Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Monday, 9 June 2008

Letter from Butiama: The next president

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. Publication date: 10th April 2005.
I happened to be near Ngorongoro Crater in May 2004 when a conference, which brought together Tanzania’s Ambassadors abroad, was held to launch the revamped Foreign Policy of Tanzania.

One evening at the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, I was privileged to be among the invitees at a dinner hosted by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority board of directors for the delegates and other dignitaries who were attending the meeting.

As the evening was winding up a Government official I know who was in the co-ordinating team was “working overtime” to ensure that the invited guests’ drivers were at-hand to drive away the individual dignitaries. I just couldn’t help commenting to the official, half-seriously off-course, that it must be extremely difficult for him to handle a group, which may very well include the next president, and not being able to know whom among those he should really concentrate his efforts on.

He concurred with me as he went on sweating out in the cool evening breeze atop the Ngorongoro Crater.
Even as early as a year ago, debate was already raging about who was in the race and who was the best person to sit in Tanzania’s top public office, the office of the president. I recall at around the same time I was with a group during an argument for and against a particular potential aspirant – someone who had not even hinted that he wanted to be president. One of the litigants stood up in indignation and said, “If ...(name withheld) becomes the president, I will leave this country and go on to find employment elsewhere!”

I hope those words were not taken seriously by anyone in that group for two reasons: first, the entire argument was held under the influence of alcohol, and, second, the person who was the subject of that discussion is now among those people who are in the race, so, at least in theory, he has a chance of becoming the next president which can cause a lot of inconvenience to the person who will have to leave Tanzania and seek employment in Botswana.

If leading a country, especially a poor country like Tanzania, was not a very serious matter, I would have preferred this aspirant to loose his bid in a major way. I would reason ‘why should anyone have to leave his country of birth just because someone else wants to be president?’

For the ordinary man or woman on the street, the rules of objectivity count very little in deciding who should be their next president. Emotions rule our choices. You either like someone or you don’t. I happen to have already decided whom I think should be the next president, and I believe millions of other Tanzanians have made their choices. But ask me why that particular person and I cannot give you one reason, yet. I just have this deep feeling that he can accomplish with flying marks what the rest will just carry out routinely. But I also know I can dig up a lot of positive information about him if I have to defend my choice. Which is exactly what every political party does once it has nominated its candidate.

I believe, though, that there is a relatively small group of people in Tanzania today who can make an objective assessment of who among those who have come forward to contest CCM’s nomination for the presidency can provide the most ideal leadership to Tanzanians for the coming five years. The same can be said for those candidates who will represent the opposition parties in the presidential elections.

For it is only by being close to a particular candidate through his or her public service career that one has the means to reach an impartial assessment of the candidate’s suitability of leading the more than 33 million Tanzanians. The rest of us judge those who have come forward by no more than a few minutes of TV footage here, a few minutes of a speech on radio there, and only now after they have revealed their intentions do we get a lengthy articulation of their vision as leaders once they assume the reins of power, which I still consider insufficient to enable the public to make an informed choice.

Only a person who has worked with a particular aspirant for a long time and knows the candidate’s record relatively well, or someone who has a comprehensive knowledge of the candidate’s public service record, in addition to possessing the ability to make an accurate and honest assessment of that particular candidate’s strengths and weaknesses can arrive at an informed judgement.

I see many of such a collection of informed Tanzanians being in the national Executive Committees and the Central Committees of the various political parties. They are expected to possess, collectively, the highest concentration of experience and knowledge necessary to make a thorough assessment of the suitability of a particular candidate to this important post. It is everyone’s hope that they will do so judiciously, always with the national interest at heart.

I believe it is easier for an inept leader to lead a developed country where the social, economic, and political institutions have a solid foundation and are able to contain any deficiencies that arise from ineffective leadership. A mediocre leader can get along in a developed country, but for a developing country to be led by a mediocre leader can spell disaster for the masses and take years to rectify. The importance of all political parties to select the best possible candidate for the presidential elections cannot be overstated.

That evening in May 2004 in Ngorongoro, I am glad I did not know what I now know because I can imagine myself creating the most unimaginative excuse to shift from the table I shared with, among others, Ambassadors Juma Mwapachu and Ben Moses and going on to “mingle with the guests” close to Ambassadors Ali Karume and Patrick Chokala.*

*Ambassadors Patrick Chokala and Ali Karume both entered the race for the nomination which was eventually won by Tanzania's current president, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete.

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