There are various ways of picking a cabinet team, one being a collection of close friends with whom one conducted a campaign and successfully won, which is quite a laughing stock method in the United States.
Another is sharing out positions between party bigwigs as they usually do in Europe, ending terms sweating with infighting – about who next carries the party flag. A third is promoting well known ministerial gurus to setting policy for their competence, and it often turns out politics and PhD aren’t twins.
This third method was usually the case in Tanzania – shelving out the PhD for not having to suffocate about it – under Mwalimu Nyerere, for the reason that little academic skills (of reading reports, statistics and advisories of foreign agencies and making head and tail out of it) among TANU cadres.
This set the pace for top ministerial officials being placed as leading candidates for ministerial positions, for instance Cleopa Msuya was permanent secretary at independence. John Malecela was RC in 1963; politics was then ‘illiterate.’
At the political level there was a very firm hand at the top, that of President Nyerere, who did not make policy from the cabinet but told them what to do, with a bevy of agencies to check on conduct.
Some people think this is not the case now but they are mostly mistaken – the president’s will is usually done as he wants it, the compromises being those of policy, either as personal decisions or reached with the central committee. They arise from how far the work of government is contested, not obedience of a minister, etc.
Nobody will say the personal skills of ministers do not count but the president’s orders or the premier’s timely signals, etc. There are massive countervailing forces in what a minister does from day to day, which President Kikwete told the last major party congress before the polls that a minister called him about something and he replied ‘pima mwenyewe.’ In due and proper form, it was clear something was amiss because the said minister must have failed to figure out which decision on his part would reflect the president’s expectation of his interpretation of policy thrust – and the president failed too!
For once, the reason isn’t what street talk would like it to be, that both the president and his ministers aren’t well schooled or are corrupt. Far from it – the real reason is that each decision a minister makes affects large numbers of people, and the losing side complains to the president, or calls professional meetings to make their voices felt, or it is donors who pick up the phone, etc. In other words through the simple stories of how certain sums were spent, theft isn’t the proper explanation but redistributing resources, silently.
The current cabinet selection has brought up some noticeably competent people in their professional areas, but it is a different matter when it comes to administrative skills – and then back to the beautiful game of politics.
Prof Sospeter Muhongo is among the most sought after geologists in Africa – but he will not have a night’s sleep until he meets all of MP Tundu Lissu’s revolutionary demands on mining companies and lands taken over – and it isn’t his brief to do that.
Dr William Mgimwa made history with his historic clash with ex-central bank governor Dr Daudi Ballali. This story may have had many sides, as chances that Dr Ballali would use 120m dollars of EPA without highest authorisation are nil, and Dr Mgimwa didn’t tell anyone that Dr Ballali was so authorised.
We rejoice the new competences as this improves the public image; the government realises that it does not have the same choices each year. Conduct is like how people repent sin – too slowly!