by Ben Taylor
A country-wide ban on plastic bags has perhaps had unexpected consequences for the Minister who brought the long-standing proposal to fruition. As of June 2019, Tanzania became the 34th African country to ban importation, production, sale and use of plastic bags, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). A few weeks later, the Minister responsible, January Makamba, was fired.
In his role as Minister of State for Union Matters and the Environment, Mr Makamba had worked for several years to win the support of cabinet and put the necessary legal reforms in place. In recent months he had conducted a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the ban. The country also issued a notice to travellers that they will have to “surrender” plastic bags in their possession at airports and other points of entry.
Traders in Dar es Salaam and elsewhere initially reported concerns that alternatives were more expensive and not as easily available as plastic bags had been. They also complained that they had found themselves with little choice but to burn their remaining stock of plastic bags to avoid problems with the authorities.
Nevertheless, more recent reports suggest that alternative containers had become more readily available. A resident of Dar es Salaam, Ms Rehema Mbiku, said that “the government has done a good thing because the plastic bags were polluting the environment.”
Immediately following the introduction of the ban, President John Magufuli made a surprise visit to a fish market sporting a wicker basket in a move to support the ban. However, his support for Mr Makamba did not last long.
Explaining his decision to fire Mr Makamba, President Magufuli complained that it actually took four years for the ban to be implemented. “The Vice President spoke about it. The Prime Minister spoke about it. There has been a lot of dillydallying until I issued an ultimatum,” he said.
The President also complained of sluggishness in the way tasks were being handled at the Ministry. “Investors are exposed to a lot of delays in accessing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificates.” Some observers pointed to other factors, however. Mr Makamba is regarded as a potential successor of President Magufuli, and some argued that his widely praised ban on plastic bags was seen at high levels of the party as an attempt to gain political mileage.
Others noted that it is alleged that Makamba had played a role in the letter written by his father, the former CCM Secretary General Yusuf Makamba, complaining of his treatment in the media (see previous story). It is also alleged that January Makamba is a leading figure in the supposed plot to prevent President Magufuli from serving a second term.
At the same time as Mr Makamba was fired, a new Minister of Agriculture was appointed, Hussein Bashe. It may or may not be relevant that Mr Bashe was among the most vocal critics of Kinana and Yusuf Makamba following their letter to party elders (see previous story).