Kikwete: Navigating through Tanzania`s calm, rough waters
By Wilson Kaigarula
One could safely chop off a couple of years from the 60-year-old Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, and he would still pass off as a younger man.
On top of the youthful outlook of the man who successfully defended his Union presidential seat in the latest general elections held a week ago, is a broad, almost infectious smile that contributes greatly to his charisma.
Endearment of many compatriots to Kikwete who embarked on the second but final, five-year term presidency yesterday was, in the preceding polls in 2005 and the successive 2010 races for councillorship, parliamentary, and the top slot at Ikulu, captured by television footage and still newspaper photographs.
Seating next to, and chatting with, a physically disabled woman on grass; cuddling a baby in the middle of enthusiastic on-lookers; and waving to wananchi from a bonnet of a Land Rover : these and other similar images made and make Kikwete a simple man likeable to his supporters. For however well-meaning and good-hearted someone may be, people cannot easily warm up to an unsmiling, stone-faced person, more-so if he or she seeks to be their leader.
But charisma on its own isn’t enough. If, Mr. Bean-style, in reference to the popular, yet very silent British television character, Kikwete were to just smile, he wouldn’t have made much impression on the people whose mandate he sought during to the lead-up to 2005 elections, whom he led over the past five years, and whose votes he solicited for a fresh term.
He is a good orator, his coastal origins giving him considerable advantage as a Kiswahili language speaker. What’s more, though, he has the knack for spicing up his impromptu and written speeches with jokes and quotations of so-called wise-men.
It is only natural that people love informal, but not necessarily offensive language, and Kikwete exploits this to the maximum, for political advantage, or to merely cheer up audiences.
The Chama Cha Mapinduxi (CCM) flag bearer did it in 2005 and repeated it during the nearly three-month campaign trail preceding D-Day October 31, 2010.
At a campaign rally in Temeke, for instance, he teased the Opposition by declaring: “CCM baba lao; CCM gari kubwa”, Kiswahili poetic expressions that project the party that, plus its precursors Tanu (Mainland) and Afro-Shirazi Party (Zanzibar) has reigned supreme since independence, as the father of the rest and a heavy duty truck!
Kikwete has also curved for himself a niche as someone who shuns glory that a power-hungry species worship and demand; from his ministerial days to holder of the highest office in the land, he mixes freely with wananchi, consoles bereaved ones, comforts the sick in hospital, and attends the funerals of some individuals perceived by some as not deserving presidential attention.
Charisma and being sociable may stand a socially low-ranking person in good stead; not so for a Head of State who is burdened with the challenges of leading a nation of some 40 million Tanzanians. Leadership is indeed both sweet and headache-some – the leader gets credit for achievements and is criticised over failures, problems, and, on an extreme note, even natural disasters !
Kikwete has navigated between the two ever since he succeeded Benjamin William Mkapa both as President and CCM National Chairman.
Applying the CCM manifesto, his government has endeavoured to carry forward the successes registered by the preceding ones. Within CCM, he has manifested considerable tolerance towards critics, and influenced formation of mechanisms for healing rifts, which would have otherwise generated defections and weakened the party.
He realizes, indeed, that criticism and self-criticism are healthy for democracy, and that, whether driven by CCM or Opposition MPs and civil society activists, agendas geared at public interest are worth addressing.
A good example is formation of a commission to examine the mining sector, and respecting its findings and recommendations. As a combination of CCM policy and pressure from Parliament and other quarters, Kikwete’s fourth-phase government has added steam to the anti-corruption drive.
This is evidenced by the arraignment in court, of high-profile personalities who include two former Cabinet ministers, over the External Payments Arrears (EPA) and Bank of Tanzania’s Twin Towers scams.
During Kikwete’s five-year term that ended shortly his being sworn-in yesterday, some 780 corruption-related cases had landed in courts of law, in sharp contrast to only 543 during the preceding three phases.
The anti-corruption watchdog, PCCB, has indeed demonstrated bigger determination, confidence and progressively more scientific approach and thoroughness in detecting and combating the vice, plus prosecuting suspects.
It is too early to pronounce a verdict on the agricultural re-awakening project dubbed ‘Kilimo Kwanza’, but its introduction demonstrates the government’s seriousness in acknowledging the sector’s role as the crux of the nation’s development.
Appreciable attention was also addressed to the infrastructure, health and education sectors. Twenty-six road projects covering 2,237 kilometres were executed and 28 (2,208 km) are on-going.
Fifty three bridges were built , including the one dubbed ‘Umoja’ that connects Tanzania and Mozambique; and 8,385 bridges underwent major repairs.
Under successive CCM administrations overall, 5,422 dispensaries and 663 health centres were built, and the tempo to serve every village and ward on that front is rising.
Much attention is focused on improvement of Maternal and Child Health, and free medical treatment for physically disabled patients, blind persons and elders aged over 60.
Problems of staffing and facilities notwithstanding, the ward (community) secondary school project is praiseworthy, as it opens up opportunities for many young citizens for whom Standard Seven would have otherwise been the academic ceiling. Year 2009/2010 statistics show that there were 15million students at various levels, of whom 120,000 were in colleges. During that year, too, over 65,000 students got government loans totalling Sh190billionw, and the projection for 2010/2011 is Sh261billion.
The Kikwete government has also scored a plus in tolerance, reception to public opinion and promotion of good governance, a glaring example being when he accepted the resignation of a principal lieutenant, Prime Minister Edward Lowassa in February 2008, in the wake of the latter being cited in a parliamentary committee report on the Richmond scandal.
And when a close friend, (the late) Tabora Regional Commissioner Ditopile Mzuzuri faced a manslaughter charge in 2006, he let the law take its course.
On a light note, Kikwete is a sports enthusiast, throwing his full weight behind the national soccer team, Taifa Stars by facilitating deployment of Brazilian coach Marcio Maximo, and publicly explaining that he is a lover of Bongo Flava music.
One of the first executive measures Kikwete took upon ascending to the presidency was appointment of a new police chief, Saidi Mwema, who is credited with strengthening performance, as well as promoting police-citizen relations.
Under the leadership of a man fondly known by the abbreviated version of his name JK, media freedom has been broadened, although, periodically, the government felt compelled to issue warnings and cautions where it felt some outlets over-stepped their mandate.
Tolerance was manifest at personal level, too, such as when, during the recent election campaigns, some candidates and their supporters insulted the Head of State, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda and the government at large, but the State remained cool.
A presidential candidate, theoretically a potential Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, went as far as making cynical remarks about the Chief of Defence Forces Lieutenant-General Abdulrahman Shimbo, but the State, which commands so-called instruments of coercion, remained cool. CCM’s acknowledgement of defeats in some wards and constituencies, as well as a poor show at presidential level, is a mark of maturity and respect for the voters’ will.
Behind the scenes, Kikwete, in fulfillment of an immediate post-investiture pledge in 2005, was instrumental in the process for reconciling CCM and the Civic United Front (CUF) in Zanzibar, the twin sweet outcome of which was constitutional changes providing for formation of a government of national unity, and peaceful elections recently – all previous ones since the United Republic of Tanzania re-introduced multi-partyism in 1992, being rocked by violence that threatened to wreck the Isles.
But, ultimately, Kikwete, both the man and President, is an individual who, just as he cannot grab credit for all achievements, cannot be singly held responsible for what is essentially a collective responsibility system of governance.
He, and Tanzanians were let-down by some under-performers in the Cabinet, the civil service, the public sector and others in the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. Consequently, but also due to such factors as global economic tremors, the much-orchestrated speedy march, consolidated strength and vibrant spirit slogan of the pre- and post-2005 polls didn’t deliver the ‘Better Life For Every Tanzanian’ goal.
In some respects, though, the President has to strengthen his hand by way of more incisive screening of appointees to key posts and zero-tolerance for wayward executives.
And, without doubt, he and his lieutenants will address attention to such issues as creation of an independent electoral commission and keener civic education.
An incisive election postmortem is predictable, to establish why this time, traditional landslide victory for CCM, captured by the powerful Kiswahili word ‘Kishindo’ was elusive, how the Opposition made inroads into CCM’s traditional strongholds; plus lessons the party may learn from the Opposition.
As he embarks on his second and final term, Kikwete cannot boast of absolute guarantees of success as the nation’s steward.
Like a captain of a ship, he will, as he did over the past five years, navigate through calm and turbulent waters.
The lower-ranking crew members – ministers, MPs, law enforcers and all – plus wananchi as passengers, are enjoined to play their role by giving the government full support, conducting themselves as credible nation builders, and, of course, as members or supporters of whatever parties, volunteering constructive criticism in areas where they detect weaknesses.