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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Why OUT awarded Mzee Ruksa a honorary degree

24th March 2012

At the end of last year, the Open University of Tanzania (OUT) awarded former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi a honorary degree in recognition of his contribution to Tanzania's development. In a nutshell the following are reasons for that honour as outlined in an OUT booklet:

Former President, 87-year-old Ali Hassan Mwinyi managed to keep Zanzibar within the Union through a combination of policy shifts and compromises some of which did not endear him to his hard-core colleagues on both sides of the Union, not least within CCM. Nevertheless, perseverance and determination was the president’s source of strength.

He succeeded to improve relations between Zanzibar and the Mainland by allaying fears that Zanzibar’s autonomy was being encroached upon through questionable constitutional changes thought to have been engineered by hardliners on the Mainland. It is against this background that shifts in foreign policy and especially, his consent to Zanzibar’s application for membership in the Organization of Islamic States must be seen.

Furthermore, he took measures intended to reconcile Zanzibar’s economic interests with those of the Mainland. He introduced economic reforms which allowed market forces a larger role to play in revamping the national economy that had been deteriorating since the first half of the 1980. These reforms generally improved the standard of living of the people in Unguja and Pemba.

It was his personal political stance and pragmatism that accounted for his success. He believed in no political dogmas and blueprints. We all recall his fatherly advice on this subject, “Kila zama na kitabu chake”. Every epoch has its own blueprint.

On the eve of his nomination as the party’s sole candidate to contest the Presidential Election Mwalimu Nyerere introduced him as “A righteous man, impartial and one who has never sought personal fame or used his position to advance his political ambitions”.

The results in that election speak loud about him. Having spent years outside the country and, certainly, not counted among the political heavyweights in his own party, he was voted into office winning by a massive 92.2 percent of total votes cast.

President Ali Hassan Mwinyi faced daunting economic problems when he assumed the Presidency of the United Republic. The national currency had been judged to be overvalued by both our creditors and trade partners. The external debt stood at over US$ 3bn. Most basic goods were unavailable in the local market, including not only foodstuff, but also such items as sanitary ware.

President Mwinyi and his team did a painstaking analysis of the situation and came to the conclusion that the root cause of the malaise was poor performance of the agricultural sector, the backbone of the national economy.

The country could neither produce enough for its own subsistence nor for export to earn the much needed foreign exchange. The volume of the main cash crops, coffee tea, cotton, sisal and tobacco was falling annually thus compounding our shortage of foreign exchange.

The alternative was to borrow in order to buy commodities for domestic consumption.

Furthermore, economic and social services infrastructure had fallen into disrepair. Roads and railways, where they existed, had been reduced to pathways and stock-routes. Hospitals and dispensaries had no dugs while schools had no books or equipment. Almost everywhere morale to work was on the decline alongside the creeping phenomenon of corruption and moral degeneration.

People had lost not only confidence in the virtues of hard work, but also a hop in a future. Obviously, such a situation was untenable and needed urgent action. The nation urgently needed a reassurance about the possibility of a better tomorrow if only it succeeded in ordering its priorities.

Under such circumstances, the immediate task was to improve our relations with our development and trading partners, both bilateral and multilateral. Against a mounting external debt which everybody knew was unsustainable, the Mwinyi administration found it more honourable to serve the debt however detestable it was.

This was, indeed, a difficult decision to make given the fact that it did not enjoy much support within the party. And yet there were no better alternatives. The decision to improve our external relations enabled us to improve Tanzania’s international image. The government sought to revive the stalled negotiations with the IMR and to reach agreement within the shortest time possible.

The conditions set before the government were harsh and included remodelling its economic policies and to open up the increasing role of market forces in allocation of resources. This was the time when the ideology of “free market economy” reigned supreme and was canonized into what came to be known as the “Washington Consensus”.

The agreement which was reached with the IMF in 1986 gave us a respite as development partners followed suit by allowing the inflow of capital and credit. Donors agreed to the government proposal for debt rescheduling while some even decided to write off the debts we owed them.

For example, soon after the conclusion of this Agreement, members of the Paris Club, a group consisting of Tanzania’s main donor nations and institutions, agreed to reschedule Tanzania’s accumulated matured debts of about US4 900 million they suspended debt payments for 5 years on a 97.5% of the loan principal and interest.

They agreed to provide US$ 800 million annually for three years to help cover Tanzania’s foreign exchange requirements. In 1987 the main donors pledged US$ 955 million for 1987 and US$ 978 million for 1988.

As part of the IMF 1986 Agreement, President Mwinyi launched The Three Year Economic Recovery Plan (ERP).

The plan resulted in the Funds approval of a standby Loan facility which was later replaced by what became known as the Structural Adjustment Facility which called for a major restructuring of the economy. All along, President Mwinyi was not unaware of the adverse effects of the IMF proposal.

The Economic Recovery Plan included devaluation of the Tanzanian shilling, raising agricultural producer prices in order to boost exports and restructuring of more than 400 parastatal corporations. This last one did not mean wholesale privatization as it has often been misinterpreted.

In 1988, Mzee Mwinyi described Tanzania’s economy as being a “Mixed economy”, bringing into full play promotion of the private sector to work in partnership with the public sector in promoting economic growth. Herein lays the genesis of the policy of private-public sector partnership which has culminated into the establishment of the National Economic Forum and the Private Sector Foundation.

Now popularly known as “Mzee Ruksa” for his liberalizing polices, he sought and took measures to arrest the declining standard of living of the working people, just as much as he had increased producer prices for those in agriculture. Furthermore it was at this time that the minimum wage was raised and rent assistance introduced.

Unfortunately, such measures were not popular with the donor community. Instead the IMF continued to press for further devaluation of the Tanzania shilling and reduction in social investment. Despite these challenges, he had, buy the end of his first team, succeeded in curbing the scourge of shortage of consumer goods in our shops.

Although many would heap all credit onto “Mzee Ruksa” for these successes, he remains philosophical about his role. Typical of his humility, he would like to share whatever credit is due with his colleagues.

He is quoted to have said with his characteristic smile that “in our country the party is supreme and the government is an instrument for the implementation of party policies”. Be that as it may, Ali Hassan Mwinyi was not only the Executive President of the new United Republic of Tanzania but also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Force and after 1992, the Chairman of the Party.

He has consistently asserted that his policies did not amount to wholesome privatization, neither were they intended to abandon the objectives of the policy of Socialism and Self-Reliance. Whatever measures he took and superintended, they were changed of tactics necessitated by a changed domestic and international socio-political environment.

During the first twenty-five year of our country’s independence, Tanzania was heavily committed to supporting liberation movements in Africa. Except for South Africa, this had been achieved by the end of Mwalimu Nyerere’s tenure in 1985. However, Tanzania continued to support the newly independent countries of Southern Africa against the forces of destabilization by the Apartheid regime in South Africa until its demise in 1994.

Tanzania, will remembered, had gone to was against Iddi Amin in Uganda between 1978 and 1979. Relations between the two members of the defunct East African Community remained unpredictable for much of the first half of President Mwiny’s Presidency.

Relations with Kenya had remained strained since the collapse of the East African Community and only began to improve slowly during his presidency, giving a new hope for the reconstitution of a framework for cooperation amongst the former members of the defunct East African Community

Negotiations for securing enduring peace in both Burundi and Rwanda continued throughout the 2nd term of his tenure. The only unfortunate event in this regard being the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 with consequent influx of Refugees on unprecedented magnitude from both the two republics.

Further South, President Mwinyi signed an agreement with Malawi allowing her greater access to the use of Dar es Salaam harbour. In 1987 he reinforced cordial relations with Mozambique to boost defence capabilities of the Mozambique capacities of the Mozambique army of Joachim Chisano against RENAMO.

She remained a strong chairperson of regional economic cooperation and remained a member of three regional integration schemes of SADC, E.A.C. and COMESA.

To may people the war against corruption began with the appointment of a Commission by President Mkapa in 1996 under the Chairmanship of Joseph Warioba. The Commission was established after it was realized that despite earlier initiatives taken since independence corruption was on the increase and risked the danger of being institutionalized in our society.

The Commission was not the beginning o the crusade against corruption in Tanzania. Neither did its proposals signal and end to the war against the vice.

Mwinyi used both the party, cabinet and senior government appointments, postings and transfers to curb the vice. When he was faced with the rise in the rate of corruption, a fact established through a Party committee, he dismissed seven of his Ministers for abating corruption within their Ministries. No such action has been witnessed since his departure since 1995, although grand corruption is evidently on the increase.

Retired President Ali Hassan Mwinyi is a resourceful scholar in Kiswahili Language and Culture. Mzee Mwinyi has a treasure of Kiswahili Manuscripts on Kiswahili Language and Literature. He is also an acknowledged authority in Kiswahili – Syntax.

His Kiswahili lessons held through BBC were a major contribution to his efforts to popularize the use of Kiswahili at national level and World Wide. We remain indebted to him for his work in the National Kiswahili Council where he served as its Chairperson from 1970 until 1978.

As a Board Member of Tanzania Film Industry in the late sixties, he contributed in laying the foundation of the current Film Industry in Tanzania otherwise known as Bongo Movies. His various speeches in captivating the use standard Kiswahili, is a positive example to be emulated by all who are committed to promote Kiswahili Language and its Culture in East Africa and the World at large.

President Mwinyi remains a man of the people to date. He will be remembered not only for his economic and political reforms but for promoting and deepening democracy. His tolerance to criticism has encouraged the development of a more vibrant press and especially Investigative Journalism.

That Tanzania boasts of having the largest number Kiswahili Newspapers within the East African Region to-day goes to the credit of Mzee Ali Hassan Mwinyi. The same can be said with the proliferation of political parties and Civil Society Organizations.

In conclusion, in his retirement he has continued to render public services as Chancellor of Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, Chairman of the National Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS, a Trustee of the Tanzania Scouts Association and an active campaigner against drug abuse and drug peddling."

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