Relations between Dar es Salaam and Kigali soured over the past few years following allegations from some quarters in Rwanda that former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete's government was sympathetic to Rwanda’s exiled opposition and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels.
Magufuli chose Rwanda as the destination of his first trip outside Tanzania since becoming president by making a two-day official visit, signaling a warming up of relations between the two countries.
During the visit, President Magufuli and his host President Paul Kagame presided over the grand opening of the Rusumo international bridge and one-stop border post, which are significant facilities developed under the auspices of the East African Community (EAC).The infrastructure located on the Tanzania-Rwanda border is vital in not only accelerating cross border interaction between the two countries, but also in enhancing linkage between the land locked countries of eastern and central Africa and the Indian Ocean.
After the inaugural ceremony on Wednesday, the two leaders proceeded to Kigali where they held bilateral talks and together laid a wreath yesterday at the Kigali genocide memorial.
"As his first foreign visit since assuming office in October 2015, this visit signifies the importance Tanzania attaches in strengthening relations with its neighbours," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, East African, Regional and International Cooperation said in a statement.
As the current chairman of the EAC, President Magufuli’s first foreign visit to the region also portrays his commitment to deepening the integration process and strengthening relations between EAC member states, said the foreign affairs ministry.
Relations between Tanzania and Rwanda soured in May 2013 after Kikwete suggested in an African Union meeting in Ethiopia, that the Rwandan government should hold peace talks with FDLR rebel group to end violence in the eastern Democratic Republic Congo (DRC).
Diplomatic tensions between two countries escalated after Tanzania also accused Rwanda of backing former M23 rebels in eastern DRC.
According to analysts, the two countries now seem to have buried the hatchet after the few years of frosty relations and have opened a new chapter of bilateral relationship.
A Dar es Salaam-based political analyst, Jenerali Ulimwengu, said that Magufuli's visit to Rwanda was a significant moment in ties between the two countries.
"The choice of visiting neighbouring Rwanda is bound to be significant and important in the sense that he (Magufuli) wanted to solve a few problems that existed prior to his coming to the presidency. I think he and his counterpart President Kagame have laid a very firm foundation for future cooperation," Ulimwengu told an international radio network.
"We now have an opportunity to close that chapter and move on, to a more logical engagement. It was unfortunate that president Jakaya Kikwete made that statement probably not knowing exactly how hard Rwandans will be."
When opening the Rusumo bridge on Wednesday, the two leaders urged Rwandans and Tanzanians to actively use the border crossing to enhance two-way trade.
“We want trade to increase because that will be to the benefit of both the people of Rwanda and the people of Tanzania,” President Kagame said.
Likewise, President Magufuli pledged to foster stronger cooperation with the Rwandan government.
“Tanzania will cooperate very well with Rwanda. I would like to ask businesspeople in both countries of Rwanda and Tanzania and citizens from the entire EAC to work together and build our unity. I trust that we can build our countries’ economies by working together,” Magufuli said in a short speech.
He thanked President Kagame for inviting him to visit Rwanda and described him as both a friend and brother, while also emphasising that Tanzania will remain a friend of Rwanda.
“I normally don’t like to travel because I am busy at work and I want to save on resources. I have been invited to go to many places, including Europe and I haven’t been able to make it. But when President Kagame invited me, I had to come.” Magufuli said.
Magufuli returned to Dar es Salaam yesterday after his maiden foreign trip as president.