AS the nation edges towards the next multi-party general election, slated for October this year, many people have become expectant. They hope to hear how aspiring politicians plan to tackle the myriad of challenges and other pressing issues in the land today.
In a standard democratic setting, multi-party elections are about choosing among competitive solutions, in terms of strategies and policies, advanced by political rivals and parties on the array of economic, social, health, environment and other issues paramount for the national development agenda. More than a decade after the country introduced constitutional multi-party politics, Tanzania now boasts a fledgling democracy, albeit as far as the law is concerned, and the presumption above on the nature of competitive politics has become valid.
The Founding Fathers, Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere and Sheikh Abeid. A. Karume had their vision crystal-clear. They saw Arabs, Portuguese, Germans, Belgians and Britons, among others brutalize, humiliate and treat Africans as mere backward underlings; the national heroes objected to that notion as nonsense, redundant alien stereotype embedded in colonialism and racism, vices that had to be vanquished at whatever the cost. Their ideas resonated across the land and continent---they succeeded.
The pre and post-independence leaders held a staunch belief that Africa’s freedom shall never be complete and genuine, until each and every African state is freed from colonialism, oppression and apartheid. Africans should and must take charge of their affairs, they declared.
In this pursuit even economically poor post-independence Tanzania had to part with its meager resources to support and team up with freedom fighters in the yet-to- be liberated African colonies and oppressive regimes, and she kept relentless on her pursuit until that mission was accomplished, though at a high cost in terms of loss of life, wars and economic devastation.
The leaders saw their young countries languish in abject poverty and decided to formulate policies for a better life, human dignity and generalized national development. Women were then treated as quasi-slaves and mostly confined to domestic chores; the leaders found this ignominious and tried their best to create a new culture of social and political consciousness and awareness regarding gender parity, and enlisted some brave women in their battlefronts to help spearhead the struggle, a paradigm later helped by adherence to international conventions.
One can go on enumerating the burning points of that era, and how they formed the gist of a collective national vision and the actions set forth to accomplish them.
Regrettably, politics in many African counties has taken a dangerously new turn, and sometimes completely lost its sense of purpose. To borrow writer Makwaia wa Kuhenga’s phrase “bastardization of language”, in this article you can read: “bastardization of politics.”
Today people rush into politics perhaps because it is the easiest way to drive 100m/- worth car; wear multi-karat golden wrist watch; put on 3m/- designer suit; fly first class; dine in five- star resorts; send your children to prestigious universities abroad and live in a posh bungalow in a plum suburb, protected by armed guards, plus fences with electric barbed wires on top, and round-the-clock stealthy security cameras scanning kilometers radius.
Meanwhile, your senile uncle, now approaching 90’s and who once upon a time sold his donkeys and goats to help your illiterate mother send you to nearest “bush school”, before some Catholic, Protestant or Baptist missionary took notice of your talents and hauled you out from rural obscurity, still lives in the same rugged, muddy, grass-thatched hut or “manyatta”, only slightly better than the caves in which the ancient Homo-sapiens dwelled--- devoid of any amenity comparative to modern human habitat.
Wood-fire, and if lucky kerosene diluted with water by conniving village merchants, is the only source of light after dusk, although electric cables cross over your uncle’s village sky to the neighboring fish factory, where the sons and daughters of the next of your kin are the labourers, earning 500/- for 12 hour-day menial jobs, compared to your sitting allowance, once elected, of over 50,000 a day or more, let alone the hefty salary and other perks.
Running water is still a distant dream at the village where you hail from; stomach upsets are the order of the day because the local dispensary built in 1960s under Nyerere’s auspices has recently run out of essential drugs. Infant mortality is rampant because of scarcity of trained midwives. When medicine is available, the old man cannot easily reach the dispensary because the make-shift bridge over the valley separating it with the village had been swept by El Nino rains over a decade ago, and has since remained in disrepair, seriously hampering communication between the opposite sites of the village community.
At the same time, your old and solitary uncle “bothers” you with frequent irritant messages of appeal for help, that perhaps you should remember where you came from, and share with him some spoils of your political fortune; but you yells back that he should wait until the next election campaign time when charity money is likely available, if he would still be alive, that is.
This is not a mockery of some of our present-day politicians and leaders; it is a reality that exists in many parts of our country and some politicians simply fail to admit it, or would prefer rather not to talk about.
Tanzania should try to emulate countries where attainment of local, provincial or national priorities is the primacy for individual and collective political ambition. During elections priorities should be drawn up and defined clearly, and each party should propose how best they would address the challenges, if elected. That should give the electorates a better gauging stick over their leaders’ success or failure.
In the UK general election scheduled for May, for example, Labour and Conservatives, among the major parties, have already drawn battle lines on top issues they consider more pertinent to sustaining and furthering their superior 21st Century quality of life: How to beat recession; Law and Order; Education; Employment; Welfare and Pensions; Health and Environment and Immigration issues, among others. Whichever party that claims “more credibility” to address those issues best will win the hearts and minds of voters.
In contrast, in Bongoland some of our people still live as 17th Century hunters and gatherers, marveling at tourist planes oozing dark smoke as they whiz across the hunters’ serene wooded territory, but some of our leaders would like to live like outdated imperial British Lords. Such topics are so often glossed over and barely thoroughly discussed, or someone would rather dismiss such views as discredited, wild socialist wolf-cries. You had better not get intimidated.
Today ask an aspiring politician why he or she so much wants a high office as Councilor, Mayor, Parliamentarian or even President, and the ready-made answer is simply to “serve my people”. But how? You inquire. In some cases you receive a blank stare; or either he or she would flush out of the handbag a party’s constitution, or sometimes recite sections of the party’s election manifesto, which to a large extent read like hollow declarations of intent. “We shall double the number of university students in the country in two years,” an aspirant might tell you with a straight face. How? By devaluing exams? How many lecturers have you prepared commensurate with the anticipated surge? What about the facilities and teachers’ incentives? Where will the money come from?
On the other side, the opposition have so far dedicated most of their time poking fun at the system and unearthing government scandals. That may still be part of sane politics, but it is not enough. If you think, TAKUKURU has miserably failed to stamp out grand corruption, while small kick-backs are widespread and thriving, what else could be done to weed out graft? If the roads are prone to ghastly accidents, claiming dozens if not hundreds of lives weekly or monthly, despite police curbs, amid mounting public outcry, what are the alternative answers?
Tanzania can still show the way by allowing and encouraging alternative viable policies for the people to choose from during elections at local, regional and national levels. The country should banish politics of greed and personal aggrandizement. It could do better if it moved away from personality cult at all levels; favoritism, cronyism and misplaced demagogy.
It is rare to hear political parties in our country sit together with Think-Tanks to ponder and propose solutions to the pressing national issues. Ours has become routine business of race to fame and wealth. Critics are mostly likely treated like traitors. For what do we have think-tanks, research and higher learning institutions? To cant the mantra or ready-made slogans?
As the general election nears, politicians and new aspirants alike should try to crack their heads much harder than they were used to, because we are still lag behind in so many aspects, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to which we have subscribed.