Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Still Perfecting Regime Change Half a Century into Post-Colonialism

Watching what's going on in Libya, with Muammar Qaddafi slaughtering his own citizens, and the aftermaths of elections in Uganda and Cote d'Ivoire amongst other places, it is hard to believe that so many Africans are having to fight for their liberty... again. The irony is that the worst offenders on the continent seem to be former "liberators" of their countries. Kagame, Uncle Bob, Qaddafi, Museveni. Even in countries where elections are held, it seems that handing over power is a difficult thing to do.

What does this mean for Tanzania? I tend to look to South Africa rather than our neighboring countries* in order to try and imagine a potential political trajectory. Although the question has been kicked around here and there, I really can't imagine the North African/Middle East revolts reproducing themselves here. We're too differently organized, and there isn't a Grand Unified Cause yet to bring Tanzanians together across the country in solidarity to overturn a system as deeply entrenched as the CCM political structure. Besides, our Presidents don't make particularly good targets seeing as they respect their term limits, which means the goalposts are moving every ten years or so. Which means you have to target the whole party. Which is damn hard to do.

South Africa (specifically the ANC) has made some interesting choices in it's recent political life. The post-Madiba Presidents have come with incredible liabilities attached: Mbeki mishandled the HIV/AIDS issue with surprising incompetence, and then there's Jacob Zuma who has, with the help of his protege Malema, made a joke of the Party. Corruption, failure to deliver services as promised to the poor majority, a visible income gap growing between the BEE class and regular folks who have no access to kickbacks. Sound just like home :) Since the ANC, like CCM, is not the personal fiefdom of one crazed old freedom fighter but is rather made up of several groupings of ambitious power-brokers, no one is going to get a chance at leading the country until The Establishment is well and truly ready to give in.

We've proved by the ballot that we are quite comfortable continuing with a CCM government, no matter what the more vigorous malcontents might say in the press. I guess most of us are quite pragmatic that way: better the devil you know. Judging by the way our opposition is behaving on the mainland- Zanzibar is exempted as a GNU- we're obviously not ready for a party change here. And if you think we are, I ask you to consider this: if the formal opposition in Parliament has been unapologetically hogged by one opposition party with no remorse for alienating its natural allies, what will they get up to when they have access to all the public monies and the power that comes with government?

I don't doubt that there will come a day when even the idea of a CCM government will be untenable, and a viable alternative will present itself. It's even possible that we'll change parties without any loss of life or property in this idyllic future. In the meantime, there's a lot of groundwork to be done by the citizenry, and not the political class, to foster an environment where Tanzanians feel personally invested in and capable of contributing to the country. I believe the term is active citizenship? I live in hope.

BTW, despots are usually easy to spot: they tend to cultivate colorful, bizarre habits. Qaddafi's Jheri Curl hair products have obviously pickled his brain due to long use. Never, ever, ever tolerate a leader who looks like an escapee from the Koffi Olomide School of Manly Beauty. Or one with a fly whisk/animal print hat/ white handkerchief/vegetarian with a predilection for twins/dandy tendencies/fondness for the White Hunter look...

*I think we have a few more political similarities with SA than we do with our fellow EAC countries, actually. Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda apparently don't really do peaceful regime change, and Kenya seems to be looking for it's internal coherence with both hands and a flashlight. While I wish them the best and reluctantly agree that the EAC might have some economic utility, as a Tanzanian I want no part of the political federation scheduled for 2013...

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