OPINION: President Mkapa: Surely, you cannot be serious!

Saturday November 30 2019

Former President Benjamin Mkapa displays his

Former President Benjamin Mkapa displays his memoir titled ‘My Life, My Purpose’ at its launch in Dar es Salaam on November 12 this year. PHOTO | ERICKY BONIPHACE 

By Andrew Bomani

The headline to this article was taken from a book written by tennis legend John McEnroe, who famously uttered the words “you cannot be serious” to a Wimbledon umpire in 1981. Upon deep reflection of the much-publicised memoirs of former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa (1995-2005), I found it most apt to invoke McEnroe’s words.

It is probably in a similar spirit that indeed one of the members of the negotiating team of Kenya President Mwai Kibaki during the violence post-the 2007 general election, Martha Karua responded to her adverse mention by Mkapa: “Let him have fun!”

From the outset, I must state that I have a more than usual recollection of Mkapa’s presidency for two important reasons.

The first being that he assumed the highest office of the land at a very interesting and critical juncture for Tanzania following the return to multi-party politics.

The issues facing the country then needed a leader with unique qualities in order to inculcate a culture of political pluralism.

The second is that it was early in Mkapa’s first presidential term (1995-2000) that I embarked on a very interesting but also challenging degree in Tanzania, called ‘Political Science.’ My political thoughts were in the process of maturing.


I recall university students asking me about the state of politics in Tanzania and to which I would feel a tinge of sadness that I couldn’t take pride in us being a flourishing democracy despite many years of ‘peace.’ Nonetheless, I had a sense of optimism that on one particular score, maybe Mkapa would take profound interest having been an apparent protégé of Mwalimu Nyerere as well as a man who - from the moment he was nominated as the Chama Cha Mapinduzi presidential candidate in 1995 - tried to project himself as a man of conviction.

I am referring here to matters political philosophy and of which came about something called ‘The Third Way,’ or ‘The Renewal of Social Democracy.’ Its chief proponents were Bill Clinton in America and Anthony Blair in Britain.

Its chief theorist was the-then director of the London School of Economics, Lord Anthony Giddens. whose work was translated into more than 25 languages. How I longed for a ki-SwahiIi version!

I personally took the political philosophy to heart and would go out of my way to try and meet Giddens to learn more of his political thinking and how Tanzania with its rich socialist heritage could enjoy a seat at the high table.

I should add that I always wondered what Nyerere would have made himself of the “The Third Way”, given its strong commitment to leftist values for the exigencies of the new age.

Alas, my hopes for Tanzania being a part of this movement were dashed as the years passed by.

As much as Giddens himself would lament how political leaders were more often interested in a pragmatic approach, I was always deeply curious as to how Mkapa was such an animated advocate of the notion of globalisation in his presidency to the extent of being appointed the co-chair of the ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, yet would hardly give any attention to nurturing an all-encompassing philosophy that would resonate with the Tanzanian public.

I do recall a political journalist from the UK once making the point to paraphrase her ‘that political parties have to keep searching for a philosophy or they rot completely.’ And none other than Nyerere warned CCM in 1992 about the perils of going down the route of ‘relentless pursuit of pseudo unity at the cost of losing its ideology’.

It is in this context that I could only read with utter bemusement how Mkapa views the state of our political parties and that specifically CCM has a mentality of operating as if in a one-party system.

A forensic examination of the Mkapa era reminds me of what someone in an African country wrote about, namely a ‘poverty of politics’. I will dwell on politics rather than economics as this is no doubt ‘the center of gravity of development’.

It was often the clarion call during Mkapa’s era of “ushindi wa kishindo” at election time and later tsunami victory as if that in itself would enhance service delivery. Instructively, former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said in his introductory paragraph for his pamphlet on the Third Way that: “I HAVE always believed that politics is first and foremost about ideas.

Without a powerful commitment to goals and values, governments are rudderless and ineffective, however large their majorities.”

Not long into his Mkapa’s presidency did we begin to witness in the country incidents of senior leaders competing not to build a common front on which to launch an onslaught on our three principal enemies, but rather to utter reckless things in order to curry favour with the political supremo.

For instance a former prime minister, Frederick Sumaye, stated so brazenly that ‘any businessman who wants his affairs to go smoothly must be on the side of CCM’. Not far off, the vice-chairman of CCM, John Malecela, warned district commissioners that ‘if any constituency under their jurisdiction were to fall into the hands of the opposition, they must consider their jobs as over’.

The psychological damage is there for all and sundry to see currently. In fact before the end of the first term of Mkapa, his government took amendments to parliament such as providing for the head of state to nominate up to ten people to parliament and doing away with the provision of 50+1 for the presidential winner.

All really for the sake of political expediency. By this, one can begin to understand why Mkapa saw it fit to lambast the former chair of the constitutional review committee led by Judge Robert Kisanga for overstepping the remit of their task at hand.

Even the most fundamental issue of independent candidates that was proposed by the committee and Nyerere himself was at pains in 1995 to lend his support, has until today been treated with disdain.

Of equal damage to the nation and an indictment on somebody who was held up by Nyerere as “Mr Clean”, was the perverse notion that came into being of “takrima” or hospitality during elections.

The practice would progressively worsen with each election such that President Kikwete pretended that the eventual solution would be the ‘strict separation of politics from business’ through legislation.

He even attempted to introduce the Anti-Corruption Bureau in electoral politics but today these initiatives have evaporated into thin air.

It was indeed Mkapa who upon election in 1995, came out to declare his wealth to the public. For some strange reason in an interview with the late David Martin from Zimbabwe, he said it would take time to inculcate the culture among his ministers - hence he didn’t wish to enforce it for them.

But come the 2000 election he failed himself to declare any assets and upon his exit in 2005. The entire exercise has been forgotten in the country at our great detriment.

It is worth mentioning as well that shortly after Mkapa’s presidential nomination in 1995, the country witnessed for the first time a presidential debate between four candidates that was quite historic.

It is quite telling that it has never happened since for the patently obvious reasons of disinterest in accountability to the public.

Were Mkapa a serious leader, such a culture would have been so well established to the extent of it being intra-political party. Indeed other countries around the continent would have been citing Tanzania as a country to emulate.

At any rate, Benjamin Mkapa, a man who attained the best education possible for his time at Makerere University, leaves me totally at a loss as to just how he ended up making the kind of errors he is conceding to now.

For the broader sake of sharing leadership experiences in East Africa, its most interesting what a former chancellor of the University of Nairobi, Joseph Wanjui, had to say when contrasting two former presidents of Kenya: “

A fundamental difference between Kibaki and his immediate predecessor was that President Kibaki was an educated man.

To some people that may seem trivial; but the reality is: it is not! An educated leader is worlds apart from one who is not.

Even when he makes mistakes, as all leaders must do, they are not of the order of those made by the uneducated leader. Museveni is an educated man. He has made his share of political mistakes, such as changing the constitution to prolong his rule.

But only a deranged simpleton would compare Museveni’s blunders to those of, say, Idi Amin.

He adds: “My observation is that Moi is something of an enigma, as this is the same man who put on a great show of promoting education by helping to build many schools. Yet the same person who criss-crossed the country fund-raising for education is the same person who showed a strange aversion to educated people.Having friends of one level or another is not the issue; the problem is when you use people of low education as instruments of dominating other communities...”

I dare say that Mkapa is a ‘something of an enigma’ as for starters during his reign, the disastrous problem today of even some public officers’ daring to acquire dubious educational qualifications appears to have began taking root.

And in some rather incredulous fashion last year, Mkapa came out in public to state that the education sector in Tanzania is in a state of crisis and urging an urgent dialogue.

He went on to add that he is also a citizen with a right to express himself. Indeed, all those with fresh memories will remember just how his government led by the late education minister, Joseph Mungai, took to task an NGO called Haki Elimu that was doing sterling work.

More than that, even his visits to the University of Dar es Salaam were so few and far between and of a testy nature. It is fair to say in my estimation that the enigmatic Mkapa was actually an intellectual president who was anti-intellectual! Any serious president would have wanted to transform education standards in the country to the extent of engendering a healthy culture of debate right from the schools.

Fortuitously, Nyerere’s last major speech on education at the Open University should have served as an excellent guide to what exactly to pursue going forward.

For Mkapa to have cited Nyerere at his book launch as his mentor and then neglect education was deplorable!

In addition, Mkapa was once upon a time the minister for higher education.

All in all, there are many more areas that Mkapa is to be found wanting and in my estimation is seriously damaged goods.

Thankfully, he stated himself at a meeting of former presidents and prime ministers etc at State House that he would like to hear more use by leaders of the words CCM government.

I couldn’t agree more with this since it gives real purchase tragically in our context to the French expression that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

CCM Presidents despite their relatively high number since independence have been a huge let-down and it’s a credit to Tanzanians just how they have kept body and soul together over the decades.

Mr Andrew Bomani is the acting publicity secretary of the United Democratic Party. Email: a_bomani@yahoo.com