Reportage: 'The miraculous way to prosperity in Tanzania'
Tanzania, April 2016
For years Tanzania was a donor darling country. During many years an enormous amount of money was invested to increase development. Unfortunately, this did not result in anything positive and in 2015 the country was totally lost in paralyzing corruption and donor dependency. How miraculous are the last 22 weeks since the new chosen president John Pombe Magufuli started his revolution.
Shortly after his start in November 2015 Magufuli earned the nickname “broom”, because of his anti-corruption drive which changed a lot in a short time. Straight from the beginning it was not only words but also actions. Different from what we were used to from earlier regime changes. Corrupt civil servants were dismissed, holiday-like trips of officials were forbidden, budget consuming “sitting allowances” (payment for joining a meeting or course) were abolished, “ghost workers” who were already dead or non-existing were finally taken out of the salary systems, workers that were not attending their work were fired, a special court for corruption was established, not payed tax was traced etc. etc. Within a month the tax revenues were doubled and, different from before, governmental offices were occupied from 8:00am to 17:00pm.
What is the case: Tanzania, being a development country IS not poor at all! Gold, oil, gas, gemstones, tourism, fertile land, it is all available. Until now however especially the corrupt 5% of the 50 million inhabitants were selling out the country and diverted the money to Swiss bank accounts, cash in buckets at their luxury homes and elsewhere.
Now, all of the sudden, it looks like that the way to a prosperous country is taken. So since almost half a year the old school corruption model bites the dust and Magufuli can count on a wide support from the Tanzanians. How miraculous is this? Let’s dive into this some deeper.
From the past, in Africa in general, but also in Tanzania, people are used to have strong, dictator-like leaders who could use their power and could at will reap the benefits. However, this had its borders. Kings who could not make enough rain were not allowed to be in charge for a long time. In the meantime kings are replaced by presidents, but what stayed is the power which is concentrated in one person.
This has different causes. In the first place various institutes like the court system are weak, which gives the president all the room to push through anything he likes. Even a law which allows the president to stay in power for more terms or to print more money, everything is possible. The first, remarkable enough, did not happen in Tanzania so far.
Secondly in Tanzania there is a kind of natural obedience to all which have a higher position or who simply are elder. Family bonds also are very tight. Those strong family bonds in Tanzania are of crucial interest. The family is the only social security since the total, or almost total absence of a safety and health structure, especially in rural areas one is on his own. So it’s mainly caused by weak institutions.
In countries such as Uganda, Rwanda and Zimbabwe this obedience is less but the power there is enforced. If you execute some opposing sounds you easily end up "two feet under". The result is power based on fear. In Tanzania this is absolutely not the case. If you raise an oppositional voice they will catch you usually in an indirect way, but physical violence is rare.
This almost absolute obedience, by fear or by nature, ensures that a leader usually only has people around him who always will agree even though his idea is very stupid. Leaders and anyone who has a dominant position also can bully people and they do so. With banks and other institutions, they leave customers in line for hours and officials and politicians can enrich themselves from public funds and bribes without being called to account. Mistakes of officials or leaders are passed on to their clients, and officials never are liable.
This type of behaviour is exacerbated by nepotism which makes people often not having the job because of their skills but by relations or bribery. As a result bosses have to gain respect in a different way than from their knowledge.
This unguided display of power and lack of accountability is further facilitated by the strong family bond. Somebody will never blame an (extended) family member even if he or she is doing wrong and they know that if you blame a person, rightly or wrongly, you have to fear the whole family of this person.
As long as everyone around you is obliging and nobody is accusing or protesting and you even get some extra for "services" it is easy to get away with it. Crime is paying off. Officials who failed, robbed things or were otherwise dysfunctional, were, until recently, just transferred as long as they were loyal to the ruling politics.
Another common phenomenon in developing countries is poverty and the poorly educated population. This means that people usually choose for a short-term solution, but also easily take decisions that ultimately are at the expense of themselves. Also in Tanzania such choices are seen on daily base.
All this leads to a, looking at it with Western eyes, somewhat strange effect that a president, whether or not legally and/or fairly elected, once he is in power can do whatever he or she wants. Until last year, for example, the former president of Tanzania, Kikwete and his family could totally rob the country, like Museveni in Uganda, Mugabe in Zimbabwe and others. But earlier with Mandela in South Africa, with Kagame in Rwanda, with Nyerere in Tanzania and now Magufuli this also seems to result in a positive change.
And so it could happen that, which has not happened in other countries since the Arabic springs or even resulted in chaos and war, now seems to be happening in Tanzania. Not a revolution from below but a tight-led change from above. This also fits more with the culture that was already there. Unmistakably the social media have a major influence because now people are also better informed than before. For example, the Tanzanian people now make fun of the old corrupt gang losing their unearned money. Money that is now used for the general welfare.
Until now these developments in Tanzania don’t get the international attention that they should be getting. Instead of this there is only attention for the “unfair” elections in Zanzibar. Perhaps this has to do with the socialistic approach of the new president, although there is absolutely no "movement" and it looks like it’s focused on the ideas and efforts of just one person. How miraculous is that? In Tanzania this is also encouraged by the good memories on the first president, Nyerere, who has done a lot for the country and still is in the hearts of the Tanzanians. Magufuli does have the full support of the majority of the population, even the majority of the opposition agrees with him.
Meanwhile, the international community is protesting against the unfair elections in Zanzibar. Although Zanzibar is a part of Tanzania, it has a special status and is plagued by an unrealistic desire for independence and is politically dominated by the Islamic-oriented CUF party.
It is good to realize that the democratic multi-party system in Africa has been catapulted by the West and is also very young in a country like Tanzania. Tanzania became independent in 1961, initially went through a period of socialism with a one-party state and only about 6 years ago, the ruling CCM party still had 95% of the votes. The last elections were in 2015 and for Western concepts also inimitable. Western monitors were especially pleased that the elections were peaceful and that everyone could vote but forgot to look at how the votes were counted. So the question is whether such a democratic system for a country like Tanzania is most appropriate.
Let's further examine the last elections: The choice was between the ruling CCM party with Magufuli or the opposition Chadema with Lowasa. This Lowasa was previously running for his candidacy for the presidency inside CCM but lost from Magufuli and then switched to the opposition. How opportunistic can you be, as a presidential candidate, but also as an opposition party?
What is also striking is that the programs of the various parties actually hardly differ. There is no such thing as progressives and conservatives, but it's more about favouritism and relationships. Although the opposition Chadema initially stressed to stand for anticorruption they chose a leader which was infected with corruption in the person of Lowasa. On the other end there was CCM, totally infected by corruption, but now suddenly with an integer, blemish-free candidate in the person of Magufuli.
It is said that Magufuli became the first man not because he was the strongest man, but because this was the right compromise: CCM just could not agree on who should now be presidential candidate. So also CCM itself did not foresee these developments.
During the elections, as in previous elections, no means were left by CCM to win. All governmental officers were directed to work for the CCM party, the opposition was not allowed to be present during the counting and the computers of the shadow counting office of the opposition were confiscated one day before the elections. So it is not surprising that CCM won with a large majority (60%). But what perhaps also for CCM itself was surprising, was how Magufuli after the elections like a Trojan horse turned into a real, and not just in words, corruption fighter with a real heart for to people.
At the same time in Zanzibar the elections were declared invalid after it appeared there was a majority for the CUF Party. A few months later the elections were repeated, the CUF withdrew for understandable reasons, and CCM gained a 94% majority.
Both elections on the mainland and in Zanzibar were not beautiful, but a blessing for Tanzania which could be more appreciated by the international community. Especially when the choice is between fair election between corrupt leaders and this unfair election with Magufuli as the winner. Do not forget that during the whole electoral process, there have been no serious disturbances. That has been different in a country like Kenya.
Last but not least the western countries should realize that they have supported dictatorships in the past with considerably less good reasons, so why suddenly act moralistic?
Some people now fear for the life of the newly chosen president Magufuli, after all he has made powerful enemies with his measurements. On the other hand, it can also turn out OK. Magufuli can count on a wide support of the population, even the people who voted for the opposition. Moreover, everyone in Tanzania does everything possible to avoid violence, even the former president who has massively robbed the country, something that everybody knows, did not meet obstacles and never dealt with an attempt on his life. Even the corrupt gang is not really a syndicate but merely a collection of opportunists who are just as easy to rob each other and it seems unlikely that they will conspire to continue their now exposed crooky activities under the eye of the now better knowing masses.
How to continue?
For the time being there seems no end to the drive and measures of Magufuli. It looks like all earlier promises, with all the hick-ups, will be realized. MPs and other governmental officers who were previously accused of corruption are now actually physically in the dock.
The next challenge will be to nail the people who are still in the ruling party and who have sold out the country earlier. One of those people is the former president, Kikwete, who mainly enriched himself shamefully through his family. Given the Tanzanian habit not to confront but to cover all in love, it is not inconceivable that these people get away with it, but ultimately will not have political power anymore. You see these people doing everything, at least verbally, to support the policy of Magufuli.
In short, if we, as a shining example, look at Rwanda, which has climbed in a few years to a the 55th place on the corruption list (of 160, 1 = least corrupt), and reached an unprecedented prosperity for an African country. There is a chance for Tanzania, currently at position 116 on the same list, just in a few years to become one of the most prosperous countries in Africa! Magufuli deserves all the support for this, from the interior, but also internationally. If, later, things are in place we can talk again about democracy and fair elections.
Tanzania, April 16, 2016
The writer of this reportage, who is living in Tanzania, prefers to stay anonymous.