April 2022 will mark 100 years since the birth of our beloved father of the nation, Mwalimu Nyerere. No doubt it will be an event of its own significance. On the 22nd anniversary of his death today, I’ll examine two aspects to do with Nyerere, with the latter being a typical case of why he said that leaders should at least wait until he dies then they could undo as they wish.
To start with, it is very instructive indeed how Nyerere’s successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, narrates an incident from 1987 in his recently launched autobiography that to me was the initial dismantling of Nyerere’s principles.
According to Mwinyi, “...one indication that leaders were disentangling themselves from some of the principles of Nyerere was on a motion that sprung up during the Budget session of Parliament. Prior to that, as a result of Nyerere’s positive influence, Tanzanians used to refer themselves as “Ndugu” (Brother). Personally, I liked that very much. During that session they decided that starting then they are going to be known as ‘Honourable’.”
“It was a very hot debate in and out of the National Assembly. Nyerere also intervened and made it clear he did not agree with that decision and proposed that if the MPs so desired to be given another title then let it be ‘Ndugu Mheshimiwa Mbunge’. It should be remembered that by being called ‘Ndugu’ it was an indication of a society and county that did not have classes and consequently an important part of ujamaa. By demanding to be called ‘Honourable’, the MPs were openly opposing Nyerere’s idea and bringing classes amongst Tanzanians. The MPs were insistent despite Nyerere’s pains and today even at the level of local government they use the same title.”(my translation)
With what Mwinyi has revealed, one particular aspect that I do happen to remember is that during his tenure he was often referred to as Mtukufu Rais (His Holiness the President) rather than Ndugu Rais. I wonder how he himself got to that stage. Then when Nyerere’s protégé Mkapa was elected in 1995 he stated his wish not to be called Mtukufu but just Mheshimiwa Rais or Honourable President. So we were finally done with Ndugu Rais.
This sense of aggrandisement now leads me tragically to a matter that I’d say is the final nail in Nyerere’s coffin. And it happened not long after his death in 1999. In a clip that so coincidentally resonated with me, prior to his ascension to the Zambian presidency, Hakainde Hichilema posits: “Frankly speaking, if you are seeking the presidency and you expect the taxpayer in a compound to build you a 5 million dollar home there must be something wrong with you. Leaders in Africa must be assisting people to build homes, to acquire homes and not to be in front of the queue. I think it is a shame.”
This law on presidential retirement homes is what I rightly call the “Mkapa Law”. And to my mind it probably falls in the category of the worst laws ever passed in Tanzania.
And I dare any reader to tell me of any self-respecting country that practices such a law. The most I’ve heard is that if anything what President HH was referring to was actually emulated from Tanzania. May or may not be the case.
There are so many questions that go begging in all this but the most fundamental one to ask is that if a home needs to be provided to a former president it means that essentially that person did not in the first place have a decent home prior to becoming president.
Amongst the several questions that any right-thinking Tanzanian ought to ask themselves on this law is how is it that the leader who introduced it in the first place is a direct beneficiary of it. Isn’t it the case that such a law ratified ought to have applied to only those who came after Mkapa? As it is, even his predecessor is a beneficiary whereas laws aren’t supposed to be retrospective.
Equally, does this law apply, say, only to heads of state who have completed their two terms? Suppose a person were to lose an election after a single term? Upon, say, the death of a former president and spouse, what happens then to the home? The law of the land only recognises a spouse, and not any children. Shouldn’t it then be returned to the state as other government assets like vehicles are? One can patently see that it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and sits quintessentially with Nyerere’s incisive message to Tanzanians on living like parasites. This state parasitism is the final nail in Mwalimu’s coffin!