Saturday, July 2, 2011

Weekly Sneak: Customize Your State

Every so often I have this recurring discussion: is Tanzania really a democracy or is she not? Reason being, we've had the same party in power since independence in spite of nearly two decades of multi-party rule. I get the premise- a change in party is a good measure of the robustness of a democracy, or its maturity. While I agree that this is not something that will happen in Tanzania anytime soon, that one measure* is no reason to go pretending we don't live in a democracy. It just needs a bit of tweaking. Anyways, this argument never fails to make me indignant. So of course I rushed back to my keyboard and pounded out another take on a familiar theme: polities are quite individualistic entities. You can't prescribe universal measures of democracy or change without looking at the reality of the political structure in question... and in Tanzania, we have a rather unique set of circumstances:
"This is a measure of how good we have it- we think that we can afford our complacency. Tanzanians know that we don’t have to take to the streets in order to effect change. We can and regularly do talk ourselves into it, however incremental it is. Multiparty politics have done us a world of good in the past decade: the political competition in Bunge is starting to weed out the weak, Zanzibar is coming along quietly as an experiment in power-sharing. We need not fear that Jay Kay will do anything ridiculous to try to stay in power indefinitely, like pretending not to know how old he really is. We can afford to anticipate a change in administration, and we can afford to let complaint be our main method of political action. But we shouldn’t end there."

I do find that the positive political articles are not particularly popular on the blog or in print- readers love a good rant, I guess we all have the taste for blood. And the macro-level stuff really tends to make eyes glaze over :) Well, sometimes I feel optimistic and it will be interesting to see if this one sinks or swims in next week's East African.

*Seriously, folks: we're not Europe. We're not America. Deal with it. And the quest for a political party that is not embarrassing to belong to goes on...


  1. Timely article Elsie. I am so grateful to be living in a democratic country, i don't care how weak and crappy it is, we have made so much progress over the past years, that we deserve to pat ourselves on the back for. sure we have a lot to work on but when i saw my president in Malabo, i couldnt help being proud and appreciating the freedom of expression that we enjoy here in Tanzania.when you arrive in an empty island, where all the young people, people living with disabilities, old people or anyone that may tarnish the image of the country has been evicted from their own homes to another part of the country, where the ones that remain where required to be accredited to be there and where you are given 24 hr 'protection' to ensure you dont interact with the locals, you will have a new found respect for your own....I couldnt say much while i was there..i could only critique my own Government and the substance of what they said at the summit, but boy was i glad to be Tanzanian...for a long 2.5 weeks!We are not where we ought to be, and i am not excusing my Government for what they know they are supposed to do to make Tanzania even better and give our generation and those to come the dignity and quality of life we deserve, but being in a dictatorial country does give one a new found respect and perspective of their own circumstances. It showed me where i wouldnt want us to end up and that Politically, we would be a mecca for the Equato-guineans!

  2. Elsie, Tanzania has always been "democratic" in the sense that you describe the word: even back in Mwalimu's day, people had pretty much the same (full?) freedom of expression we continue to enjoy. Indeed, Tanzania was termed a "democratic" one party state in that the elections for Bunge members was always competitive, unlike other socialist/totalatarian states. where the party imposed candidates. So nothing new here...

    But i digress, i wanted to comment because i took exception to your comment that "While I agree that this is not something that will happen in Tanzania anytime soon...", this is sloppy as it alludes to a reality which,in these days where decade long "democratic states",by your definition - that are very similar to our CCM government, toppled over night.

    Remember that weeks before Mubarak fell serious people where making similar calls to yours that he "will not fall anytime soon". I guess what im saying is we need caution: yes, CCM may not lose power in the next 2-3 years but they may very well disintegrate in 4 or 5. I suspect that parties like CCM have a habit of seeming to be stable and strong, only to unravel at often bizzare and unexpected circumstances: not with a bang, but with a wimper!

  3. @Ngasuma: What you said. But try preaching the gospel of civic pride here: you would have better luck selling arsenic for home consumption.

    @Kadebe: Okay. the nothing new here bit is definitely fishy: Nyerere was a benevolent dictator, God rest his soul. what little democracy we have now is far more authentic than whatever passed for "democracy" during the days of Ndiyo Mwalimu. And secondly: please give me some concrete reasons why you think that Egypt is a relevant case by which to predict Tanzania's potential fate in the next decade. The landsize? perhaps the ethnic profile? religious belief? education levels? history? culture? length of coastline, GDP, cabinet size, gender parity, cuisine, language, climate? What is the the basis of that statement?


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