Is Ndugai’s resignation ‘fabulous news’ for Tanzania?

Thursday January 13 2022
Ndugai pic
By Charles Makakala

Hon. Job Ndugai has resigned from the position of Speaker of the National Assembly in Tanzania. This follows his public criticism of the President regarding national debt. That was followed by a brutal, more public reaction from the Head of State.
The flexing of the president’s muscles - which ultimately made the Speaker’s position untenable for Mr Ndugai - has attracted the attention of many. But that obsession will reveal nothing that we didn’t already know: that - thanks to Ndugai and his cronies - Tanzania is a state that is led by the government which has unrestrained powers.
When a government with unrestrained powers gets into the hands of wicked leaders, it can do unlimited harm. Germany’s Adolf Hitler was a head of government. So was Russia’s Joseph Stalin and Uganda’s Idi Amin. That’s why the main task of democracy has always been to restrain government tyranny. This is the duty that Tanzanians gave to Ndugai. And, being the Speaker during the late President Magufuli’s reign was a massive opportunity to display solid leadership.
But, alas, at the time that Tanzanians most needed a functional Parliament, rarely, if ever, was a critical voice raised. Citizens’ rights were taken so cheaply; life became so precarious, and Ndugai appointed himself Magufuli’s head cheerleader!
One of the first things that Magufuli did was to end live broadcasts of Parliament sessions. The decision was quite unpopular, but Ndugai went along with it by evicting private media from Parliament even when they offered to bear the costs of transmission. With one stroke, opposition MPs were silenced and the institution was castrated.  
From Parliament, when the media limelight shifted to the President, Ndugai was more than happy to join Magufuli’s entourage. Dozens of powerful men and women from all corners of the nation were paraded in front of the media almost daily – so many valuable man-hours wasted just to lionise one man! But, what was most extraordinary was seeing how the head of one pillar of state so brazenly subordinating himself to the other! Remarkable.
While that was happening, Parliament rubber-stamped many highly questionable laws, party-less MPs were illegally admitted into the parliament, and even when Covid-19  was wrecking lives, Ndugai stood by watching! But, as the Swahili say: Mungu si Athumani. Covid hit the right places and the nation was set free.
Finally, on top of everything, Ndugai went as far as to say that he would change the law to extend Magufuli’s reign, saying the infamous words – ‘Atake, Asitakee:’ whether Magufuli wanted or not!  The man was completely out of touch with reality.
In my opinion, it is quite fitting that Ndugai should be devoured by the beast that he was supposed to keep in check but he instead pampered and let loose. Tanzanians should shed no crocodile tears here.
But what about the validity of the speech that got Ndugai in trouble? What about it? Once we set aside any pretence for democratic process, any pretext can be used to punish anyone. That said, for a man in his position to say what he said, against the president, outside of parliament, it displays a serious lack of contextual intelligence.
This is the person who authorised the borrowing of tens of trillions of shillings during Magufuli era, without saying a word – so, for him to criticise Mama Samia so early in her tenure for doing the same thing, how hypocritical! The President was right to respond the way she did.
Moreover, the Speaker made two fundamental mistakes which, in my opinion, exposed his incompetence for occupying such an exalted position. One, he supported the mobile money levy – a truly bad idea. Two, he questioned the need for borrowing to finance economic growth – a matter of common sense the world over. Tanzanians can do better.
Finally, assuming that Ndugai actually cared about the mounting national debt, he could have proactively started this discussion in Parliament and passed a resolution. Instead, he went out to complain like a common man. That is dereliction of duty.

Once I had the privilege of talking to one foreign dignitary who had met Mr Ndugai as Speaker. When he asked him about the treatment of the political opposition in Tanzania, the former Speaker said he doesn’t like the political opposition. Asked why, he said that ‘they never say anything positive about the government’! Now, isn’t that telling?
While shrewd politicians strive to remain relevant to the public, Ndugai strived to remain relevant to the government. He seemed to owe his position to the President - and saw himself as an extension of the Presidency. So, it was his primary duty to defend it. Unfortunately, the moment he forgot his position, he discovered that he had nothing to hang on to.  Hon Ndugai’s departure as a Speaker should be wonderful news for Tanzania.
As the  way forward, this is the time for Mama Samia to show visionary leadership. As much as she needs to consolidate her power, surrounding herself with sycophants is not the way to go.
What a self-respecting Speaker would allow the government to select members of Parliamentary Committees for him? Tanzania needs strong leaders who would respect the sacredness of their positions. That is the only way to ensure prosperity for the people.
To Hon Job Ndugai, I say on behalf of Tanzanians: ‘Thank you for nothing!’