‘Winds of change have gusted down from Eastern Europe to stir an unprecedented political debate in socialist Tanzania’, wrote the Nairobi Daily News in its April 4th 1990 issue. In an article under the heading ‘Is Tanzania Ready for Multi-Party Democracy’ the paper stated: Mwalimu Nyerere himself opened the debate in February 1990 when he said that Tanzanians should not … believe that a one-party state was God’s wish. “It is now possible to have alternative parties if only to overcome problems related to complacency in a single-party system” he said. Diplomatic sources were quoted as having said that Mwalimu. who had seen much of his economic thinking reversed by the market-oriented policies of his successor, President Mwinyi, was clutching at the last of his ideals. Dr Nyerere was said to have been badly shaken by events in Eastern Europe and to fear that his life’s work might be swept away.

The’ New York Times’ in its issue of February 27th under the heading ‘African Elder Trims One Party Stand’ stated that ‘in what amounted to the first discussion by an African leader of the political repercussions of events in Eastern Europe – where Tanzania has sent Party cadres to study – Mr Nyerere had suggested that a single-party state should not be sacrosanct. It was thought that he had been influenced by the visit he had made in January to East Germany where his party had formal relations with the then ruling communist party. Tanzanians training at East German party schools had been sent home after the schools had been closed down.

Addressing media representatives in February Mwalimu had also said that it was absurd and ridiculous to suggest that Tanzania’s socialist policies would go with him. Tanzania had a generation of people who valued Ujamaa. “It is not out of vanity that I say this” he said. “Ujamaa has taken root in Tanzania”. If CCM however were to give the green light for the formation of many parties then those parties should be national, secular and socialist in character.

Mr A. M Babu the well-known former Tanzanian Cabinet Minister published an ‘Open Letter’ addressed to Mwalimu Nyerere in the February issue of ‘New African’ which was headed ‘Babu Warns Nyerere’. Babu wrote that he had carried out an investigation to assess what Tanzanians in London thought about the events in Eastern Europe. Almost without exception they had approved of what was taking place. If the CCM wanted to survive as a political party, he wrote, it must have the foresight to relinquish its sole and total grasp on power. ‘We need a free people first of all – free from the constraints of party ‘directives’, the pettiness of its very often pompous bureaucrats, freed from the daily surveillance of the secret police and informers who are essential to maintain the one-party system, freed from economic exploitation accentuated by the workers and peasants inability by law to organise independently ……’

On March 24th 1990 a three-day symposium began in Dar es Salaam. The theme was again the changes sweeping Eastern Europe. But, this time, according to the Daily News, there was a consensus, during discussion of a paper analysing global experiences in building socialism, that Tanzania’s political system allowed a great measure of popular participation. Participants felt that Tanzania could be a model of one party democracy. Rather than forming more political parties, Tanzanians should reform the present system to maximise democracy and check corruption of power in high offices. Professor Aikael Kweka of Dar es Salaam University said that the changes in Eastern Europe did not signify the end of socialism. Socialism would remain necessary as long as oppression and exploitation existed. Others felt that the Party had been doing quite well in Tanzania and that only a few small changes were needed. “Socialism is the only pillar, come what may” said one party representative.

A whole string of suggestions for reform in Tanzania were made by speakers. Mass organisations should get greater autonomy; there should be checks and balances to ensure that the party lived up to people’s expectations; party and government positions should be clearly separated; managing directors of parastatals should not be also party secretaries; party members and non-members should be allowed to contest parliamentary elections; the party should no longer pick candidates for leadership of mass organisations …

Then followed a seminar in London, held at the Commonwealth Institute on April 14th 1990. It was a packed occasion of over two hundred Tanzanians from all over the United Kingdom and Ireland. It was chaired – better perhaps to say animated – by Tanzania’s lively new High Commissioner in London, Mr John Malecela, who controlled the discussions with considerable aplomb, a light hand and great wit.

The most solid paper was presented by Dr E. J. Kisanga, who, unlike most of the participants, stressed the economic implications and the need for Tanzania to become a viable trading nation. He saw the implications of the changes in Eastern Europe as greater competition for the resources of Western Europe and perhaps more severe conditionalities attached to aid with adverse effects on foreign investment in Tanzania; but, at the same time, possible advantages in the opening up of new markets for Tanzania’s products like tea, coffee and cashew nuts. The world was watching Tanzania he said; they had been able to attract resources in the past because of Tanzania’s good record but there was a risk of the country being marginalised if it did not retain this good record in terms of human rights.

Speaker after speaker, including, surprisingly, several members of the staff of the High Commission, called for changes in Tanzania. People wanted to decide for themselves and not to have decisions taken for them. Few speakers however were prepared to be precise about what the changes should be. No one advocated capitalism directly and one fluent lady speaker, defended Tanzania’s present political structures. She said that she had been in the Soviet Union for seven years and that as far as she was concerned Perestroika had failed and it was not needed in Tanzania. But there were still many problems to be resolved at home.

Speakers pointed to the important issues involved: private sector versus state sector; collectives and individuals; equity and growth; inheritance and disadvantage; Tanzania’s politicised army; above all, poverty.

A few off the cuff remarks:
‘There are plenty of learned Tanzanians; very few educated ones’
‘There is democracy and domocracy’ – from the Swahili word for mouth ‘mdomo’; Tanzanians were said to be very good at ‘domocracy’.
‘The Republic of Kilimanjaro has nothing to do with this seminar’; a reference to a remarkably badly written tract handed to participants outside the building as they arrived; it proposed that if, after a referendum, Zanzibar should break away from the Union, the mainland should be called the ‘Republic of Kilimanjaro’.
‘We had a brilliant philosopher king as our leader; but Nyerere has stepped aside; the people should decide who our next leaders should be’,
‘Most civil servants are thieves’.
‘Leave planning to the people’,
‘Remember, a leader is a person whose salary is bigger than his father’s was’.
‘People are dying in various parts of the world because of language and religion; in Tanzania we have a unified democratic state without language and religious problems.
‘The important things are love of people for each other, religion and food to eat’.
‘If I were Minister of the People … there wouldn’t be any competition for that job …. ‘
‘Will change help the common man? …. if people weren’t greedy everything would be alright’.

The debate was lively, good humoured and all spoke sincerely about what they thought. There was no anger. This debate was something which, one speaker pointed out, would not be possible in the case of some of Tanzania’s neighbours.

Mr Richard Mpopo and the Tanzania Association deserve considerable credit for organising such an ambitious occasion.
David Brewin

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