Samia’s paradigm shift quest and the missing jigsaw piece

President Samia Suluhu Hassan speaking during a past event. PHOTO | COURTESY


  • I’m the first to admit that prior and even after Samia became head of state, I had a lowly estimation of her. I was even on record referring to her as nothing more than a pretty face. I was pleasantly in for a surprise following her state visit to Kenya. It left me bedazzled quite frankly.

It is just over a year since Mama Samia took over the levers of power. I’m reminded of how a few years after the coming to power in the United Kingdom of the New Labour government led by a youthful Tony Blair, a journalist by the name John Lloyd, expressed the risky view that ‘this has been the best Labour government of the past half century.’ The reaction that followed was a ferocious one from leftist elements of British politics.

At the risk of evoking a harsh response from the Tanzanian intelligentsia, it is my contention that in the history of CCM governments post-Nyerere, ‘this has been the best.’

My basic premise is that the country now has a CEO who inimitably believes in appealing to the better angels of government officers.

Quite recently, she made clear how civil servants acted out of fear of President Magufuli rather than from their hearts.

Her demeanour is businesslike and I’d confidently say that for any minister who enjoys his or her autonomy, this is supposed to be the moment to make a mark. The tourism ministry here quickly comes to mind following the launch of the Royal Tour documentary in the United States.

I’m the first to admit that prior and even after Samia became head of state, I had a lowly estimation of her. I was even on record referring to her as nothing more than a pretty face. I was pleasantly in for a surprise following her state visit to Kenya. It left me bedazzled quite frankly.

There are several criterion by which one can use to measure a leader and this one ticked some of the boxes for me.

It was all about remedying what wrong in our bilateral relations dating back to the Nyerere era. A détente if you like.

I’ll add that my mind is tinged with sadness when I remember the stresses of the late businessman, Reginald Mengi, in his autobiography from a few years ago: “I always felt that the negativity about Kenya did not lie only with the Tanzanian business sector but also with the political leadership that seemed not to be sufficiently bold to accept the realities of globalization and the logic of deeper and wider regional integration...”

I can only imagine his thrill were he alive to see before his very own eyes a leader walking the talk.

In this regard, it is worth noting the thoughts of the late President Mkapa from his memoirs: “My predecessor had initiated the renewal of the EAC and I took this up very willingly because we are pan-Africanist. I really believe in regional integration and see now that I should have pursued this more vigorously. It disappoints me that it is moving so slowly now; this is taking far too long. Though it is hard to persuade some leaders to ‘give up’ national control. Museveni always asks, “What is wrong with you Tanzanians? You are holding us back.”

A case of too little, too late? I’m compelled to state here that it is something beyond me how Mkapa, someone who was most privileged to see at first-hand the EAC in its halcyon days as a student at Makerere University, didn’t do his utmost to ensure regional integration was front and centre of his agenda. This was meant to be his forte. He was president at a very critical hour for Tanzania and could have easily moved mountains on matters EAC. At the very least he could have seen to it that he appoints to the respective ministry men and women with a strong sense of purpose. And that was the time such people really did exist in various shades.

As a matter of fact, Mkapa would even initiate amendments to the constitution towards his second term in order to enable the president to nominate up to ten individuals to parliament as MPs and even ministers. Most unfortunately the appointees were almost without exception nugatory in terms of adding value to our people’s mindset. It reminds me of the words of a UK politician, Micheal Portillo, who was on record saying, “you don’t look tall by surrounding yourself with short grass.”

Now it has taken the lady from the Isles to get the ball rolling, so to speak. I could go so far and talk of a Samia Doctrine. The expectation after such a landmark visit to Kenya was that her key lieutenants would be preoccupied in expounding on what exactly was in store for Tanzanians. Media airwaves and newspaper spaces would be taken up by ministers and top civil servants. Precious little happened.

My hypothesis for this is rather simple. It is in the nature of things that without harnessing leadership talent you end up with a process of atrophy. Tanzania through CCM has allowed an insidious culture of sycophancy to take precedence over meritocracy such that the contours of intellectual thinking have been suffocated.

On this score, I couldn’t be in more agreement with a respected Nigerian business commentator, Wale Akinyemi, writing in the EastAfrican that: “The mindsets and belief systems of people are what determine how they behave. These are shaped by their environment, also known as culture. Strategy lays out what you want to accomplish as an organisation, but culture creates a conducive atmosphere for what you want to achieve.”

What we pitifully find ourselves in consequently is a situation where Samia is ‘streets ahead’ as the Brits would say, vis-à-vis her ministers in every sphere. And whatever number of times a cabinet reshuffle is carried out, the levels of substance are abysmally low - hence, all the recycling of names to parastatals, party positions and ministers.

As a first step to get out of this rut, I resolutely recommend the adoption of a system of parliamentary vetting of public office-bearers. Appointments in this day and age surely can’t just be effected at a stroke of the presidential pen. I sincerely wish that our opposition leaders would see the urgency of this matter rather than wholesale constitutional changes.

Finally, on a light but serious note, I am still struggling to get to grips with the special roles of two former ministers, William Lukuvi and Palamagamba Kabudi. My sense is that these are sinecure jobs for the boys. I pray it is proved otherwise over time.

It goes without saying that a paradigm shift quest in this threadbare CCM matrix is such a tall order!