Some few years ago, a prominent politician and businessman, Iddi Simba, introduced a campaign to empower locals economically, which he termed ‘indigenisation.’According to Simba, it was high time Tanzania introduced a special empowerment programme aimed at empowering locals in order to allow Tanzanians to have true ownership of their economy.
Simba made it clear that the Tanzanian economy was owned by a small percentage of individuals hailing from a minority ethnic group, while the majority mainly locals or black, were sidelined.
To put things into perspective, Simba wanted Tanzania to follow the path of South Africa, which introduced Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) in 1998 in order to allow the disadvantaged groups mainly black, coloured and Indians to own the economy in the post apartheid era.
However in a stunning move, Simba was dubbed a racist and a dangerous man who seek to divide Tanzanians along races in the name of empowerment. Within and outside his own party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, he became an enemy of the unity and solidarity the country has enjoyed for decades.
But, many attackers or critics of Simba didn’t take time to go beyond ‘indigenisation’ word by dwelling into the theme of the subject, and instead, they chose to act as ‘surrogates’ of the minority who own 90 percent of our economy. To Simba’s attackers and critics, their biggest worry wasn’t the contents, but just the word Uzawa (indigenisation). To their shallow perspective, indigenisation was simply racism, and therefore should be denounced and avoided at all possible cost.
Some were also worried by the Benjamin Mkapa succession politics in 2005 whereby they thought that allowing Simba’s indigenisation programme to succeed was to commit political suicide. So, because of political fears, they decided to throw overboard the indigenisation programme initiated by Simba, at the expense of the majority of Tanzanians.
It was the very same way some people reacted for the first time when Black Economic Empowerment was introduced in South Africa. It later on turned out that their biggest worry was just the word black, because at the end of the day even coloured, Indians and the likes benefited under this programme.
Today, though it didn’t achieve its objective by 100 percent, BEE has enabled many South Africans to own their economy as well as creating strong middle class buoyed by the entry of blacks, Indians and coloured in economic ownership.
Likewise in Tanzania many people were only worried by the term ‘Uzawa’, but in the corridors of power, they all agree that effective and purposeful measures were needed to empower locals so that they can participate effectively in owning their economy.
Since the minority who control our economy has connection within the government, they convinced some powerful cabinet ministers to publicly denounce Simba’s empowerment policy and in return they were paid some tokens as ‘thank you’ for their dirty jobs.
They betrayed Tanzanians by pretending to be more civilized even than the civilized world, to the extent that mentioning the word ‘indigenisation’ was purely racism, and scary, to potential investors.
The truth is that empowerment is not about racism or nationalising the property of minority who are very rich in this country. It’s about enabling many locals to own the economy through business means, employment and equitable share of resources. Today, we strongly believe that indigenisation can still be modified and implemented in Tanzania. We can’t afford to have a country where the minority controls about 90 percent of the economy. They are few in numbers, but are stronger than majority because they run all big businesses, control all key tenders in government, and at the end of the day they influence the politics of this country.
When we fight for an equitable share of the national cake, they either claim that we are racist or through our own leaders call us lazy and jealous.
We shall not rest until there are equitable shares of the national cake. We would like to remind our leaders especially policy makers that the so called ‘Mkurabita’ hatched by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is not economic empowerment. We need practical empowerment that will enable many Tanzanians to shine in the economy of this country.
That’s why we say that we might hate Iddi Simba or fear him as an individual, but some of the policies he initiated shouldn’t be dumped simply because we felt that the idea was odious.
The former Ilala MP and ex-founder chairman of the Confederation of Tanzania Industries (CTI) may not be perfect but his initiatives to empower locals was perhaps the most perfect policy we simply ignored because we were either naïve about it or were corrupted by the same minority group that controls our economy.