We lucked out with one Magical Autocrat, enough! enough

Wednesday February 6 2019

Tanzanian first president mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

As we took baby steps to emerge from the cocoon of Ujamaa that first president mwalimu Julius Nyerere had designed to more or less incubate this fledgling United Republic of Tanzania, things looked good. We seemed to be, you know, getting our democratic groove on. PHOTO | NMG 

By ELSIE EYAKUZE
More by this Author

I have been on a great diet for a few months now, recommended for those with sensitive dispositions, as part of a balanced lifestyle. But like all diets, sometimes one cheats.

After successfully avoiding any “real news” for a bit, I read an article online about Trump’s attempt to impose a president on Venezuela. This nearly led to a desperate gobbling of news about how The World is doing, but I was strong.

Like any good statist, I found my copy of Lee Kuan Yew’s From Third World to First and let the soothing certainty of the Development Dream wash over me.

Just kidding. I still promise to stuff Lee Kuan Yew’s book down the throat of the next mansplainer who uses it to explain why this little lady needs to embrace the Magical Autocrat fantasy to advance the pursuit of development in Africa – one enraged fistful of pages at a time.

Wasn’t kidding about the diet, however. When so much of global politics and local politics seems to be going awry, it is actually recommended to disconnect from the news cycle from time to time to recharge. In spite of this, it is hard not to notice that autocracy seems to be on the rise.

About 10 years ago, I developed a short-lived belief in Tanzanian “exceptionalism,” thinking that our holding of regular elections and changes in the personnel of government was uniquely progressive even if the ruling party never changed.

As we took baby steps to emerge from the cocoon of Ujamaa that Nyerere had designed to more or less incubate this fledgling United Republic of Tanzania, things looked good. We seemed to be, you know, getting our democratic groove on.

These days the depression is so profound that I can only consume local news as filtered through the frustrated and sarcastic commentary of Tanzanians on Twitter.

Because if I have to watch one more Airbus take a shower at Julius Kambarage Nyerere International Airport on the terrible public broadcaster that our anaemic tax base has to support while pregnant schoolgirls get maligned, the economy does a graceful swan dive into oblivion, so help me, I will Do Something!

The question is: Why? Not the autocrats themselves, “society” is literally made up of trying to negotiate power between those who want it shared and those who don’t and over time we call it history.

What I mean is: Why us, now? What is it that drives the myth of the Magical Autocrat? Why do they keep happening to us? The autocrats, not the magic. Tanzania should know better: They only come once in a polity and we lucked out with Mwalimu.

We can’t afford to look for another one – it’s all about systems now.

It is standard practice to claim that Africans have a natural affinity for paternalism but that’s just lazy: A quick glance around the globe proves this to be glaringly untrue. Everybody does it.

Here’s the thing though: Never has humanity been so prosperous and knowledgeable and full of potential to take off into an age of prosperity – including the East African region – and we keep flubbing it.

I was mulling this deep-seated universal Daddy issue that gets in our general human way when something struck me. Why isn’t humour used as an indicator of socio-economic health and/or development potential? More on this next week.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]

Advertisement