Looking back at the 1973 decision to shift the capital to Dodoma

09Aug 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Looking back at the 1973 decision to shift the capital to Dodoma

ONCE upon a time the seat of this country’s government was in Bagamoyo, and in bygone times in Zanzibar. At independence in 1961 the country adopted Dar es Salaam as the capital. Dar es Salaam was then a small urban centre with a very small population.

Since then its population has grown to about five million strong, more than the population of many an African country. Although there is no time difference between the Eastern and Western parts of Tanzania,

Dar es Salaam is very distant from outlying areas such as Mutukula or Mbamba Bay, more especially given the pathetic state of transport and communications despite gigantic efforts by the fourth phase government to provide inter-regional roads.

Founder President Julius Nyerere tried to address this problem by creating new regions in 1963 and decentralizing government a decade later, to no avail. It is easier to reach the people in all corners of the country from Dodoma than Dar es Salaam.

Thus, as early as 1966 Hon Joseph Nyerere, then Deputy Minister and the President’s half brother, introduced a motion in the National Assembly calling for the relocation of the capital to Dodoma. It did not see the light of day, following Finance Minister Amir Jamal’s opposition based on the huge costs that would be involved.

Then in 1972, the Mwanza Regional Party Executive Committee - with Lawi Sijaona as Regional Party Secretary - proposed that the capital be shifted from Dar es Salaam to the central Tanzanian town of Dodoma. It was not immediately taken up.

However, following a widespread national dialogue on the proposal revolving around party branches, in 1973 the TANU National Conference supported the proposal to shift the capital to Dodoma. Security considerations of a coastal city and the geographical centrality of Dodoma rationalized this decision.

Since the ill-fated invasion of Conakry, Guinea, by Portuguese colonialists from neighbouring “Portuguese” Guinea Bissau in September 1970 - in a wicked plan to overthrow the leftist government of President Ahmed Sekou Toure - worries had been expressed especially in the 1971 TANU Guidelines (“Mwongozo”) about a similar attack on Dar es Salaam, which like Conakry hosted freedom fighters from the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola.

President Nyerere immediately put up the institutional infrastructure for this task. He set up the Ministry of Capital Development and the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to spearhead the development of the new capital.

He appointed Chief Adam Sapi Mkwawa, a highly respected long-serving Speaker of the National Assembly and Hon (Sir) Clement George Kahama, a technocratic ex-Minister and the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the giant National Development Corporation (NDC) as CDA director general.

Both the ministry and CDA started operations almost immediately and were headquartered in Dodoma. Despite well conceived institutional structures and Mwalimu’s strong support, meagre finances and other resources did not allow a speedy realization of this goal.

Already Parliament and the ruling CCM were headquartered in Dodoma. Some government establishments, including the Prime Ministers’ Office and the Ministry of Cooperatives Development, had moved to Dodoma but their presence was now virtually non-existent.

The first action of the new capital development team was to seek experiences from elsewhere. In Africa, Malawi and the Federal Republic of Nigeria had decided to shift the capital from Zomba and Lagos to Lilongwe and Abuja respectively.
While Tanzania tapped its physical planning and operational experiences, the financing model was country-specific.

Dr Kamuzu Banda’s Malawi relied on grants from apartheid South Africa while Nigeria tapped its huge reservoir of petrodollars. Financial constraints would become a major stumbling block for the Dodoma project.

The ministry was subsequently abolished and the CDA status winked. Successive governments neither promoted Nyerere’s Dodoma project nor abandoned it. It has until now been moribund, but the dream lived on. A facelift was made by President Kikwete’s decision to build the University of Dodoma with solid and extensive infrastructure.

The half-hearted move to Dodoma has been very costly. The spectre of hundreds of Dar- and Zanzibar-based officials travelling in expensive vehicles to, and from, Dodoma for parliamentary, CCM and other gatherings with no consideration for cost left much to be desired. Nor does Dodoma have much symbolic historical significance. It cannot even be compared to Tabora in this regard.

President Magufuli has ended the ambiguity and lip-service paid to the Dodoma project. He has decided to shift his government to Dodoma by 2020. The President has given this shift a time frame; possibly to give it a planned, systematic and phased process. This would ensure a smooth transition without unnecessarily disrupting government work.

However, the announcement by the Rt Hon Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa that he is due to shift to Dodoma in September 2016, followed by scores of senior leaders from the Inspector General of Police and Cabinet Ministers, while underlining the seriousness in which the shift is taken, raises worries about how planned such an important exercise is.

The Prime Minister’s Office (even minus the Ministry of Regional Administration and Local Government docket), is a key coordinating organ of government whose shifting would jelly with the rest of government if a critical mass of its institutions also moved to Dodoma.

Is the Rt Hon Kassim Majaliwa’s planned move a replica of Premier Rashidi Kawawa’s cosmetic decision to “shift” to Dodoma in the 1970s or is it real?

It is also important to discuss whether the entire government should move to Dodoma. In South Africa, for example, the Executive is based in the capital city Pretoria; the business capital is in Johannesburg. The other two arms of government are elsewhere: Parliament and the Judiciary in Cape Town and Bloemfontein respectively.

Is it necessary for all public institutions from the Tanzania Universities Commission (TCU) to the University Students Loans Board to shift to Dodoma? Both are now in Dar in rented office accommodation; they could remain in the old capital- home to most of the universities- and move into government buildings vacated by relocated ministries.

When I had an opportunity to talk to Minister Chief Sapi Mkwawa at his office in Dodoma in early 1974 he was optimistic that the project would be completed in the targeted 10-year period. He cautioned, however, that not each and every government institution needed to move to Dodoma.

However, when I spoke to his successor, Hon Jackson Makwetta, in Dodoma in 1979 he thought it would take longer given the financial squeeze not unrelated to the famine of the mid- 1970s which led to huge food imports and the five-fold fuel price increase over 1973-1979; both of which consumed 60 per cent of Tanzania’s foreign exchange accruals.

The financial situation was worsened by the costly 1978-1979 Tanzania-Uganda war. So delays in constructing the new city during Mwalimu’s Presidency can be understood.

Since then the Dodoma project has received lip service with no concrete steps taken to advance the agenda. If any evidence was needed it could be found in the continued construction of government offices, residential quarters and foreign embassies in Dar es Salaam. South Africa is at this very moment constructing its High Commission.

At this stage, in addition to the new resources being mobilized from enforced fiscal policies and prudent resource use, the various Social Security Funds that have been financing the National Housing Corporation (NHC) skyscrapers could be asked to prioritize Dodoma.

And so is a more enthusiastic private sector both domestic and external. But it’s extremely important to avoid the pitfalls of Dar es Salaam; we need a new planned city.

Although the capital has not really been built, but the approach has been to start with the desired end result and provide the wherewithal in the process. You move in and struggle with the consequences. However, unless extreme care is observed, this might lead to a big unplanned slum for a new city.

Lilongwe started well under Dr Kamuzu Banda, observing all the rules laid down for a planned city, but this has been weakening. For Abuja, the planned city turned into something else very quickly. If the new Kigamboni city had been built, lessons of experience could have been tapped.

Tanzania might want at this stage to tap the experiences of Angola, which has been upgrading Luanda and building completely new cities in its vicinity. It might possibly be able to access its USD 5 billion sovereign wealth fund.

This would allow a decision of whether to build a completely new city on the sidelines of Dodoma or to use the current Dodoma municipality as the “building block” for the new capital city.

The latter was the option adopted in the 1970s. One of Sir George Kahama’s achievements was to have constructed good embryonic underground infrastructural needs very well. If the government is keen on a planned new city that Tanzanians can be proud of, it should assemble a core group of top surveyors, urban planners, architects, environmentalists, etc led by a seasoned Sir George-type heavy weight technocratic leader to steer the construction of the new capital city.

If Sir George was 20 years younger I would have recommended his reappointment to steer the construction of the new capital city which has hardily began. In addition to building or rebuilding Dodoma, the transport outlets to and out of the new city should be rapidly constructed.

A serious thought is needed on how Dar es Salaam, which accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s GDP should be governed after the central government has left. Should it be overseen by a regional commissioner like any other region? Should Dar es Salaam, henceforth, be given special status?

Would the security of citizens be adversely affected? Would the shift to Dodoma dampen calls for devolution and the establishment of (elected) regional governments that segments of the population see as the answer to governance weaknesses at sub-national level? These and related questions could feed into a national dialogue on the same.

Although it looks costly, in the distant future a centrally located capital can have tremendous benefits to the nation, not least in easing administrative problems, decongesting Dar es Salaam, enhancing social integration and hastening the development of an integrated national economy. What is needed is a bold government commitment to effect it. President Magufuli has shown political will, it can be tapped and galvanized.

• Professor NGILA MWASE is a student of political economy. He is a frequent contributor to The Guardian. He can be reached at [email protected]; Cell: +255-752-427427