Friday, April 16, 2010

A Fine Romance, Part Two: Now That We've Caught Him...

...we can ask ourselves: what kind of Head of State have we subjected ourselves to? In the first musing about Jay Kay's presidential persona, I spent most of the post wondering at the reasons why we voted him into power so overwhelmingly five years ago. Whatever they were, we've had a decent period of time to observe him as an individual and test the mettle of his leadership.

There are probably as many opinions about the President as there are citizens. Certainly in the course of informally surveying folks the statements range from complete dismissal through to fierce loyalty. Not that he's a polarizing figure mind you, its just that if three Tanzanians are arguing a political issue you'll get at least five opinions out of them. I myself am a sympathizer: many little boys- and a couple of little girls- imagine that they will one day be President but very few have what it takes to make it happen, ergo Jay Kay is closer to Obama than George Bush on the individual agency/intellect scale.

Since CCM is going to be launching its marketing... I mean election campaign soon enough with a detailed enumeration of their 'successes' in the past five years, I'll just focus on the broader things that I think this President and his administration have done well:

- Fired people in high places. Prime Ministers, Bank Governors, Ministers, hapless District Commissioners and the rest of the smug untouchables: that was the sound of your impunity flying out the window. There is something to be said for setting such a Deeply. Satisfying. Precedent. Hell, one day we might even find someone guilty of corruption, but let me not get ahead of myself.

- Hired some good folks: The current Prime Minister, the Chief Justice, the head of TBC, the coach of the national football team to name a few of the easily visible ones. There is a something going on here. Considering his vast powers of appointment Jay Kay seems to be aiming for good recruits rather than simply rewarding his puppets, campaign funders, political allies and other presidential hangers-on, although naturally he must do that too.

- Done his bit for democracy. Vain he might be, but Jay Kay is not driven by the egotistical Bigmanism that continues to plague African heads of state. His occasional tantrums seem to be reserved for incompetence, as he generally faces vocal opposition and criticism with equanimity. This has served to set a tone: within boundaries, one can cast aspersions all over The Establishment which we obviously take advantage of, especially in the blogosphere. Since so much of democratic discourse relies on intelligently vocal malcontents, things are slowly looking up especially for local civil society. At heart, I suspect he genuinely believes in this whole public service, will-of-the-people stuff.* So long as you don't photoshop his face into a pornographic picture.

But on the flip side...

-Jay Kay and his crew of flyboys have glamorized politics. In keeping with our image-conscious, popular media-driven age, I know. Fleets of Beemers, billboards with His Grinning Beauteousness, performance politics...where is the decorum? I can't help but feel nostalgic for the stodgier times of yore when Tanzanian politicians had to keep it simple. We are going to feel the bite when CCM reaches deeply into the pocket of government to help along its bling-blinging election campaign.

- The money problem. Jay Kay was in Mkapa's cabinet for a decade before he became President, so all those fishy deals and grand corruption cases that we are grappling with now happened when he was around. There are all kinds of implications in that. Naturally, this diminishes the credibility of his anti-corruption campaign.

- That incredible travel schedule. International Community: stop sending him invitations to get honorary degrees, visit obscure Tanzanians Abroad societies, have a chat about securing more aid, toodle around factories, examine the charms of jamaican treetop tours or whatever else you have in mind. He can't resist. The man has itchy feet but it is costing us money and we need him at home. Besides, our Minister of Foreign Affairs is languishing in relative obscurity. Throw the man a real trip or three.

Sure, there's more issues to wade through but I am tired of hyperlinking and isn't this post long enough already? To summarize, IMHO Jay Kay is a pretty good fit for this moment in our political journey: a free-marketeer with a redistributive philosophy, a technophilic democrat, a canny executive and a patient, dedicated, opportunistic man of ambition who lacks the predatory instincts that make the Putins of this world so frightening. While I don't doubt that there are smarter, tougher, cannier men out there who would make 'better leaders,' all in all Jay Kay is at worst inoffensive and at best very useful, which is not a bad range within which to work with for a young African democracy.

*This is an interesting swing of the pendulum: Nyerere was a benevolent despot and intolerant of criticism (populist tendencies), Mwinyi was frankly far too phlegmatic (democratic tendencies), Mkapa was irascible and intolerant of criticism (misanthropic populist tendencies) and Kikwete really, really likes people in general and Tanzanians in particular (democratic tendencies). By this calculation, our next president will be an arrogant intellectual Christian autocrat from the Tanganyikan interior who does not suffer fools gladly... oh yay.


  1. LOL at your last sentence! Where you referring to someone in particular?

    You made me feel better about Kikwete.

    Sometimes I just feel he doesn't have an aggressive policy vision and just drifts along without really doing anything. Mkapa had a few clear goals which he pursued relentlessly regardless of opposition (increasing tax revenue collection, privatizating parastatals and bringing in foreign direct investments being the big ones). The only major Kikwete policy I know is the "Shule za kata" plan - and I am not sure how that is working out in practice given the lack of teachers.

    But as you say Kikwete is "mostly harmless." I like what he did with this latest "Muafaka" situation. It seems he was instrumental in forging that deal. And yeah, he could have done much worse in his appointments.

    "Amani na Umoja" still seems the order of the day, foreigners still love TZ and the middle class is growing (I think?) so I guess we can overlook the lack of bold and clear policy initiatives and be thankful things aren't worse! ;-)

  2. Whoa, that last comment was me (as if you couldn't tell!).

    Just have to identify myself in case "mashushushu" want to make a big deal out of it ;-)

  3. You will be surprised by our next president. I promise you!

  4. @ Dr. Bob: hey there! You know, for all his pretty looks, jay kay does have a coupla policy initiatives that are close to his heart: Shake up civil service, increase foreign direct investment, and every budget year has a theme. Last year it was Education, this year it is Agriculture. The difference is approach: some fishermen like to blast fish out of the sea with dynamite (aggressive policy 'vision') and some are able to tickle trout out of a stream (quiet backstage politicking). There may be merits to both, but I much prefer subtle politicians myself. As for the last question- just speculating :)

    @ Anonymous: come now, don't tease me so. You are already anonymous, might as well whisper the name in my ear and enjoy my shocked expression...?


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