The Tanzanian opposition leader Zitto Kabwe spoke to Erick Kabendera on the current political space in the country.
What is your assessment of the state of opposition in Tanzania?
It is under attack and an honest observer of Tanzanian politics would add that it is in a shambles.
However, the situation we are in is attributable to the actions of the state, which does not observe the rule of law.
The Political Parties Act allows for mobilisation, recruiting of members and public rallies. But the president issued a decree in July 2016 that political parties are not allowed to conduct public rallies until election time. Only parliamentarians and councillors can go on political rallies in their localities, but CCM and the president continue to conduct public rallies all over the country. The opposition is in the boxing ring with their hands tied.
The democratic space has narrowed. People are being arrested for airing their views. The top five leaders of the main opposition party Chadema are facing various charges and are supposed to go to court every Thursday, which means they can’t conduct political activities. I have been arrested at least four times since President John Magufuli was elected.
We have also seen massive defections and CCM is co-opting key opposition members into government.
So what is the solution?
We are engaging the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation, which has created a platform for all political parties to meet and discuss our political situation and recommend reforms — whether it be a new Constitution or minimum reforms to the current law.
As the opposition, we need to talk among ourselves to counter the autocratic leadership in our country. Some members are suggesting that we form one party. This isn’t practical, but it is worth considering.
What is your take on President Magufuli?
We’ve never seen a president who behaves like him. Founding president Julius Nyerere was a philosopher; Ali Hassan Mwinyi opened up the country to the rest of the world; Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete allowed parliament to do its work without interference, but the current president doesn't respect institutions.
What is your assessment of the economy?
Tanzania has registered remarkable economic growth of six-seven per cent, but it isn’t reflected in people’s lives. Exports of manufactured goods have gone down by 53 per cent in the past two years.
Our trade balance with Kenya is negative; we used to export more to Kenya than we imported from then. Our exports of cotton, coffee, sisal and tea have gone down, when these are the sectors that employ the majority of Tanzanians. The only sectors that are holding up are tourism and transport.
Some Tanzanians believe that we are in a sort of trade war with Kenya…
I am a staunch supporter of East African integration. Our leaders must understand that the EAC is a Common Market: Goods produced in Nairobi should get the same treatment in terms of prices and duty as goods manufactured in Dar es Salaam.
There must be freedom of movement of goods and people in the region. The fact that a Kenyan needs a permit to work in Tanzania is worrying because we signed protocols with EAC member states.
The current administration has placed emphasis on large infrastructure projects. Have these projects helped transform the economy?
The results are mixed because we finance construction projects with taxpayers' money. This approach creates jobs outside our country because almost all the inputs used for construction are imported. The only benefit we have achieved is the creation of menial jobs.
Another cause for concern is that we are not sequencing our development projects. For example, we built a 515km Mtwara-Dar es Salaam pipeline to pump natural gas and generate electricity, but the Controller and Auditor General said in his latest report that we are only using six per cent of the pipeline's capacity. The government embarked on a new hydropower project at Stigler’s Gorge before utilising the pipeline.
I am not suggesting that the government shouldn't carry out projects critical for generating electricity for our industrialisation, but we have to do it in a prudent manner.
You have persistently criticised the government for buying new planes and constructing the standard gauge railway. Why are you not supporting these projects?
Experts have advised that we rehabilitate the existing Central Line and use it to generate revenues to inject into the SGR rather than taking money from the treasury to build a new railway. The government has borrowed at a commercial rate to build the railway, but will start servicing the loan before the investment generates money to pay for it.
The private sector has been complaining about the deteriorating business environment, which is scaring away foreign investors. Is this a matter of concern to you?
We have been declining on the ease of doing business, and red tape has increased. The government has changed the arbitration policy and foreign investors will not be able to file for international arbitration. This has led to a drop in the confidence of investors.