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Can January Makamba be the next president of Tanzania?

Summary & Comment: Tanzania has a possible presidential candidate, January Makamba. He promises to promote media freedom and provide youth employment. He says he is a vibrant and honest leader of the new age that Tanzania requires to prosper. MM

Author: Ben Taylor Date Written: 18 February 2015
Primary Category: Profiles Document Origin: African Arguements
Secondary Category: Eastern Region Source URL: http://africanarguments.org
Key Words: Tanzania, media, Makamba, politics

African Charter Article #1: The African Union countries shall recognize all these rights, duties and freedoms and give effect to them. (Click for full text...)

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The Economist doesn’t often write about Tanzania. When it does, the country’s political and business elites pay attention.

So, a few weeks before the 2010 general election, when the Economist published a long piece on Tanzania, it was met with surprise. The magazine had chosen to focus on a young politician of the ruling CCM party by the name of January Makamba, in a surprisingly uncritical interview.

Fast-forward five years and Makamba now aspires to become Tanzania’s next president. And with the same charm and media-savvy that won over the Economist’s writer, he has risen from a rank outsider a few months ago to become a plausible candidate.

Most recently, he has published a book: “Conversations with January Makamba, on the new Tanzania”. It’s widely available in Dar – one seller told me it was selling well – and has been printed as a pull-out in various national newspapers.

Strictly speaking, it’s an extended interview, conducted by Father Privatus Karugendo, a political commentator. But Makamba’s answers are given at length – this is told in his words, over fifty thousand of them.

Putting down his thoughts like this is admirable – if all those running for president did the same, those making the decisions would be in a much better position.

But it’s also brave – the book could come back to haunt him. The government’s recent decision to ban The East African newspaper, for example, contrasts with Makamba’s view expressed in the book:

“I don’t believe in closing newspapers or arresting and detaining journalists. I believe that a government with nothing to hide has no reason to fear the media.” (1)

It’s easy to see how more serious differences with the party’s power-brokers could emerge.

So what has Makamba chosen to say?

There’s no doubt where he is putting his money: youth and employment. Makamba discusses these issues at length.

At 41 years old, he tells us, he is older than 85% of Tanzanians. Julius Nyerere, was just 39 at independence. And in case we don’t yet get the point, here’s what he said when asked if he “is ready” to lead the country:

“If ‘being ready’ means having been active in politics for many years, I’m not sure that Tanzanians are looking for a leader who has been active for forty years creating the system we’re complaining about.

“Tanzanians are not looking for an elder statesman politician to lead them, they are looking for a vibrant and honest leader of the new age.” (2)

Following straight on from this, the first substantive discussion of policy is on expanding youth employment. It’s a whopping 13-point plan with a 3.6 trillion shillings budget (around $2bn) over just three years, including investments in industry, house-building, vocational training, loans for young entrepreneurs, payroll tax incentives for new employers, and a new Small and Medium Enterprises Authority.

Given that 900,000 young Tanzanians already enter the jobs market each year, it’s not hard to make the case that a plan on this scale is needed. Finding the right policies is much harder. Makamba has clearly thought deeply about this – he is not just trying to win the youth vote by telling them what they want to hear, he wants to demonstrate that he has the policies to really make a difference.

And yet, hardest of all is to deliver. Tanzania has often had good policies and good ideas on paper, but corruption, bureaucracy and mismanagement have made implementation problematic. Makamba admits as much:

“I believe it is essential to fundamentally revise the civil service system, in order to put a stop to excessive bureaucracy, to restore discipline among civil servants, to make it simpler and quicker to hold civil servants who breach the ethics of their role, but also to bring back morale, pride and respect to civil servants.” (3)

“Without change to how government operates, no development or even any change at all will take place.” (4)

One idea stands out. It’s covered only briefly, but could have significant impact:

“Lengthy procedures for public procurement have been put in place, but thieves of public property use precisely this complexity for their own benefit. [We should] simplify procurement processes and make them transparent. When the government wants to purchase something it advertises openly and competitors state their prices openly, we have an open auction, using a website set up by government for the purpose. Whoever bids the lowest amount and can meet the required specifications wins the contract, and the job’s done.” (5)

And he talks tough on corruption, calling for severe penalties for those found to have stolen from government – “from 30 years imprisonment to a life sentence.”

But it’s easy to be tough in general terms, and anyone reading this book hoping to get Makamba’s views on specific past corruption scandals – Escrow, EPA, Richmond or the BAE radar – will be disappointed.

I wasn’t expecting any different, but I had hoped Makamba would say something about money in politics. It’s a hot topic, and the book could have been an opportunity to differentiate himself from other aspiring candidates – a commitment to publish his sources of campaign income, for example, or to change the law for future elections.

Not finding anything of this nature, I asked him directly: Is there a need to change the rules of campaign finance within the party? If so, what changes would you like to see?

“We should be okay if we simply abide by the current rules because the problem is not that people are circumventing the rules or are finding loopholes, the problem is that they are blatantly ignoring them. So, we need to be tougher and unrelenting. Punishment must be certain, immediate and harsh.

“I also believe that we can do more to make our process attain more legitimacy, as in getting people to believe that, all being equal, the process will be fair and will lead to a good candidate. We can do more to make it harder for candidates to bribe nominators. Only about 2,100 people are involved in the nomination of our party candidate.  This is a very small number. We have about 6 million members and there are about 50 million Tanzanians. We need to involve more people in selecting our candidate. We need a more open and democratic process.”

The book has some other omissions I found surprising. The phrase “madawa ya kulevya” (illegal drugs) appears just once, and there is no mention at all of poaching or the ivory trade.

There’s barely anything on international relations. The word “China” only appears twice, in the caption to a photo. Even the East African Community only gets passing mentions.

Even more oddly, “Zanzibar” only appears seven times. In contrast, “Arusha” and “Tanga” appear 18 times, and “Mtwara” 16. Given the recent constitutional debates and the separatist sentiment on Zanzibar, this could be interpreted by some as further evidence of a mainland politician ignoring the islands.

There’s one more omission however – less measurable, but perhaps more significant than these others. It was summed up by the book’s final pages, where I was looking for a conclusion that brought together the key points and policies into a rounded, coherent whole. Instead, the final lines are a dull, platitudinous comment on strengthening the justice system.

Where’s the inspiration? Where’s the grand, overarching vision?

Makamba would like to be seen as a Tanzanian version of Obama in 2008 – young, dynamic, different. But the core of Obama’s message came in just a few words: “change”, “hope”, and most of all, “yes we can”.

So can he win?

It almost goes without saying that if he is selected as his party’s nominee, he can win the general election. The CCM candidate is almost certain of victory.

But there is a more significant point: Makamba is arguably the best-placed CCM candidate to draw younger voters away from opposition parties, particularly Chadema, and back to CCM. Besides his youth, he is relatively untainted by the corruption scandals of recent years and has avoided the worst excesses of CCM factionalism. He would probably deliver the party a bigger victory than any of the other likely CCM aspirants.

So can he win the CCM nomination? Can he convince enough of the party hierarchy that it’s time for a generational shift, that the country and party will be safe in his hands?

It can’t hurt that he is well connected. He previously worked as President Kikwete’s speechwriter, and his father is a former General Secretary of the party.

Nevertheless, it will be an uphill struggle. He has powerful, wealthy opponents who will not give up their chance at the presidency without a fight. And despite Makamba’s attempts to focus on policies and demographics, the biggest question of all is a depressing one:

In 2015, is it possible to become the CCM nominee without getting your hands seriously dirty in the process?

Ben Taylor (@mtega) is an analyst and blogger, writing mainly about Tanzanian media and politics at mtega.com. He works for Twaweza, but writes here in a personal capacity – his views do not necessarily represent those of Twaweza.


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(1) Siamini katika kufungia magazeti au kukamata na kufunga waandishi wa habari. Naamini kwamba Serikali ambayo haina cha kuficha haiwezi kuwaogopa au kuwa na uadui na vyombo vya habari.


(2) Kama ni kukomaa kwa maana ya kuwepo kwenye siasa kwa miaka mingi, sina hakika Watanzania wanatafuta kiongozi ambaye kwa miaka 40 ameshiriki kuuweka mfumo tunaoulalamikia.

Watanzania hawatafuti mwanasiasa mkongwe kuwaongoza, wanatafuta kiongozi mahiri na mwadilifu wa zama mpya.


(3) Mimi naamini kwamba kuna ulazima wa kufumua upya mfumo wa utumishi na utendaji wa Serikali ili kukomesha urasimu uliokithiri Serikalini, ili kurudisha nidhamu ya kazi kwa watumishi wa umma, ili kuongeza uwezekano na uharaka wa uwajibishaji wa watumishi wa umma wanaokiuka maadili ya kazi zao lakini pia ili kurudisha ari, morali na fahari na heshima kwa watumishi wa umma.


(4) bila mabadiliko katika mfumo wa uendeshaji wa Serikali, hakuna maendeleo wala mabadiliko yoyote yatakayotokea nchini


(5) Zimewekwa taratibu ndefu za manunuzi ya umma kwa ajili ya udhibiti lakini wezi wa mali za umma wanatumia urefu huohuo wa taratibu hizohizo kujinufaisha. Hapa tunaweza kufanya mambo mawili: kwanza, kurahisisha taratibu za manunuzi na kuziweka wazi. Serikali ikitaka kununua kitu inatangaza wazi na washindani nao wanaweka bei zao wazi, tunafanya mnada wa wazi, ikiwemo kwenye tovuti mahsusi itakayowekwa na Serikali kwa ajili hiyo. Anayetoa kwa bei ya chini na ubora unaohitajika anashinda, basi kazi imekwisha.


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