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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Cabinet reshuffle: Continuities, compromises and fatalities

6th May 2012

One excellent feature of the science of politics is how it remains calm over change and movement when everyone else is breathless with exhaustion. In this event, it will be quite hard for many to tell where there are continuities, disruptions, improvements and perhaps outright errors.

When it comes to the first two, observation may often coincide, but when it shifts to the third, disagreement prevails – not just about where but more explicitly, in what regard – for instance what medicine is best and if the shuffle fits the bill. There it is.

The basic reason for this calmness is that to various extents, hard-nosed political analysis of rather ‘realistic’ outlook utterly refuses whatever proposition that ‘change is happening now.’

It is rare enough that change quite significantly comes up, and usually reshuffles are a sit-in strategy to best weather the storms of opposition, criticism and real incipient revolt. For one thing, those in authority are fairly well used to such phenomenon, in which case they can exercise their options so long as the public accepts it graciously.’

‘Regime change’ becomes necessary when peaceful options, that is, those acceptable to rulers, have been exhausted, and those brandishing all sorts of banners and threats against it, are profoundly dissatisfied. Depending on the nature of the ‘missing link,’ such change may be painful or manageable, especially as well in relation to flexibility in the political system – the point where all talk of change in Tanzania becomes curious to say the very least. In what way could there be ‘change’ when none of policy contentions is resolved?

This is precisely the problem identified at the point of departure, that those who relish reshuffles and picking new individuals refuse to pose issues, of what was wrong in the first place – fully satisfied with saying ‘what happened.’ But people don’t take decisions in a vacuum, in which case one must take any proper administrative decision especially at highest level where the public perception of the government is at stake is well reasoned. When one starts from that idea, s/he realizes that this or that contract wasn’t a street trick.

Unfortunately this ‘know all’ attitude has characterized not just media commentary but the broadest stretches of opinion, which means what some people take the burden for their visible roles in a mess, simply. Few stop to ask whether the mess has started being cleared – and here one should not stop to find an answer, as it is sufficient that points of explosion keep surfacing in ‘musical’ regularity. In other words whether it is Richmond or hiring an Airbus, the proper effort is to drown the criticism, ‘let sleeping dogs lie.’

At the same time compromises had to be sought at every instance on what should be done – or in proper terms who should carry the burden. The systemic contradiction is that those inside the system realize that it is an arrangement to shore up regime confidence, and the wider knows change is coming. When they meet again in like atmosphere, it is explosive.

That is why a mild-mannered political scientist, to put it in a rather Anglicized way, will say that every reshuffle prepares another reshuffle – and a more hard hitting one (even if this hurts modesty, let’s pick an example of Prof. Mwesiga Baregu) his tone would be different. He would see through the continuities labeled as change, the compromises and not the changes needed, and the flaws of expecting uniform public opinion about the fate of each sacked minister. The result is something like James Baldwin, ‘the fire next time.’

So the proper debate in this long awaited reshuffle, for those in proper realistic mood on how politics works, and not ‘visions’ as if they were horses, will be posing the issue of when ‘the fire next time’ arrives.’ Before one suggests that this is astrology of political explosion, let it be said that ‘fire’ could as well be the next round of ‘indomitable’ mood in Parliament as when MPs rejected Energy and Minerals estimates, sending the Treasury on ‘bank raid,’ ruining all of 2011/12 estimates architecture.

The minister was tiring out. One can start from there, the most contested of the ministers removed, and all there is to hear is a litany of ‘mistakes’ of Mustafa Mkulo, where it is hard to see how he himself devoted 48bn/- to the cotton sector in a 1.7trillion/- stimulus package and pay fictitious companies, just alone.

Extending this sort of observation – a bird’s eye view, not starting ‘research’ – one can see the line of intuitive errors of what the problem is all about, viz., the government works to achieve goals it can’t tell MPs. That’s the heart of the matter.

There is a singular point on how the government operates, which public opinion often ignores or admittedly has little inclination to appreciate. It is that there is never a case of cabinet fragmentation or polarization in decisions.

Tanzania has never had, since 1961 found itself in a situation where the prime minister oversteps the president and the latter has little reserve to solve it. In 1983 it was the campaign against smuggling or hoarding, where President Nyerere put a stop to it, against public opinion, and took responsibility.

The other instance was precisely ten years later in 1993 when President Mwinyi caved in to ‘Tanganyikan’ parliamentary pressure and accepted ‘a government of Tanganyika within the Union in one year.’ Resignations in the third phase government were like the present phase – the government engages in some policy action and commits enormous funds, MPs know next to nothing or merely exploit public ignorance to shout. Ministers are told to resign; a new round of appointments, swearing – the life blood of the system.

In actual context therefore, it isn’t a series of ministers who were being contested by the public but government action, for one ever said this or that minister disobeyed topmost authorities.

How therefore can a minister satisfy the day to day inquiries of leadership in the government – and then well schooled MPs discover he has made ten mistakes costing billions of shillings in one year, and this ‘loss’ wasn’t factored in what cabinet hierarchy told him or her to do? When you remove six, it is just where some ‘remodelling’ has to take place – in continuation of the permanent war of feelings between rulers and opinion.

A clever fellow would say the US federalists said it all, that ‘you can fool all people some of the time, fool some people all the time, but not fool all people all the time.’ It isn’t really fooling them but balancing their contentions, by grabbing here, pushing there.

Unless these interests are rationalized in the first place, there is no way the government can explain to all what it is doing to anyone in particular – for instance saying the 1.7trillion/- was for the cotton sector was plausible, owing to widespread belief in using global commodity trade openings for foreign exchange.

But it would have been palpably unequal when so many sectors were on the verge of collapse and then only King Cotton is considered. And helpfully, does the government lose a night’s sleep over problems of cotton marketing companies or is it cooperatives? But whom do the donors want to hear?

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