki worked together to attempt to mediate the growing tension between Uganda and Rwanda. The Uganda People's Congress publicly welcomed the two leader's efforts, but expressed little hope for their success.
Another major foreign policy concern for the Mkapa government is the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo who fled to Tanzania to escape the widespread violence unleashed by the Rwandan genocide in the Great Lakes region. In addition to facilitating regional peace talks, the Tanzanian government has attempted to mobilize international humanitarian support and to repatriate refugees.
After the controversial 2000 election in Zanzibar, several western donors, especially those from the European Union, suspended foreign assistance to the island, pending the outcome of the government/opposition dialogue. However, the United States and Japan continued to provide aid to Zanzibar. In early 2002, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) pledged support to help develop the island's small businesses.
Tanzania did not support the United States/United Kingdom war against Iraq in 2003, preferring that the United Nations provide a peaceful means of disarming Iraq. President Mkapa feared that Tanzania's failure to support the United States might lead to a loss of assistance, especially crucial in 2003 as the UN World Food Programme warned of grave food shortages facing the nation; however, the United States pledged to continue to provide humanitarian and developmental assistance to Tanzania.