Mix of youth, experience and passion fuel underdog in hot race for top seat

Saturday November 15 2014

Announcement by the junior minister that he will run for president generates debate on need for new generation of leaders, especially after President Jakaya Kikwete’s not-so-veiled public endorsement. He spoke to The EastAfrican’s Berna Namata.


What is driving you to contest the top seat?

I want to see my country change for the better. Tanzania is at a critical stage: We can take a path to greater prosperity or we can continue to be called a sleeping giant. I am confident that I have the requisite foresight, experience and ideas to move our country forward at a faster pace.

I have worked in State House as a close aide to the president and was exposed to how the country is run. I have been a ruling party leader — as a member of the secretariat, central committee and national executive committee — and was exposed to the mechanics of high-level party politics. And I am an elected Member of Parliament.

Having travelled to every corner of Tanzania — twice in the past 10 years — I have been able to appreciate the immensity of the challenge of uplifting our people. I have travelled across the world and got to see good and bad governance.


The exposures and my deep belief in the possibility of transformation in Tanzania — and a desire to drive and lead that transformation — has propelled me into the race.

In addition, many of us believe that the time for a generational transition in political leadership in our country is now. Tanzania’s demographics have changed dramatically over the past 20 years.

Political leadership needs to reflect the changing demographics. We need a leadership that is attuned to the complexity of an emergent society, basically an entirely new country with an entirely new set of people who are wired differently, every 15 to 20 years.

It is difficult to see those who have been in politics for 40 years — who are steeped in the ways of a one-party state, rigidly planned economy and controls on freedoms — being able to contend with the unique challenges of the ongoing fast changes.

What do you want to change?

Many things, but the first will be our mindset. It is important for Tanzanians to believe that it is within our ability to achieve great things both individually and as a country. We will start with children in schools and through popular mobilisation to get the entire society to believe and act on the things we desire for our country.

We want to set very high ethical standards for public servants. Accountability is key. There will be zero tolerance of corruption and bad governance. People must have faith that they are governed justly. That way, we can maintain peace and harmony.

In terms of policy, we don’t have time to go through it all here, but I am looking at four key areas.

First is people’s incomes. Tremendous progress has been made over the years, but still the majority of our people do not have sufficient incomes to cater for their needs, to save and invest.

Our economy must grow faster, particularly in sectors that involve the most people — agriculture, industry and small- and medium-sized enterprises. We have 22 million people in the job market with 900,000 entrants each year and expected to reach 40 million in 20 years. This must be tackled as an emergency.

Second, I want to transform our education system. When I go to rural Tanzania and see the learning conditions there and every year you look at results for primary and secondary examinations, and you travel around the world and see the kind of education they provide to their children, you know for sure that, if we do not change quickly, if we don’t transform our education and impart skills to young people that are relevant in this century, we are going to be perpetually poor, we are not going to have people capable of being part of the new knowledge economy.

Third, we will set the conditions for private enterprises to thrive by focusing on six key areas: Energy; transport infrastructure; ICT; financial services; a facilitative public sector; and predictable and stable fiscal policies. It absolutely must be easier to start and conduct business in Tanzania.

Fourth, we will focus on better governance and building strong institutions. We will lead a government that is honest, transparent and accountable. We will also seek to build and foster trust in public institutions that will protect people’s interests and guard against abuse of power.

What we want to have eventually is a stronger, prouder, more peaceful, more prosperous, more united Tanzania that is at peace with itself, its neighbours and the community of nations.

Recently, you were reportedly among those reprimanded by your party for campaigning for the top job “prematurely.” What are your options if you are not endorsed?

The reprimand was more or less a reminder to abide by the party’s electoral calendar; it has no bearing on whether or not one will not be endorsed by the party.

Also, there is a general consensus that contenders for high office should come out early so that they can be vetted by party membership and the public. That’s what almost everybody is doing.

We have not contemplated non-endorsement. The party is looking for someone who can win a General Election, who can excite the majority of the electorate, which happens to be young people, who has the ability to fulfil the party’s election manifesto and strengthen the foundation for future party victories.

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I believe I am that person. We will run a campaign such as has never been seen in Tanzania. Our plan is to be at the top of the opinion polls around February.

Term limits remains a political hot potato in most African countries, with leaders not honouring their constitutional provisions. What is your view on that?

The strength of democracy is not defined by term limits. You can have term limits but still have misrule or a succession of bad leaders. What I believe is that, if the Constitution sets term limits, it should not be the decision of the sitting leader to change it to remove limits. That is wrong. Citizens should be able to decide how they want to be governed. The key thing is to strengthen the legitimacy of institutions and the Constitution.

The Constitution is a living organism. If there is consensus to change it, as we are doing in Tanzania through a process that people have agreed to, that’s fine. But Burkina Faso should be viewed more deeply than a mere constitutional change issue. The lesson we can learn there is that leaders get mandates in elections but must continually renew their legitimacy in the way they conduct themselves in office.

We also learn that, all over Africa, we have a new and empowered citizenry that is able to mobilise and organise mass action to effect change, including removing a president. But we also learn that citizens’ actions for change must not lead to after-change chaos

How will you fund your campaign?

The increasing role of money in elections gives us bad and corrupt leaders and locks young people out of politics. I will not need money to buy voters because I believe that it’s not the right thing to do and it cannot bring about good and ethical leadership.

But it is also naïve to say money will not be needed. Obviously, you need resources to reach many people. So, we are going to run an inspirational campaign, which will get the people to believe in their abilities to elect a president that they feel can serve them.

Tanzania has been accused of not being keen to fast-track regional integration. What’s your take on that?

Tanzania has been too careful, not unwilling. The beauty of the EAC Treaty is that it is essentially a staged roadmap towards the final destination, which is the political federation.