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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

What roles should retired presidents play in Tanzania?

18th March 2012

At long last the doctors’ strike and patients’ ordeal ended last week in yet another dramatic style following unexpected talks between the Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT) and President Jakaya Kikwete at State House.

This was not the first time President Kikwete had succeeded in solving a seemingly ominous crisis simply by arranging a meeting at the state house and holding serious talks over a glass of juice.

Towards the end of last year after signing the much contested constitutional review bill Kikwete agreed and arranged to meet with leaders of the main opposition parties to deliberate on contentious provisions.

Tanzanians were not immediately told the details of the state house deliberations but surely the following day they were treated to front page photographs of President Kikwete serving his guests a glass of juice. And it is always this kind of culture - albeit a gesture - that remains rare in most of Africa.

It is not surprising that in Africa former presidents tend to catch hell each time an opposition politician they previously mistreated gets elected to state house. There are few examples such as Kenya where the professor of politics Daniel Arap Moi has had it easy in retirement despite the fact that his victims of incarceration, including Prime Minister Raila Odinga, are now in power.

Indeed, as it has been argued, partly - though most significantly - it is the fear of retribution from their victims that forces most sadistic and thieving leaders to hang on to power forever.

Yet it seems to me that while the attention of most analysts has tended to focus on individuals who overstay in power little notice is paid to political parties that wish to hang on forever by hooks or crooks. Although it appears obvious that the objective of any political party worth the title would be to get resounding mandate through the ballot in order to implement its policies for development of the nation the reality is different.

Almost every political party on the continent - old and new - wants to capture state power in order to entrench its hegemony. It seems also that for many political parties - especially those that have overstayed - being in power becomes the end in itself first and foremost as well as the means to state coffers.

State coffers are a necessary source of monies - accumulated formally and through primitive means – that a party needs to be able to buy the next election. Winning - by any means necessary - becomes the only driving philosophy and any opposition to such objective invites murderous response.

In fact there is a growing concern among those following Tanzania’s democracy closely that whereas peaceful elections have seen three presidents, all from the ruling party CCM, retire peacefully the opposition parties continue to be treated as the enemy of the state.

Participants to these debates for example do not understand why a retired president should participate in partisan political campaigns and castigate those in the opposition as unpatriotic. Indeed, many voices that currently participate in discussions in the various platforms think that it is now time to define clearly the role of our retired presidents in the development and well being of this country.

“Are they CCM stalwarts first and former presidents second”? Voices ask. For example, there are many voices whose considered opinion is that it was unnecessary for CCM to drag former President Benjamin Mkapa into the Arumeru constituency by-election.

In fact they see the brawl ignited by an exchange between former President Mkapa and Musoma Rural MP Vicent Nyerere during campaigns as the result of the ruling party wanting to hold on to every ounce of power by any means necessary.

The debate on the Mkapa vs Nyerere brawl is now calling for a clear definition of what roles the former presidents should play in their retirement.

The main argument put forward is that once anyone is elected as president of the United Republic they become leaders of all Tanzanians regardless of citizens’ party affiliations. Again, another argument goes that former heads of state enjoy a hefty pension package which comes from all Tanzanian taxpayers regardless of their party affiliation.

In fact, there is also another argument that in such fragile societies like our own there is a need for such retired statesmen to remain neutral so they may be trusted and called to settle any divisive national disputes.

It surprises many in the debate that although Tanzanian leaders – both retired and the incumbent - have been entrusted with many mediatory roles in various conflicts because of the reputation Tanzania has of being peaceful, back home they are probably losing that clout.

Many in the debate therefore expect a retired president whose speech at the launch of a campaign would sound as follows: “Fellow Tanzanians I have been invited to come and launch this campaign. I know, as you all know, that Tanzania is a multiparty democracy – a young one at that. I also happen to belong to one of the parties participating in this by-election.

However, I appeal to you all to listen to the views of every candidate and at the end make your own judgment depending on which candidate meets your expectations. Avoid those who bribe voters. Respect the views of all candidates. Avoid physical confrontation.

I wish you peaceful campaigns as well as Election Day. God bless Africa, God bless Tanzania.”

In my memory the retired president who made a speech that sounded a lot more like the one above was Alhaji Ali Hassan Mwinyi. You can guess who didn’t like it.

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