How we can uphold Nyerere’s legacy

Tuesday October 8 2019

President John Magufuli reads a placard held

President John Magufuli reads a placard held aloft by citizens in one of his tours across the country. The President has been blaming his aides at the local governmentlevel for abject failure to deal with the people’s grievances - thus frustrating his efforts to transform the country for the better. PHOTO | FILE 

By Khalifa Said @ThatBoyKhalifax ksaid@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. As Tanzanians prepare to mark the 20th anniversary of the demise of the founder of Tanzanian nationalism, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, his legacy will no doubt be used both by admirers and critics of the fifth-phase government of President John Magufuli as a benchmark to judge its successes and failures after almost four years in office.

The anniversary comes at an especially monumental time as the fifty-eight-year old nation-state prepares for local government and general elections, scheduled for November 2019 and October 2020 respectively. The elections are to serve as a measure of President Magufuli’s leadership: a man whom some observers have dubbed ‘the Nyerere of our time!’

The looming elections will take place in an environment of open political polarisation, with accusations and counter-accusations being traded almost daily between opposition political parties and the veteran ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM).

While the former accuse the Magufuli administration for leading the country on the path of authoritarianism, the latter claim that, never in the history of Tanzania has the country undergone transformation as it is doing under the Magufuli regime.

The back-and-forth arguments have gone beyond mere political rhetoric to physical attacks among members of some of the political parties.

Analysts show concern that the trend does not augur well for the national unity that Mwalimu Nyerere preached. They are also fearful that the political squabbles distract efforts to deal with more pressing national issues that would result in the eradication of diseases, ignorance and poverty; the three public enemies identified by Mwalimu.

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Although a staunch proponent of single party democracy in the beginning, Mwalimu was nonetheless optimistic that, with the statutory re-introduction of multi-party democracy in 1992, Tanzania would evolve into what he considered bona fide democracy that would be a buffer to efforts to transform the country for the better people’s social, political and economic outlook.

But, twenty years without Mwalimu, it seems that efforts to realise his dream have stagnated – with some analysts stating that they have been regressing, thus delaying efforts to fully democratise Tanzania.

This – along with many other issues of national concern – is expected to take centre-stage in the forthcoming days as the nation reflects on the passing away of its Number One hero and icon worthy of veneration.

Mwalimu Nyerere was universally known for his unwavering opposition against any form of discrimination. To him, people-centred socio-economic development could never be achieved as long as leaders squabble with each other.

Arguably, this is what is taking place in the United Republic at present, where a ban on political rallies in the name of “bringing development to the people” is being enforced. The ban has subjected several opposition politicians into constant police harassment whereby sometimes even their internal party meetings are disrupted by the police.

If he were alive today, Mwalimu’s possible reaction to such malpractice would have been harsh reprimand. As if responding to those who justify the treatment – the trashing of the multi-party democratic principles in the name of ‘development’ –, Mwalimu would remind them (as he pointed out in his October 1998 speech as chairman of the South Commission) that “a country does not have to be rich in order to be democratic!”

He would go on to stress, as he did in the speech, that an essential ingredient of democracy – “the equality of all the people within a nation’s boundaries” – should be taken into account; and, that, the laws of the land apply to all people without exception.

“The nation’s constitution must provide methods by which the people can, without recourse to violence, control the government which emerges under it – and even specify the means for its amendment.”

The “methods” include – but are not limited to – organising protests, demonstrations and political rallies. None of these methods – their constitutional guarantee notwithstanding – are applicable in the current political situation, at least those intended to enable the people “to control the government,” as Mwalimu Nyerere pointed out.

But the people’s inability to control the government using the methods allowed by the Constitution has adversely affected the citizenry. Several issues that affect the daily life of ordinary Tanzanians remain unsolved/unresolved – thus hampering the good efforts of President Magufuli to deal with them. Analysts see this as one of the underlying contradictions inherent in the fifth phase administration.

If there is something that many analysts agree on, it is the clear determination by President Magufuli to deal with the people’s grievances for the betterment of the country and its people.

Few people, if any, question Mr Magufuli’s true intention to change the country; but many express concern in the ways this change is being brought about.

Indeed, some of the initiatives that President Magufuli has taken since he took office on November 5, 2015 have borne fruit.

For example, massive infrastructural development projects are going on across the country; monthly public revenue collections have been rising – thanks to the efforts taken to curb tax evasion; the introduction of fees-free schooling has helped in the right to education for children from poor backgrounds; the fight against corruption seems to be working; restoration of discipline in the public service...

However, some challenges persist – and this is as long as Tanzanians are unable to exercise their collective agency in ‘controlling’ their government.

A recurrent theme in the official trips that Mr Magufuli has been making in various parts of the country is the inability of local authorities to effectively address people’s grievances.

This means that the people wait for the President to visit their areas; that is when they present their demands to him for action. This irritates Mr Magufuli no end – and he has been frank about it on different occasions.

Any grassroots efforts aimed at prodding local authorities to be more accountable to the people seem not to work.

It is not surprising, then, to see workers in the extractives industry pleading with President Magufuli to meet them – as he did with employers and businesspeople from the extractives sub-sector.

They want Mr Magufuli to meet them so that they, too, can directly submit their grievances to him as did their employers in their meeting with him in Dar es Salaam on January 29, 2019.

The President also did hold a meeting with business owners/operators in Dar es Salaam on June 7, 2019.

Workers in the transportation sector will mark this year’s anniversary of Mwalimu Nyerere’s death on October 14. Meanwhile, they wonder when the Magufuli government will make a follow-up on the Prime Minister Commission formed as a result of the strike organised by the workers on May 5, 2015, to pressurise the government to intervene and safeguard their interests. They, too, want a meeting with the President.

As President of the United Republic of Tanzania from 1962 to 1985, Mwalimu Nyerere spent his whole life lecturing on the importance of the people – and their inclusion/involvement in deciding the path of their development.

These are but only a few examples of the automatic consequences of ignoring the Mwalimu’s call to make sure that people are free to apply constitutional methods not only to control their government, but also to articulate their grievances in seeking their solution.

As Tanzanians remember the Father of their Nation on October 14 this year, it is hoped that citizens – as well as their leaders – will reflect on that wisdom, and make the necessary amends.