The past few months have been nothing but trying for the government. The public has not received well the agreement between the Dubai-based company DP World and the government of Tanzania for investment in the country’s ports.
It has produced arguably the loudest public uproar since the current regime was installed in 2021. This is partly because the leak about the current bilateral agreement came when the deal was at an advanced stage, or probably as some speculate, it was already sealed!
Whether the agreement is a professional fumble or an outright theft scheme, it all lies in Tanzania’s communist-style politics. Since the early years of independence, Tanzania has tried to lean more towards politics of isolation, secrecy, centrally-run systems, and less public involvement in state matters.
As much as many people adore Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president, he was not far from the likes of the USSR’s Joseph Stalin and China’s Mao Zedong. The two men shaped Nyerere’s politics, although he never publicly admitted to being a communist.
Nyerere’s Tanzania will forever be living proof that communism or socialism or whatever label you give to the system, none of them was transparent. Famed for its ‘humane’ socialist philosophy, Tanzania grew into a country that rarely allows the public to discuss ‘sacred’ government dealings.
Socialism preached patriotism, which, deep down, denounces logic when it comes to national matters. You’ve got to trust your leaders. Look at North Korea, Russia, or China and ask yourself – how different are we?
In China, the Communist Party pulls the strings, and the public follows. The same goes for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un’s regime. Russia tries to do things slightly differently but more or less the same as the other two. Tanzania still operates in a system similar to the countries mentioned above.
Bilateral agreements between states are an everyday thing. What makes Tanzania’s dealings so unique is its limited engagement structure. The parliament looks like a distant cousin to the executive – completely powerless to change anything.
When the current deal with the DP World made it to the parliament, sections of the critics felt a sense of positivity. There was hope that the parliament would change something or at least push for reforms.
Instead, the deal was passed unanimously with little to no second thought. In a normal democracy, a deal of such magnitude would be in open spheres of discussion from the early stages.
The reason the public feels betrayed by the government in this stems from our usual practice – the government is always right! And by the government here, I mean the executive branch of government.
The Tanzanian parliament has passed bills on short notice, and some turned out to be mistaken. Because most of these deals are signed behind closed doors, there is nothing people can do. The government is ‘right.’
Recent complaints from activists, politicians, clergies, and the general public are a reminder that the current system is undemocratic. Too much power is left to people who may not necessarily know or want to do the right thing.
There is limited architecture for dialogue, and other arms of government don’t have the power they should. Transitioning from this communist approach may take time, decades even, but it’s the only right thing to do. The power over how the country is run should go to the people.
DP World may win now, and they may have already, but future arrangements should seek public approval. The reshuffle will, however, need strong instruments of power, particularly a strong parliament that reflects public interests. One-party, communist-style politics cannot lead us to the future we want.
Festo Mulinda teaches communication studies at the University of Dar es Salaam. He’s available at email@example.com. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.