By Adagbo ONOJA
Professor Mwesiga Baregu, the Stanford educated Tanzanian political scientist would be the first to tell you that he was the chief strategist of the opposition in that country. In other words, the professor is not a politically innocent voice. But he is somebody who believes that education creates conscience in the educated person and makes him or her to judge him or herself more harshly than others do to themselves. That is his own way of saying that he may be partisan in his views, they are still honest views about the African condition. To be fair, he didn’t actually call himself chief strategist of the opposition in Tanzania or by any such title. It was his friend, Professor Okello Oculi, who called him so during the vote of thanks at the lecture Baregu delivered at the NLC on November 8th, 2016. The truth though is that Oculi was speaking the truth. Baregu does not deny that.
For 59 minutes and 27 seconds on the day voters in the United States went to the polls, Intervention sat with this African political scientist by the Pool at Abuja Sheraton Hotel, listening to, among others, his inclination to Donald Trump rather than Hilary Clinton before the Americans shockingly went the Trump way 12 hours later. So, what was Baregu saying on Trump? But the interview started on a different issue topic – his scathing criticism of his own president, John Magufuli of Tanzania. What is the problem between them?
You heard on arrival in Nigeria that your president, John Magufuli, is somehow popular here. And your attitude to that is, oh, Nigerians can have him if they so wish. I am interested in why you would be that generous or enthusiastic in lending Magufuli to Nigeria.
In lending what?
You don’t mind lending Nigeria your own president who seems to be popular here
Laughs! Maybe , let me say again as I said during my presentation that I have some major disagreement with his approach to politics. A very live example is that after the elections, there were major policy restrictions on the opposition who wanted to go out and thank the voters for whatever votes they had cast for them. And Magufuli said No. and then eventually, he ended up banning public rallies and made a statement to the effect that there will be no public rallies by political parties, not even internal meetings by political parties until he ends his term of office. If you assume that he might also be thinking of a second term, that means Tanzanians are banned from politics except for the election campaign period which is provided for by the electoral law. And then that is still on. That ban on public rallies in particular. Internal meetings, again, very difficult. I personally got arrested. The Central Committee of my party in an internal meeting at a hotel, a place like this and the police stormed the meeting and arrested all of us. That is the leadership of the party and we were interrogated at the police station. That was on the 29th of August this year. We had planned to hold a protest rally about the ban on public rally on the 1st of September. We were arrested on the 29th but to this day, there are no charges preferred against us. We were told to come back the following day but we all got telephone message saying before we could even get there, they said don’t come, we will call you when we need you. That is about two months ago.
But you are not in detention, you are allowed to move around and even travel to Nigeria
No, not beyond that day. We were in the police station during the interrogation when the rest of the day was wasted. We never resumed that meeting because we were accused of planning sedition, of indulging in a seditious activity. So, my view is that Magufuli is going astray. The other point is about the constitution as I mentioned. Only very recently, actually last week, his comments when he was interviewed by the press at the State House when commemorating his first year in office and they asked him what he wanted to do about the uncompleted constitution making process and he said that for him, it is not a priority. That is where he made the statement just give me time to straighten out this country before we pick up the constitutional issue because there are constitutions all over the place, all kinds of constitutions but they are not always working. So, what he has been doing so far and all those things he is being lauded for have been done mostly against the law, outside the constitution. Magufuli, he has been a terror on the public service. And he has a term that he is opening up boils, he has the idea that there are boils within the public service. So, he has given himself the task of opening them up and bleeding them. So, you can imagine my reaction – opening up and bleeding boils is where you probably need to do surgery. In crude surgeries, you must feel the pain. A lot of people have been dismissed, terminated, they have been suspended from work, no reasons have been advanced. Even as I speak to you now, you don’t even know for what offences because he doesn’t say, he just wakes up one day and says that guy is a boil. I will let it bleed. It is lawlessness. You require the people to obey unlawful order because there is nowhere in the constitution where he derived such powers. And he evaded the question as to where he obtained the powers to do x, y and y. It is not in the constitution, it is not in the law. That is why I was saying that if Nigerians feel they want him, we will feel greatly relieved. Take him off our back. Nigeria has a stronger back to carry him.
You don’t agree that he might be carrying out surgical operations that are required. Rather, you think his is a consciously repressive approach to government.
He has a very consciously repressive approach to government. Right now, it is almost like everybody is on tenterhook. Because the due process is not followed, nobody knows in the public service if they are making mistakes. There are standard procedures that require you to give people a first warning, then a second more serious warning. These things are set out in the contract for the position but he is jumping all these regulations. He is in a hurry but then in the meantime, he is breaking the fundamental rights of those affected. And in Tanzania as in the rest of the Commonwealth, you are presumed innocent until found guilty. I know, it is a problem which underpins fighting corruption across the continent but what we have suggested is if you want to do it illegally, then declare an emergency, the kind of thing that Erdogan has done in Turkey. Declare an emergency, suspend the constitution so that the citizens are not entrapped. Entrapment, meaning you think you are doing the right thing by the law but somebody has suspended that law. So, let’s know that the law has been suspended.
So, where do you think he is heading if what he is doing is conscious? What is his destination?
The destination when somebody says, for example, that he is casting aside the constitution and he needs time to finish a self-defined task, using a process which runs counter to the provisions of the constitution, you are heading towards some kind of misuse of power, he is heading towards some kind of disaster.
Ok, I would leave Magufuli and Tanzania at this point
Maybe there is something I need to say about that Zanzibar.
Ok, what happened in Zanzibar and why is it important?
In Zanzibar, the election was going on very, very well, up to the polling day. As I said, we had established stations with volunteers to receive results so that we had our own tally process. Our stations were raided. There was also a human rights organisation, Tanzania League of Human Rights Centre, they were also raided and dismantled. In Zanzibar, that was about two days later, they had started vote counting and gone almost half way through when the chairman of the electoral commission forced them to call a press conference saying, I have nullified the result of the election. He didn’t even hold a meeting of the commission as a whole which is required by the law. But he was not empowered to make decisions unilaterally. In this case, he did, he decided and the police of course were right on hand basically in anticipation of the consequences of such action which is that people might protest. So, for quite some time, Zanzibar was almost under occupation. And then we started a negotiation process, to see what then after. But in the meantime, the president of Zanzibar who is also the chief of the party in Zanzibar met with the leader of the opposition other party and they met for about nine sessions. Meanwhile, the president, with his party, was arranging a re-run of the election about a week or two away from the election. But they said this when those who were negotiating were expecting that they were reaching somewhere, at least in terms of the composition of who is going to oversee the new election if it was to be repeated, what’s the role of the electoral commission which had indulged in rigging the election in the first place. These issues were being discussed. Did we need observers from the African Union or the Commonwealth? Then Magufuli went to the Island for the first time after the election and said to the president of Zanzibar, you are the president here, if anybody is giving you any problems here, just let me know. It won’t take me more than thirty minutes. That’s what he told him.
What is Magufuli’s trajectory or background?
Magufuli! He is or was a Chemistry teacher
In the university?
No, it was in the secondary school. He taught at high school level. But he apparently holds a PhD of the University of Dar es Salaam. But he has been in government for close to twenty years. He started off as a parliamentarian, then minister of state. He has been minister several times. So, he has been a politician but perhaps with very little close relationship with the political party.
That is the CCM, (Chama Cha Mapinduzi or Swahili language for party of the revolution)
He was an outsider
In Africa, we didn’t expect problem of leadership grooming from Zimbabwe, South Africa or Tanzania where the pre or immediate post independence political parties still exist. So, how can we explain why we seem to be having the problem in the case of Tanzania?
No, one explanation I think is this one. When the main national election was held last year, the ruling party embarked upon its candidate selection process, nomination process. And they got about 40 aspirants who wanted to contest for the presidency. And they had to embark upon a process of filtering the 40. There was Edward Lowassa who, as prime minister, had built a name for himself. So much so that he was almost assured of nomination on the basis of his own effort and attempt to organise his people. Lowassa resigned the prime ministership on allegation that he had indulged in some kind of corruption with a foreign company that was supposed to generate electricity, etcetera. At the time of the scandal, he almost implicated Jakaya Kikwete who was the president. He was like telling the president I didn’t do this independently, I got your permission but the president did not want to get involved in that. So, there was a parliamentary commission which was created to investigate the matter. They didn’t come out with any concrete evidence but they made a recommendation to the effect that the prime minister may have failed in his duty of making sure that things were done correctly and, therefore, he was urged by the president to resign. So, when he turned up as a potential candidate for the presidency, the party fought it tooth and nail. It could be anybody but Lowassa. I would say the party lost focus in identifying a suitable candidate and that is how this guy emerged. Otherwise, he was an outsider. Somehow, he popped up because there were all kinds of groups. Kikwete had his own candidate who was his own foreign minister. There were other people who were also favoured. At that time, the party was so strained over Lowassa that they failed to reach a consensus on a suitable person and that left room for this guy to emerge as a candidate.
That means we cannot say that it is a tendency that is at work in the way you are saying Magufuli exercises power.
He doesn’t represent a particular tendency. He may be in the process of evolving a tendency but even when he campaigned, it was like a personal project and the party had merely given him a sponsorship. He was Minister for works and was involved in building roads and all that. So, he had some kind of popularity. When he got the nomination, he maintained his distance from the party. Even now, he remains distant from the party even after taking the chairmanship of the party. So, he is basically, single handedly, running the show as he sees it.
When you spoke earlier, you did not accept institutional weakness, poor policy making, lack of capacity or poor policy implementation but lack of legitimacy when it comes to explaining this kind of situations across Africa. The three other explanatory models for understanding political oddity in Africa are external dictation, the unproductive character of the post colonial elite and the African depicted in History, the African who cannot help himself. To which of these are you then inclined in explaining this situation?
I think two basically. One is that colonial legacy and the conception of political power along the colonial framework. The other one is the fact that the governments have failed to root themselves in the popular will of the people. As I have tried to explain, that began immediately after independence and if you recall, the establishment of single party rule was pervasive. The imposition of single party rule, the rise of the dominant leader, the muzzling of dissent – remember detention laws. So, that window of opportunity of creating a social contract that defined a new socio-political framework morally accepted by all was lost. Very soon, African countries fell into the hands of the IMF, the World Bank. And they have remained trapped there. So, the whole conversation about the nature and purpose of government after independence was cast aside and was never done. In some countries such as Nigeria, the nation as inherited colonially has been problematic. There has been no new social contract defining the relationship of the state with the people. Nigeria seemed to have found a solution in creating more states. It is a new social contract to the extent that it is defined by Nigerians but the point is whether that process has meant arrival at a unified social contract. The view from outside and from well wishers of Nigeria is that it really needs a strong leadership to navigate through that configuration.