Is Kikwete the most useless president Tanzania ever had? Was Nyerere justified in denying him the presidency?
All indications are that President Jakaya Kiwkete will be announced the winner of the just concluded presidential elections in Tanzania. This is one result that will dishearten many Tanzanians.
But for the rest of East Africans there are interesting lessons to be learnt here from one Jakaya Kikwete. There are similarities between Jakaya Kikwete and Mwai Kibaki apart from the fact that both held the Finance ministry portfolio when they made history as the youngest Finance ministers in their respective countries. Kibaki was finance Minister in Kenya in his 30s whilst Kikwete got the coveted docket in Tanzania at 44.
Kibaki and Kikwete are the kind of leaders that are way too eager to lead. Folks in a big hurry to be president before clearly crystallizing their policies and what they want to do with the presidential powers their lust after. You will see these kind of leaders pretty often. The kind that are just too eager to take over office, cocky and very sure that they can do a better job even before they take the time to carefully analyze the job and what the current office bearers are doing and have done. Many times they will frequently rubbish the work of their predecessors in words and actions (Kibaki did it openly, Kikwete less so).
It is said that in 1995 the late Julius Kabarage Nyerere prevailed on CCM to opt for William Mkapa as their presidential candidate rather than Kikwete to take over the presidency from then president Ali Hassan Mwinyi (who is the man who came after Nyerere.) The founding father of Tanzania was always a keen judge of human character and hardly missed anything. Dramatically during the presidential nomination process Kikwete was clearly carrying the day over Mkapa when the wise Nyerere suddenly and unexpectedly called for a break. Obviously it was not for him to enjoy a cup of tea or cold Pepsi (found only in Tanzania in the entire East African region) but clearly it was for him to do some subtle lobbying. He urged his CCM comrades to opt for Mkapa rather than Kikwete and “to give the young man some more years to mature” (Nyerere’s exact words). No doubt these were very hurting words to Kikwete then but in retrospect Tanzanians have one more critical thing to thank Mwalimu for. He saw many years ago what Tanzanians are only realizing now. Indeed although Kikwete has worked hard to position himself to the public as a keen student of Nyerere the truth is that he finally got elected over Nyerere’s long-dead body and chances are that the old wise man of Tanzania would have denied Kikwete the presidency yet again was he still alive to lobby within the CCM high command. And with good reason. Mkapa’s steadier wiser hand apparently had much more attention to detail and gave Tanzania the best 10 years that economy has ever seen. In those 10 years Tanzania changed so dramatically that they suddenly had a problem of too many Kenyans flooding the job market there where opportunities were numerous fueled by the suddenly rapidly growing economy. In retrospect it is obvious that Mkapa understood a lot of things that the arrogant JK did not take time to grasp.
As it is Kikwete will go down in history as the least popular Tanzanian president ever. A close friend based in Tanzania for many years sent me an interesting email this week that perfectly illustrates the feelings of most Tanzanians towards this president;
“Chris, people here are disenchanted with Kikwete. He's a populist and yet doesn't seem to be delivering 'Maisha bora kwa kila Mtanzania'. He talks of fighting corruption but there are many corrupt guys in his party (and government). Some, whose cases are in court, were running to be re-elected this year. Kikwete literally went to their constituencies during the campaigns and told the wananchi that those court cases and accusations were fabrications. Imagine the cheek!”
Amazingly like Kibaki, on taking over office Kikwete wanted to do too many things. In many ways the insinuation here is that your predecessor did nothing and has therefore left you with too much work to do. Basic management demands that you must prioritize and focus on a few key areas. Kikwete and Kibaki ignored this cardinal rule and woke up one morning to realize that their initial 5 year term was already over and they hardly had anything to show for it.
What Mr Kikwete must do now is use his remaining 5 years to repair some of the damage he has done to Mkapa’s good work and then focus on one critical area that he will want to be remembered for. As it is now most Tanzanians only remember him for pain. He might want to borrow a leaf from Kibaki and initiate the process for a new constitution or at the very least major changes to the laws that govern this huge sleeping giant of a nation.