We ought to remember Mkapa’s role in Zanzibar’s reconciliation

29Jul 2020
The Guardian
We ought to remember Mkapa’s role in Zanzibar’s reconciliation

​​​​​​​MOST reflections on Benjamin William Mkapa’s career have focused on his work in his capacity as Tanzania’s President and, to an extent, as an international peacemaking stalwart in the region.

Reflecting on his death, various leaders of political parties in Zanzibar have said they will remember and hold the late leader in high esteem. The key reason they give is that during his leadership he upheld the multiparty system by building strong foundations that ensured Tanzania stood firmly as a peaceful political landscape.

Officials of at least two political parties with a significant presence in Zanzibar, on Pemba Island in particular, recollected the anguish of the January 2001 post-poll crisis and how Mkapa – then Tanzania’s President – worked to bring about a reconciliation agreement.

The move has since served as the blueprint, for instance, in the formation of a government of national unity – which has now become an aspect of the Zanzibar Constitution as the spirit is still upheld.

As president, Mkapa worked hard to build on the foundations laid by his predecessors – Mwalimu JK Nyerere and Alhaj Ali Hassan Mwinyi – to move our country from a one-party democracy to a multiparty state. Admittedly, though – just as in other African and developing countries – it hasn’t been an easy task.

As the history of democracy in ancient Europe clearly shows, there is a tendency for democracy to be abused when it is unfettered, and when there are new restrictions on expression, they are decried as an infringement on civil rights.

In classical discussions on democracy in developing countries, the problem is sometimes explained as a trade-off between development and democracy.

While political ideologies combine the two ethical views into one objective of development based on democracy, in practice it is seldom that simple.

That is precisely why criticism of the government ought to take into account this discrepancy: that when people are left to organise and conduct themselves as they please, there are times when peace finds itself in peril.

There are distinctive challenges leaders may have to contend with, even without the ruling party being replaced. The party undergoes transformations on account of a changed environment and how to meet contending demands all strongly represented on political platforms but without endangering underlying unity.

The primary issue that enables the country’s leadership to put right what might not be working properly is policy strategy and governance reforms, which are always marked by leaders’ inclinations and convictions, for which –we must remember – they get blessings to rule.

Circumstances give a country the leadership it either needs or deserves. At times problems in a country become worse before they get better.

Surely, as Mkapa once said when foreign agencies were blasting his government for tendencies of corruption in foreign aid administration, it takes two to tango.

A good government is not possible without good citizens. So, as Mwalimu Nyerere would repeatedly declare: ‘it can be done if you play your part’.