Leadership for transformation in Tanzania

10May 2016
Ambassador Juma v Mwapachu
The Guardian
Dynamic Realities
Leadership for transformation in Tanzania

In August 1961, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, then Prime Minister of Tanganyika, in an address at the Police College in Dar-es-Salaam, described leadership as having ‘many aspects but, most of all, it is the qualities of the mind which establish a man among his fellows.

The ability to think logically, the capacity to express himself clearly and concisely, that masterly of his job which enables him to understand fully the implications of his decisions.’

Nyerere’s Take on Leadership Attributes

Later in life, after he had long retired and had had the opportunity to assess what leadership entailed in the context of a fast changing world, Nyerere were to offer a more intense interpretation of leadership.

Addressing the Commonwealth Universities Association in Ottawa, Canada in August 1998, he observed, ‘decades ago, as President of my country, I told Tanzanians that the choice before them was to change or be changed. I was wrong. There was no choice. They had to change, and would still BE changed’.

He went on to elaborate that ‘in retrospect, I think that the burden of Leadership was easier for my generation than it is for the leaders of to-day. The demand for change was coming from us –the leaders and people alike.

We were speaking on behalf of a united society in demanding an end to the visible, and thus easily understood, alien control over our lives. Very few of the leaders of the Independence Movements understood that political freedom could be virtually negated by ever-increasing external economic power over us.

Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was probably the first of us to realise that fact, with his much derided talk of “neo-colonialism”. But even he said “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else will be added unto you’’.

Nyerere concluded by asserting that ‘the present generation of leaders have not only to deal with the effects of the economic realities about which most of us knew very little, they have also to do so when the expectations of the people are higher than the general understanding of what is happening and why’.

Clearly, Nyerere had gone through a major transformation in understanding the new dynamics of leadership in a new world of globalization, of the deeper role played by international financial institutions, of the emergence of wealth and privilege, even within sections of poor countries like those in Africa, and of the surge of pluralistic democracy.

Political Realities and Leadership Response

In fact, whilst Nyerere, for example, was a strong advocate and defender of a two-terms Presidential system of leadership in Africa in the early 1990s, it would seem that a year before he died he may have developed a different position probably informed by the colossal tragedy of the Rwanda genocide of April, 1994, the post Mobutu Democratic Republic of Congo complex and tumultuous political governance system, and the complexity of the heavily tribal and kingdoms-influenced Ugandan political system.

He must have wondered whether the goals of political unity, peace and stability could be assured through the two terms presidential system.

It is thus not surprising, in this context, that at the same Ottawa conference, Nyerere were to postulate that ‘Democracies in the countries of the South should be allowed to develop their own institutions and characteristics.

The people of Burundi, for instance, do not have to be apologetic about wanting to devise a democracy which suits Burundi. What is important is that it should be a democracy, but a democracy that is acceptable to the People of Burundi, and which serves their best interests’.
No Conventional Attribute of Democracy

The same argument can logically be extended to Rwanda and Uganda. I find Nyerere’s shift to what indeed represents the ‘best interests’ of the people as the important criteria for democratic choice of leaders most pertinent.

In other words, it is not so much about how many times individuals present themselves to lead a country but whether they are acceptable because they represent those ‘best interests’. The British Westminster model of democracy, as indeed of the Indian one, the largest democracy in the world, follows this logic and system.

Actually, I wonder what could happen were Tanzania to adopt the Westminster form of government in its new constitution and ditching the current Presidential system of government? After all, one of the most ardent concerns about the Presidential system of government centres on the extensive powers of the President and the resultant subjugation of the powers of Parliament.

Respect of Separation of Powers

Little wonder that the leaders of the opposition have questioned the legitimacy of the on-going Parliamentary Budget Session given what they advance as being violations of the Constitution and the rules and regulations that underpin the legal sanctity of such Parliamentary processes.

Honourables Freeman Mbowe and ZittoKabwe have been at the forefront in posing such violations which, in their view, smack of a ‘coup’ of powers and authority of Parliament by the Executive.

One can add here that these exhortations speak to the importance of respect of the rule of law and the sanctity of the constitutional separation of powers. It shocks the mind when one reads the Controller and Auditor General making reference in his reports about the efficiency of the Judiciary and how resolution of tax cases is delayed for long. Such a statement is a clear violation of the separation of powers.

Role of Leadership has Changed

Leadership is in danger of becoming obsolete. Not leaders-there will always be leaders-but leadership as being more consequential than followership’

Professor Barbara Kellerman, Harvard University.

The main point I am making in this introductory expose is that leadership of countries, African countries specifically and Tanzania in particular, as a function and as a responsibility, has gone through a sea change in the past two decades.

There is much that can be learnt from Nyerere’s own mindset transformation on the issue. There is much for Tanzanians to understand and come to terms with about how and where Tanzania fits in the complex jigsaw puzzle of global trade, finance and economics; of international relations and the demands placed on national leadership in mustering and responding to such dynamic environment.

What is critically important for Tanzanians is to open up a broad, open and frank conversation and dialogue about what they see as the role and purpose of political leadership at the top today and be ready to articulate what their expectations are, for the economy and for their prosperity, from such leadership.

For example, much has been said and conjectured up to now, brief as the period is, about President John PombeMagufuli’s style of leadership since his taking over the reins of power. But is Magufuli a ‘Nyerere’ as some individuals have observed?

Is he ‘Machiavellian’ as some would contend? Or is he simply the Magufuli that Tanzanians probably do not know enough; a leader who is unfolding his true self before their very eyes for the first time?

Tanzania’s Expectationsof Leadership

In sum, what is it that will move Tanzania forward: to get the new constitution it desires and which, on the one hand, crucially creates a Union structure and system that fits today’s realities and meets the expectations of both Zanzibaris and Tanzania Mainlanders and, on the other, embeds the ethos and thrust of consensus building as a vehicle of building trust, tolerance and confidence across political affiliations?

What will be required to uplift education and skills standards; improve health service delivery; electrify the villages and give them safe and potable water; leap frog infrastructure development particularly on the railways and ports development fronts; improve lakes and air transportation; transform agricultural productivity and inject agri-business and value chains?

What will it take to reform the public services through meritocracy, new forms of training and development and decent remuneration and pensions; and to build an entrepreneurial nation that is best able and positioned to optimally exploit available national resources and human potential for a real and vibrant social and economic transformation that creates jobs, wealth and uplifts living standards of the whole people?

In my view, these are the vital demands that should define the role of leadership in Tanzania today. But they demand an intimate understanding of their nature, gravity and dynamic character.

They are, above all,equally important, requiring urgent responsesand thus putting to question the need for qualitative and quantitative clarity on priorities within the confines of availability of resources-human (in terms of knowledge and skills) and financial, both of which are extremely scarce.
Nyerere’s Personal Qualities are a Model

In this vein, Nyerere’s mantra from the late 1960s about ‘to plan is to choose’ takes pre-eminence but it is important to qualify the mantra because planning today has to be undertaken more wisely and prudently within a more complex and unpredictable global context defined by economic discontinuities, cyclical economic turbulences and volatilities,and not overly national, as Nyerere had subsumed in what was relatively a more ‘stable’ economic era.

However, what distinguished Nyerere from many other leaders of his time, and this attribute remains a good lesson for the leaders of today, was his high levels of intellect, knowledge, competence, discipline, selflessness, principles, ethical governance and, above all, his sense of courage, firmness, boldness and conviction about his beliefs, action orientation, and his commitment to Tanzania’s development.

New Leaders Must Understand Global Dynamics

But returning to the challenges of leadership today, suffice to offer some examples from President Kikwete’s administration. In early 2015, the Kikwete administration went on a hype aboutTanzanians attaining a middle income status come 2025. Reason: the large natural gas finds in southern Tanzania’s Indian Ocean deep seas.

That promise, unfortunately, has quickly been undermined by the huge collapse in global oil prices. One could add that Tanzania was also earning more than two billion US dollars from gold exports per annum in 2014. These are down by almost 45% currently.Other commodities like coffee, tobacco, cashew nuts and tea also face volatile market prices.

In other words, it is difficult to plan under such volatile market conditions. Yet, you need a political leadership that map out economic megatrends that helps it to have clear sights of probable futures.

The obtaining unpredictable environments call forth a national leadership that is perceptive, creative, agile, risk conscious, open to new ideas and which pursues consultative engagements with a broad diversity of stakeholders in society.

And these are: Members of Parliament, across their political divides, leading academics and scientists, the business or private sector, civil society, including faith leaders.

Building a coalition of views and consensus building on how best to construct a robust national economy that is strongly resilient to exogenous factors is, in my view, the defining characteristic of a modern leadership at the top.

Leadership Does Not Operate in a Vacuum

I need not underscore the reality that leadership never exists or operates in a vacuum. It operates in environments that are always dynamic and ever demanding. Take the case of the Tanzania Union. Yes, it has lived or survived for 52 years.

But it is difficult not to be honest that the Union has been fragile for years. Thanks to various reasons which I will present in a series of forthcoming articles, good leadership from Nyerere’s era has made the Union subsist. But has the Union become stronger?

Many of us believe that the Union couldin fact be made more solid and a satisfying one.

The Nyalali, Kisanga and Warioba Commissions, one after the other, made and have made recommendations which respond to new realities and new expectations of the citizens (maybe not necessarily of the political leaders) who the principal partners of and in the Union.

Tanzanians are eagerly waiting for a political leadership that would boldly allow Tanzanian citizens to decide what kind of Union best suits their expectations and needs.

If there is one issue that would test the maturity of Tanzania’s pluralistic democracy it is going to be how the form of the Tanzanian Union is determined, constitutionally. It will be the litmus test of how inclusive Tanzania’s governance is.

The Union Question-Highest Test for Leadership

In Shakespeare’s play, ‘Measure for Measure’there is a famous quip which states: ‘Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt’.

Allowing Tanzanians to decide the form of Union they want cannot continue to treated as a taboo; as sacrilege. Tanzanians might ‘win’ by having a stronger and healthier Union if allowed to give a voice through a ballot.

Nobody is a ‘traitor’ in this issue. In this regard, President Magufuli should lead in planting the seeds of a competent democracy that is meaningful and which the people will value and respect.


To conclude, let me cite one of the most celebrated of African novelists, Chinua Achebe. In his 1988 essay entitled ‘The University and the Leadership Factor in Nigerian Politics’,he wrote: ‘Leadership is a sacred trust, like the priesthood in civilised religions.

No one gets into it lightly or unadvisedly, because it demands qualities of mind and discipline of body and will far beyond the need of the ordinary citizen. Anybody who offers himself or herself or is offered to society for leadership must be aware of the unusually high demands of the role and should, if in any doubt whatsoever, firmly refuse the prompting’. It is worth reflecting upon this wisdom.