By Adagbo ONOJA
There is a sense in which this interview violates the norm against talking bad about the dead but the interview was granted and published when the now late Tanzanian president, John Magufuli was very much alive. Even at death, the interview gives a lot of empirical as well as discursive details about the late Tanzanian leader to warrant its re-publication, with very minor editing of the version first published by Intervention on November 13th, 2016. The background to the interview goes as follows:
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 Nigeria Labour Congress, (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.
The expectation was that revolutionary pressures were building up across the continent to counterbalance the undermining of independence on the continent. Can you see any more such pressures?
Revolutionary pressure on the continent as seen by Claude Ake was that Africa either seriously embarked upon the building of democracy or accepts the fate of repressive rule and he didn’t see anything else in between. Now, the question you are raising is if Africa is wobbling instead of democracy. The continent has a kind of democratic order which is always on the verge of repression. So, Claude Ake’s prediction that either we built the democratic system or else face the wrath of repressive rule has been very close. And the two are very close, it is just a question of tipping over, particularly during times of stress such as election time. That is when you realise how far we are from democratic order.
Except perhaps Ghana?
Ghana to some extent and I think what will be interesting on this question would be the extent to which the stability and continuity that we see in Ghana is sustained.
I mentioned Ghana just because I understand they have an elite pact that under no condition would they tolerate degeneration to anarchy any more. So, when it is on the verge of trouble, everybody pulls back.
I think that is a very important notion if it can be built and made to sink in the hearts and minds of the politicians and the people. That is what I was talking about regarding the political culture of constitutionalism. That is when it comes to where the elite says that, whatever happens, our constitution will help us to resolve it.
I don’t know of how much you know of Ghana to be able to tell us how this pact mindedness might have stuck there because we had a pact in Nigeria but it broke down at the first test.
I am not sure how the Ghana one was forged and I have not studied the Ghana constitution in-depth but one wonders whether it is not a continuing fall out of Kwame Nkrumah. Ghana, like Tanzania, whatever unity now appears, was built around and defended around the ideas of Nyerere. I think there is a certain extent to which Ghana under Nkrumah also forged unity of Ghana within the thinking, within consciencism which is the philosophy of Nkrumah. Consciencism, Pan-Africanism, etc were the heritage which could also account for that kind of political culture, the kind of collective reasoning that whatever happens, we must stand up to disintegration or disorder, thereby committing themselves to the constitution. I think, unlike Nigeria, Ghanaians, wherever you meet, they are, at the very minimum, stuck and identify with the constitution. I am not quite sure the extent Nigerians, for example, are collectively committed to the Nigerian constitution as a deep political culture.
That would require a whole thesis but you might have heard of the argument about the ‘inevitability of instability’ by some scholars here much, much earlier in the 1960s saying that in the context of the competition ridden process of modernisation, there is bound to be some of what we are going through now.
Political stability as the key thing has a whole wealth of literature
However, how much of what we are confronting can be explained by that?
The idea that modernisation was moving faster than political development and therefore, you have to put brakes because the demands were higher than the capacity to deliver was basically the essence of that literature. But as I said, nobody then, nobody raised the question of the political. If you are talking about state failure, state collapse, soft state but not looking for answers within the framework of politics. at that time, then there is a gap. By the way, some people said class, class struggle. Other people said No, there is no class question here, it is a question of individual interests that is driving all these political instability. In all these, nobody questioned, sufficiently in my view, the political system itself from the point of view of always what is at the root of all political systems – legitimacy: why must I obey this particular order, what you call political obligation. They talk about prebendalism – some people suxh as (Prof Richard) Joseph, he was here too, talking about prebends, you have all kinds of perspectives, but the issue of questioning the political system itself was not there. Nobody raised that issue of whether or not these African governments are situated within a framework which can command political obligation. Political obligation is the kind of question the political philosophers addressed: why should people obey and how much governments is good and in what framework and for what purpose. These were the questions that, in the 1960s, Nyerere, Kaunda, even here in Nigeria, everybody was trying to answer because you have to have some kind of rationale if you want to move away from the rationale of imposition. The idea of the monopoly of legitimate use of force becomes central instead of the kind of political order that will command and be given spontaneous consent once the political system didn’t see any obligation to the society and once the political society had the gun. As I said, nobody then raised the question political.
People say that ‘inevitability of instability and Ake’s Revolutionary pressures found a meeting ground in Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and what is happening with Boko Haram. Do you agree?
I am not quite sure whether you can describe or let me say that a revolution is different from political decay. What lies behind, I don’t know. I don’t know what serious works have been done between thuggery and revolutionary activism or whether there was any consistent pattern suggesting one or the other.
Well, but Ake said it was either Socialism or Barbarism. We have not had Socialism, we have only had barbarism
Was he not talking about Socialism or democracy?
No, he said Socialism or Barbarism and that is what we have had in Liberia, Sierra Leone and now in Nigeria in violence of unspeakable acts of cruelty.
I think the original and deep root of these convulsions is backwardness. If you take the case of the convulsion in Nigeria, for the example, I think there are certain sections in the north and they happen to be Muslims and for one reason or the other, they fell behind on the scale of education, in particular. And nobody realised that. Everybody seemed to start with the belief that that is their culture, that Muslims do not like education and so on. But then, that puts them in a less fortunate position socially and we can deduce Boko Haram a reaction to that. In other words, if we can’t have this modern education, then we reject it. Nobody should have it. In a way, I think I can say the system itself either failed to detect this early enough. And the tendency has been to use a lot of force. My own conviction is that every time you resort to force, you stop thinking about creatively, about what else you can do about a particular situation. This is not just about Boko Haram, but this phase of fighting terrorism in a way that amounts to fire with fire. After 9/11, I wrote a piece “Counter Terrorism as Terrorism”
Did you publish it?
Yes, I published it in the African Journal of Political Science. Basically what you do then is you embark on a vicious cycle, you create future terrorists by such tactics. So, my own feeling is generally speaking, globally and because of the American War on Terror, the world has not stopped to be able to think carefully about the deep causes of the problem. Cause has combined with effect and effect has become cause. It is the problem. My view is that it is incumbent on all of us, to dare to think differently. You remember when Bush said there was nothing in between, you were either with us or against us. At that point, the whole world was terrorized, at least into pretending to be on the right side of somebody with bombs.
Are you saying the same thing as those who are saying that the US lost an opportunity to unify the world by the way it handled 9/11?
To some extent and I think from the Reagan era when the US was talking about a new world order. If you recall, that coincided with when the third world was trying to negotiate some kind of accommodation with the northern hemisphere. The difference was the north didn’t want accommodation, they wanted to define the relations. I remember those useful UNCTAD (the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) meetings, the GATT, (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) negotiations, that was the struggle between those who ran the world as they see it to their own advantage and those who liked to see a more consensual world order. And, of course, come 9/11, that tipped the balance against those ready to discuss. The debate was closed. And some of the rationale that was brought to justify that was that, you see, when you start negotiating, they believe they have real power. The notion of more equal access to and share of world resources was jeopardized. All the efforts aimed at basically trying to seek a new definition of more peaceful, a fairer and more just world were challenged. That opportunity has been lost. If you ask me now where are we going next, I don’t know. Afghanistan, there was a time when Obama came in, he said he was going to systematically withdrawal all the soldiers. Some people argue there may be more now than he found. Of course, we had an Iraq, But now to all those you can add Libya, you can add Yemen which I don’t even know what that is all about, you can add Egypt, Tunisia. That is why I don’t get any hype about Clinton and Trump. I don’t try to decide which one of them is better.
Popular feeling tends to favour Mrs Clinton but other people think Donald Trump is also saying something
I think so because she has a legacy already, she has a continuity and it looks to me that this idea about Trump and isolationism. Trump talks about isolationism to some extent and his positive approach to Russia. I don’t know how he sits with China but he seems, listening to him, he would like to do some surgical work on NATO, etc. At least, it is something new.
But the argument is that his attitude to NATO, attitude to East Europe, attitude to China are not isolationism but actually a new form of aggression
Well, I think everybody has different ways of understanding things. And there are so many pundits, analysts and everybody comes with their own views and that would need to be studied carefully because one wants to establish whether it is or it is not and what are the conditions for saying so. What are the concrete conditions on the ground which would explain anything? Probably, he doesn’t understand? He is an outsider? May be he is over simplifying what he might find to be much, much vast. I know that there is a certain perception of permanent interest of the US, there are also different interpretations of how you can pursue those particular interests but with Hilary Clinton, at least, we know, it will be unfair to criticise Hilary later by saying, Hilary, why do you continue the war in Syria because that’s what she inherits. But that is not Trump’s legacy, one thing when he was talking, he made a distinction between fighting ISIS and overthrowing Assad and he was saying, what has Assad got to do with this? I will put my energy to ISIS. By the way, he agrees with Russia on that point and that is why he has been accused of cuddling with a historical enemy.
I want to ask just one more question. What do you see the African scholar doing in all these, this confusion about the fate of Africa, her lack of capacity to compel global powers to re-negotiate the existing order and the consequences for that?
There used to be a time which makes us to be sentimentally referring to Claude Ake and others again and again because at that time, one could speak about African scholarship and the debates that were going on. You had a community of intellectual discourse at some point and we were raising issues of class, socialism or capitalism, we were raising issues of in the South African context, questions of race, nationalism and ethnicity, etc, etc, debating, writing and publishing on these issues. The journals were there. There was Review of African Political Economy, the African Journal of Political Science and so on. There were lots of intellectual ferments. There is very little now. I cannot indulge in who is to be blamed but I hope that there comes rejuvenation. Even in Tanzania with the University of Dar es Salaam famous for debates, the leadership of the university has gradually gravitated towards a sort of laws that seek to silence society. They have collaborated with the rulers to, I think in the last 10 years, experience highest frequency of closing the university for the slightest student complaint/problem such as the size of the portion of the chicken being given in the cafeteria, There was a time we were to bring nutrionists to tell us how much calories these kids need in order to go through a productive day of lectures, seminars and other activities. That information was presented to the administration and it was ignored.
This was when?
This was about the nineties and 2000s. They were not issues demanding anything extraordinary. So, talking about African intellectuals now, we are talking of the lost decades, two decades of preparing younger, successor scholars. I don’t know what the situation in Dar es Salaam is now but I was talking at my lecture of the closure of Makerere University in Uganda. The issues everywhere seem to border on the crisis of student loans , academic staff salaries and general welfare, things that would seem the easier ones. But, last time, I was shocked to find that the University of Dar es Salaam has failed completely to buy any new books for a decade. Yes, it is true that internet, Google and the likes are very helpful but in those days, there was no Google or anything, you buy books and stock the library. The shock was what happened one day, happened-the students were protesting about this chicken and all that. Of course, the police were called in immediately, and I was shocked by the modernity of the equipment that the police had. I mean they were really armed to the teeth with the latest in the communication, even in the uniform, the type of tear gas. They were really on the frontier of modernity in that respect.
But not the university which was still far away
No, not the university but they came to the university to deal with students protesting about lack of books in the library
So, which one is going to happen to Africa? Karl Marx says change comes through thesis and its anti-thesis and then there is a synthesis. Some people say a Messiah will come. Which one is going to apply?
I think Marx will apply. It will always be difficult to beat Karl Marx. It is when this is not happening that we should worry. When there is thesis and there is no anti-thesis, then there is cause for worry. So, I do hope there will be regeneration, of intellectual activity. I can’t tell you how that is going to happen but if universities are not there to protest the general repression in society, may be then we may go to those who say a Messiah would come. But the God of the Old Testament would not stand the collective stupidity of today. He would bring flood or something as punishment unlike the over indulgence of the New Testament which is much more tolerant and softer. But I hope frankly that a point would be reached in which Marx line would happen in my life time.