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The dust of the electoral contest in Tanzania is settling and, as expected, the winning party’s bigwigs are lining up for powerful state appoints even where they do not qualify. But it is time for the new government to immediately begin implementing its agenda for the good of all. On their part, Tanzanians must push the government to serve them as they surely deserve.
(This article first appeared on Pambazuka News, Comments/Analysis issue 750.)
“The oppressed peoples know today that national liberation is a part of process of historic development but they also know that this liberation must be the work of the oppressed people”. Frantz Fanon: Towards African Revolution ©1967
Recently I posted a statement on my Facebook wall, which resulted in a few but interesting comments. The statement read as follows [in Swahili]: “Ninataka Rais John Pombe Magufuli aniteuwe kuwa Waziri wa Nishati na Madini. ‘Kichaa’ mwenzake! Yeye alikuwa tinga tinga wa bara bara na ujenzi, mie nitakuwa buldozer wa hawa washenzi wanaoilawiti nchi yetu kijamii, kiuchumi na kimazingira!” (I want President John Pombe Magufuli to appoint me the Minister for Energy and Minerals. His ‘nutty’ fellow! He was, before becoming the President, a tractor for the Ministry of Works and Roads. I will be a bulldozer against these savages who are defiling our country socially, economically and environmentally!).
That’s a bold statement. Not ‘perverse’ by any means. The majority who read and responded either supported the idea or had a different view. All this is appreciated. It is appreciated because it does not only show that political engagement is taking root in Tanzania but also that Tanzanians are becoming more open in discussing their views without fear of offending. Yet there are still voices of dissent and reserved undertones.
One of the comments suggested I had made a joke that did not go as intended and the statement did not present who this reader and friend believes I am. “Nilifikiri unamnukuu mtu (I thought you were quoting another person). You are always thoughtful, critical and philosophical (which is kind of rare these days). Is this just a failed attempt at humour?” read the comment. This got me thinking of where we have come from, the social and political mannerisms we have adopted and the kind of associational life we have decided upon.
Status Quo, Politicians and the Citizenry
For a long time, Tanzanians have developed and evidenced features of political animosity, passivity and indolence. Such traits are easily found among the citizenry and politicians alike. Individual politicians have adopted and tied themselves to political policies, political philosophies and beliefs held by their parties. The citizenry have also built a bias that could be suggested to have impacted their ability to judge the ‘astuteness’ of political leaders correctly. This attitude could be attributed to the fact that the people of Tanzania are extremely fatigued by unconstructive and ‘less’ progressive politics. But this may be a too generous assumption.
Reactions to the Facebook status message came at a decisive time in Tanzania: the period of making a ‘new’ cabinet. Tanzania has just concluded its general elections. This saw a new president sworn into office. This is a ‘new’ person, with different perspectives, it is hoped, even though he comes from a political party that has been at the helm for so many years – decades: Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
For the majority of Tanzanians, especially the part of the populace who believe in one party rule, CCM’s continued hold on power is something to be proud of. To this group, it would seem, CCM getting back to power does not represent the gigantic responsibility and urgency with which the country’s affairs – social, political, economic and security-wise – should be treated.
Coming with the making of the ‘new’ cabinet is the expectation among CCM members to be slotted ministerial and other high posts in President Magufuli’s cabinet. This is a common expectation. What is not common about this political tradition, and as has been witnessed many times in the Tanzanian Parliament, government ministries and departments, is that politicians become lazy and apathetic in their duties to their constituents. Such politically partisan attitudes have worked against realising true political liberation at party levels. As well, most politicians in Tanzania struggle with accepting alternative political views from opposing parties. In other words, our politicians are mentally and politically enslaved and ‘dumbed-down’.
This only echoes common colonial and now neocolonial elements characterised by active or passive military occupation, economic exploitation and cultural/political silencing. In his book ‘Toward the African revolution’ Fanon (1967) puts it this way: “Every urge toward an expression of our nation that is in conformity with its history, faithful to its tradition, and linked to the very sap of its soil finds itself limited, stopped [and] broken”. (pg. 115)
Political Power and Its Implications
Taking the ‘reins’ of power, once and again, is both a thing to be proud of and something to revere. It is not a cause to be overtly proud about. Not especially in the current century we live in. Political discourses of this century do not have room for vain glory – politically speaking. In this century of enlightenment no one can boast to know more than the other, albeit levels of understanding differ from one field to the other. This is just one side of the coin.
The other side would assert that no one should think of themselves too ignorant for their perspectives to be ignored. Every effort and every idea from the lowest to the highest in the society should be given due consideration. This way all citizens from the least to the greatest in the society will assume their responsibility in nation building. As clearly evidenced from the recent polls in Tanzania, no political power is invincible to the winds of sociopolitical change.
This is a time to ask difficult questions. It is also that time in the history of Tanzania for the citizenry to accept that the change we want socially, politically, economically and environmentally begins from and within our local contexts. No politician will effect such changes as our communities would like to see. It is also a time to remind the citizenry that if the political representatives are going to do their work, the citizenry – the people of Tanzania, MUST remind, push and perpetually reiterate their needs. Therefore, being in power is both a big undertaking as well as a responsibility on the political leaders as well as citizens of all political inclinations.
Utopic Daydreams vs Reality
I posted the statement on Facebook during one of those politically inclined reflective moments. Before posting this statement, I was reflecting on what would be the ideal situation in Tanzania now as President John Magufuli embarks on making a ‘new’ cabinet. In my reflections, I felt the real weight of the saying ‘common is boring’ politically. It has become customary in Tanzania, indeed in other parts of the world as well, that ministerial and other government positions are always given to people from the same ruling party.
Looked at critically and from a broader perspective, in the context of Tanzania, this trend has acted as a catalyst for slothfulness, lack of political innovation and lack of will power among state actors. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that Tanzanians have witnessed legislators and ministers who have contributed dismally to the major discussions around development in the country, leave alone development in the political constituencies they represent. The majority of legislators from the ruling party evidence political and economic ignorance as they cannot contribute in such discussions as presented by many legislators from the opposition parties.
In other cases, especially on graft, partisan appointments make it easy for the culprits to get away with economic crimes. In the history of Tanzania, it has not been easy for the government to prosecute its own: Unless there was enough pressure and the nature of graft or abuse of office by their member would bring irreparable damage to the ruling party’s reputation. In most cases, ministers and their deputies would commit such economic crimes and still feel comfortable in the skins. This they do as they know that they would only be transferred to a different ministry or department.
This scenario got me into the utopic daydream mode. Questions such as: what would happen if the newly installed President of the United Republic of Tanzania, John Magufuli, decided to select a member of the opposition party into his ‘new’ cabinet? What would happen if President Magufuli were to decide to fill all major positions on the basis of academic qualification, professional competence and experience? How would the party cadres feel if President John Magufuli were to abandon ‘the norm’: ministerial and departmental positions given as awards to loyal members of the ruling party even if they do not qualify for such top and sensitive positions? Would such steps as suggested in the questions improve political innovation, democracy and economic competitiveness at the regional, continental and international arena? But all this is just daydreaming.
However, this is not an impossible political gesture but it has not been done. For example, the world recently witnessed political changes in several countries in Afrika, North America, Europe and Latin America, etc. But one of the memorable accounts, I actually witnessed this, on TV is the recent Canadian electoral process. With the hype that was borne for the whole campaign period coupled by a longing to kick the Conservative Party under the leadership of Stephen Harper out of power, strategic voters voted Justine Trudeau into the premiership. Shortly after the electoral process came to an end, there was immediately the petition that called on Canada’s ‘new’ Prime Minister to appoint the leader of the Green party of Canada Elizabeth May as Environment Minister. But when it came to cabinet selection, it was all Liberals. Understandably, this is done in the belief that party routines, guidelines and policies will be guarded.
In Tanzania, it is the very opposite. After the electoral process which revealed several flaws, including the cancellation of Zanzibar’s election results, the opposition have declared unwillingness to work with John Magufuli’s government. And the people of Tanzania seem to be OK with this announcement. This may be a sign of what was referred to as “extreme sociopolitical fatigue” experienced by the people. But it may also just be the fact that the people of Tanzania have accepted their lot in life. They have accepted to live a poor but a ‘peaceful’ life while their leaders – the leaders they have voted for – wallow in wealth on their backs.
The Indefatigable Reality
Be that as it may, the main task ahead of the ‘new’ cabinet to be announced soon in Tanzania will be to grapple with questions navigating the main social, political, economic and environmental challenges faced by the people of Tanzania. Hand in hand with this is the need for the people of Tanzania to ask themselves: whose responsibility is it to deal with social, political, economic and environmental challenges? And who has the bigger responsibility in tackling social, political, economic and environmental challenges? What means and methodologies can we use to regain our glory as a peace-loving country, politically stable country, literate country and a country whose resources will be for the improvement of its people’s livelihoods? These, I assume, are questions that will need to be asked for the next five years before the next general election. They must also be answered honestly by all Tanzanians.
It should be remembered, however, that social, economic and political advancement does not come by ascribing to partisan politics. Tanzania as well as other countries in Afrika need to adopt progressive political learning strategies. This means there must be, in place, an open political platform and willingness to learn from past mistakes, adjust to the recommended strategies – especially those which prioritises the needs and wellbeing of the citizenry and implement them. Besides, political parties and politicians must realise that it is a show of political incompetence to borrow a leaf from other political parties, political differences notwithstanding.
This therefore, is not a time for politicians, political parties and the citizenry to create political walls of isolation. Rather, it is a time for critical, progressive and constructive observation of the ruling party as it seeks to lay implementation strategies for the promises made to the people of Tanzania. While doing that, the people of Tanzania should focus on becoming proactive in activities that would increase political awareness in the country with a purpose to establish a Tanzanian society which is not ready to be swindled off their constitutional and democratic rights: the right to decide their right by the ballot.