Why is Tan­za­nia so quiet?

Tehran Times - - INTERNATIONAL - By Elsie Eyakuze

How has Tan­za­nia been far­ing un­der the stew­ard­ship of one John Pombe Magu­fuli these past 24 months? The short an­swer is that we are still be­ing our usual de­pend­ably peace­ful quiet selves, stub­bornly re­fus­ing to feed into the “Africa is a Head­case” nar­ra­tive at some cost to our­selves.

If you take a look around the neigh­bor­hood, you can imag­ine how we have learned to work this im­age in our fa­vor. It keeps the donors and in­vestors happy, and more im­por­tantly, it means no­body is try­ing to learn Kiswahili and ac­tu­ally lis­ten in on our busi­ness. This year we can be thank­ful that Kenya - our beloved sib­ling and most an­noy­ing ri­val - is keep­ing it to­gether as best it can, so far. They have held the in­ter­na­tional press busy and dis­tracted, bless them.

The Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, also con­sid­er­ing a flir­ta­tion with vot­ing, has never been a repub­lic nor in­deed mean­ing­fully demo­cratic, but we’re liv­ing in the hope that some­day soon it could hap­pen. They too, thank­fully, have sim­i­larly kept the in­ter­na­tional press busy and dis­tracted.

No­tice that both coun­tries are be­ing led by sons of for­mer pres­i­dents, a par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stance we have yet to ex­pe­ri­ence in good old Tan­za­nia and are do­ing our best to avoid.

Real men of land

We like our pres­i­dents to be real men of the land, vil­lage-born boys raised on pub­lic school­ing and schol­ar­ships, boys who grew up to be long-suf­fer­ing civil ser­vants molded by our most de­pend­able in­sti­tu­tion: the state.

I am just back from Mwanza, the largest city in the Lake Zone of Tan­za­nia where Pres­i­dent John Pombe Magu­fuli chose to cel­e­brate his first bi­en­nial this Novem­ber. It was in­ter­est­ing to hear lo­cal opin­ions about his visit as this part of the coun­try is an­ces­tral home for us both.

We are not a “peace­ful” coun­try by de­fault so much as by de­sign …

More so for Pres­i­dent Magu­fuli who has never lost the heavy clunk­i­ness of his Sukuma ac­cent. His speeches are more in­ter­est­ing for it in our mel­liflu­ous honey-bell of a cre­ole lan­guage, Kiswahili. In it, my pres­i­dent usu­ally sounds overly-ex­cited, fu­ri­ous and gauche. To be fair, he tends to have a lit­tle bit of all of that go­ing on at any given mo­ment.

On the main thor­ough­fare con­nect­ing Mwanza City to the air­port, there is a bridge that Pres­i­dent Magu­fuli for­mally opened dur­ing his stint in the city be­fore mov­ing on to re­moter parts to im­press vil­lagers who don’t have run­ning wa­ter with the shine of his mo­tor­cade. This bridge he opened is, in fact, a pedes­trian bridge, and the only one I have ever seen that puts on a light show at night. In many ways, this one lit­tle thing is in­dica­tive of Pres­i­dent Magu­fuli’s lead­er­ship style so far. There is flash. There is bang. There is also a lot of un­der­whelm. I mean … a foot­bridge?

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good in­ten­tions. No­body has more good in­ten­tions for Tan­za­nia than Pres­i­dent Magu­fuli. While his pres­i­den­tial can­di­dacy was the re­sult of a spec­tac­u­lar fall-out within the grand old party Chama Cha Mapin­duzi (Party of the Rev­o­lu­tion - CCM), dur­ing his cam­paign Magu­fuli the Un­ex­pected made a mas­sive im­pres­sion on a vot­ing pop­u­lace left with few cred­i­ble choices. As we Tan­za­ni­ans like to swing the pen­du­lum be­tween lais­sez-faire and di­rigiste styles of gov­er­nance, his no-non­sense road-build­ing ef­fi­ciency came across well as an an­ti­dote to his pre­de­ces­sor’s ex­treme re­laxed­ness.

True to his word, Magu­fuli has been re­form­ing. He has fear­lessly jailed mag­nates and big cor­rupt names, taxed the liv­ing day­lights out of tax-evad­ing in­dus­tries, and scrubbed the port of Dar-es-Salaam to al­most-clean, to name a few of his feats. The civil ser­vice is be­ing ex­or­cised of ghost work­ers and peo­ple with fake aca­demic cre­den­tials. Roads are be­ing built, and houses are be­ing de­stroyed to make more room for even more roads to be built. Min­is­ters and heads of pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions are get­ting hired on a daily basis, and also fired on a daily basis if they do not meet his high ex­pec­ta­tions. There is less cor­rup­tion of a cer­tain kind. And there is more force be­ing ap­plied.

Pres­i­dent Magu­fuli thinks that school­girls who get preg­nant should be cut off from their right to ed­u­ca­tion and that a free press is a threat to “his” democ­racy. Un­der Magu­fuli we have wit­nessed a level of ha­rass­ment of the op­po­si­tion that is un­prece­dented, cul­mi­nat­ing in an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on the vo­cal lawyer and con­sti­tu­tional rights de­fender Tundu Lissu that shook the na­tion right down to its bone mar­row. The pres­ence of state se­cu­rity or­gans in pub­lic has gone from com­fort­ing to men­ac­ing. There is a dark­ness creep­ing upon us.

A vi­sion of united na­tion

Our so­cial con­tract is un­writ­ten in Tan­za­nia but it is there, and we abide by it. This has never been a one-man show, not since Tan­za­nia’s first Pres­i­dent Julius Ny­erere apol­o­gized to us for get­ting eco­nom­ics so hor­ri­bly wrong when he re­tired in 1985, and we grap­pled on with the vi­sion of a na­tion united.

We are not a “peace­ful” coun­try by de­fault so much as by de­sign, though no mat­ter how many times I write this out loud, fel­low Africans do not want to hear it. Ap­par­ently, com­plex­ity is bor­ing.

As much as Magu­fuli is do­ing the best he can, he is also do­ing the worst he can. Never in my short life has the govern­ment of my beloved coun­try been more con­ser­va­tive, more in­tol­er­ant, more para­noid and eco­nom­i­cally il­lit­er­ate and im­per­vi­ous to good ad­vice, more sad­dled with gun-happy thugs. I want to say that this is new. Three re­tired pres­i­dents live in my city, and we have buried one: there is some in­sight that comes with this sort of thing. So yeah, this is new. And not un­ex­pected.

John Pombe Magu­fuli has had an in­ter­est­ing two years in of­fice. The first two years are al­ways tough for ev­ery­one: the in­cum­bent is find­ing his feet and get­ting drenched in the murky wa­ters of head of state­hood. Our repub­lic has al­ways been di­vided about our pres­i­dent, no mat­ter who he is or was. Some of us love them, some of us don’t, and all of this is done in Kiswahili where no out­sider can get a look-in. This coun­try re­ally is a repub­lic and if Pres­i­dent Magu­fuli is go­ing to make it through the oblig­a­tory ten-year term, two years in is far too early to be cer­tain about any­thing. They only break at five, so I am afraid it is too soon to tell.

In the mean­time, we are go­ing to keep it steady, plough the fields and keep the ele­phants un-ex­tinct and all of that. Check again in about an­other two years when the gen­eral elec­tions are hot­ting up, there might be some­thing to say then.

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