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Tanzania: At last, a regional voice?

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Tanzania: At last, a regional voice?

Tanzania’s relative stability since independence in 1964 would seem to serve as a model for East Africa’s development, says Joseph Ochieno.

After selecting former South African president Thabo Mbeki as my surviving and active “elder” African statesman of choice, I have been trying to establish if it might be possible for a regional “elder” leader to emerge in East Africa.

In Uganda, “gun-elected” dictators would never allow this to happen. While in Kenya it may still be possible, in Rwanda the strong-man “victor’s” culture would tend to impede it.

Every time I discuss the challenges of political leadership in Africa on my weekly radio show, Talking Africa, I leave the studio emotionally drained. Drained because exemplary leadership is seemingly an endangered species on the continent.

Always, we lament the absence of genuine, bold and people-focused leadership. Genuine in its mission, tested on deliverables. Bold in taking tough decisions on issues that matter to Africans at home and abroad. People-focused, so that power belongs to the people.

They fail, unless the dreams and aspirations of the “governed”, including an ability to change leaders and governments at will, are satisfied.

In April, as if fated to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, after Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundi counterpart Cyprien Taryamira were killed in a missile attack on their plane near Kigali, I listened to Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete tell a London meeting that East Africa has, and still continues, to contribute disproportionately to wars and conflicts on the continent.

The president was right. Just think of Rwanda since the Ugandan invasion in October 1990; the civil war in Burundi; the costly invasion and occupation of the DRCongo by Uganda and Rwanda; the ongoing conflict in South Sudan in which Uganda, again, seems to be at the centre; and the Somalia crisis with its Kenyan involvement.

While he lamented on war, war-mongers and their impediment to development, Kikwete noted at the Chatham House meeting on “Tanzania’s Transformation and Vision 2025: Governing Economic Growth for Social Gain” that good governance brings its own rewards.

The president advanced impressive and persuasive economic figures that suggest that in nine years’ time – all factors remaining constant – the country will achieve middle-income status. And why not? They are already setting up a sovereign fund akin to that of oil-rich Norway to cater for the revenues accruing in the country exploiting natural gas and other minerals.

Listening to Kikwete reinforced my own view that it is possible for nations to develop without necessarily brutalising their people, as happened in countries like Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.

Barring surprises – and, as we all know, Africa is full of surprises – Kikwete is certain to retire in October 2015, when his maximum two terms as president expires.

It seems that 10 years is more than enough for anyone to make their contribution to a country’s development in a presidential capacity.

Nyerere was in power for 23 years; he did not finish the job. Kikwete’s two predecessors were there for 10 years each and they did not do so either.
Kikwete’s job is to do his best in the allocated time, including setting the foundations for a 2025 vision that others can build on. There is after all, much to do outside State House as an elder statesman and former head of state.

The political history of Tanzania is of course different from the rest of East Africa and Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) remains the dominant, ruling party.So there is no reason why even a retired Kikwete would not be a valuable addition to the Tanzanian “vision”.

But with his bold position on certain issues regarding East Africa and his own track record, could we – at last – see a possible regional elder statesman emerging, willing to intervene, tackle and lead without personal self-interest?

Whatever happens, for a moment in April listening to President Kikwete, I envied Tanzania.

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