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Regional, District Commissioners Are Colonial Remnants. It’s Time We Undertake Reforms

By giving more power to bureaucrats, the arrangement fails to serve the people and their interests and instead oppresses and distances them from democracy.

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We have been asking ourselves why, 62 years after independence, we are not making significant progress in fundamental national matters. At the same time, we seem to seek answers beyond reality when the root of the problem is evident. 

We enjoy deceiving ourselves when we have a flawed governance structure that empowers a few individuals without amenable accountability and feedback mechanisms for citizens.

A veteran journalist and activist, Jenerali Ulimwengu, once called our governance system a ‘do-it-yourself system.’ In one way or another, the executive branch of the state, specifically the president, is responsible for formulating policy, directing, implementing, advising, scrutinising and assessing the results.

He gave an example of the president appointing people like Regional Commissioners and Regional Administrative Secretaries. When visiting a particular region, the president is briefed by his appointee. Logically, it is challenging for them to speak against something that would displease their boss.

This system makes it very difficult for accountability and the country’s leader to receive feedback from the citizens. This situation has permeated every aspect of governance. But for today, let me discuss the administrative structure of having Regional Commissioners (RCs) and District Commissioners (DCs) only.

Colonial legacy

We must first delve into our state’s nature to understand this system. As we have in Tanzania, the state superstructure of post-colonial societies is rooted in the colonial state superstructure imposed by colonial powers many years ago. 

READ MORE: Military Coups in Africa: A failure of Post-Colonial States or Politics By Other Means?

For instance, despite minor reforms since independence, the government administration structure of having appointed officials like RCs and DCs today is one of the legacies of colonial institutionalisation in our societies.

There has been a lot of criticism over time, specifically on the issue of administrative structure in regions and districts, which gives a lot of power to  RCs and DCs over elected leaders or local councils of the respective areas. 

Even recently, it has been customary to see discussions on social media whenever the president announces the appointed RCs or DCs. Some people demand these positions be abolished, and the power should be given to the Mayors and District Council Chairpersons elected directly by the people.

I agree with these kinds of sentiments because, in one way or another, they are reacting to the state superstructure and institutions which we have inherited from colonialism. The colonial state was designed to be an apparatus of domination. It never intended to institute democratic processes for the people. 

In the case of Tanzania Mainland, formally Tanganyika territory, the executive power of the territory rested on the Governor, whose power was extended to command coercive state apparatuses and appointing all 20 members of the Legislative Council of Tanganyika, which was established in 1926.

READ MORE: Marking Nyerere’s Centennial: Reflecting the Relevance of Self-Reliance Policy Today 

The governor was represented by Provincial Commissioners (PCs) and District Commissioners (DCs) in the established administrative areas. These PCs and DCs were important cadres for agitating the role of the colonial state as an instrument of political and economic domination. 

It was only in district administrative areas where some natives were appointed to the councils and courts based on the British principle of Indirect Rule. The arrangement cannot be considered a form of representation governance since the appointees were responsible to the colonial power rather than to the people of the areas of their mandate.

Under this circumstance, independent Tanganyika, later Tanzania, adopted the system of appointed officials to represent the head of the executive in established administrative areas such as regions and districts. 

Regional commissioners replaced the colonial provincial Commissioners after the government abandoned a system of provincial administrative areas in 1963, but their fundamental roles were similar. 

The district commission position remained the same ever since, with the established system of dividing the country into regions, the administrative authority below regions remained to be districts. This form of administration continues today despite changes in some political formations in the country since independence. 

Toothless local authorities

Though there are local authorities in Tanzania, the central government has a strong establishment at every level. The RCs and DCs, respective to their power of supervising the discharge of all the duties and functions of the government, are responsible to the authority which appointed them with either little or no accountability to the people of the area they are leading. 

READ MORE: Elites Like Preaching About Development. But Whose Development?

This may be perceived as undemocratic and against people’s will to make their own decisions through established local councils in their localities. This system also limits the possibility of people having discussions or expressing freely their opinions within a societal section.  

Apart from that, this form of administrative structure appropriates a large amount of public funds by deploying it to service these bureaucrats instead of deploying the funds to benefit the majority. This appropriation directly impacts welfare delivery and accumulation in our society. 

For instance, in the 2021/2022 budget of the ministry responsible for the regional administration and local government authority, in some districts, a large amount of money was allocated for building or rehabilitating the District and Regional Commissioners’ residence house compared to the amount of money that has been allocated to finance primary education in respective districts. 

Imagine an underdeveloped nation like Tanzania allocating money for the house of a single public official, twice the amount given to finance thousands of children’s education!

That reminds us of state bureaucrats’ role in appropriating the nation’s economic surplus. Rene Dumont, a French agronomist who worked in different post-colonial African nations, described this as a “false start in Africa.”

Oppressive systems

By the way, the system that gives a lot of power to government officials, especially the appointed heads of administrative areas like districts and regions, oppresses the people in one way or another and distances them from democratic processes. Such a system should be abandoned and replaced by a democratic one.

READ MORE: Democracy Identified As Prerequisite to Development

This could be possible only by solving the question of state superstructure inherited from colonialism and replacing it with new state superstructure built in a manner people will have power through the newly established councils at each level: villages/streets, districts, urban authorities, regional and incorporating interests groups or civil societies.

Independence movements and later post-independence initiatives led by the nationalists gave little attention to the question of the ‘state,’ even in the nations under the so-called progressives like Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Touré, Kenneth Kaunda, among others. 

Many nationalists considered the independence movement a matter of seizing a colonial state, expecting to use it to construct a modern African society. This, of course, ignored the nature of the colonial state superstructure, which equipped itself with a powerful bureaucracy intended to subordinate the people economically, politically, and socially. 

African scholars, especially those considered radical pan-Africanists, have been calling for  Africans to abolish the inherited colonial state and its institutions and replace it with a new one that will be able to address itself to the national democratic revolution and people’s development. 

Perhaps it is high time we heed these calls and transform our countries to become fully democratic and prosperous!

Joel Ntile is a pan-Africanist and socio-economic analyst based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He’s available at or on X as @Ntilejoel. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own views and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at

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