‘Mzee Rukhsa’ opened doors for media and democracy

Monday March 04 2024

Tanzania’s former president Ali Hassan Mwinyi (front row, far right) poses with black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela, Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and other senior African leaders for a photograph in the Zambian capital Lusaka on February 28, 1990. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


During his tenure in office, the late former president Ali Hassan Mwinyi opened the doors for private media houses to operate in Tanzania.

It started with democracy. In 1991, he ordered the formation of the 20-member Nyalali Commission tasked to collect views from citizens on whether Tanzania should readopt the multiparty system.

The commission recommended multipartyism and he loosened government control, encouraging private investment and enhancing media freedom.

Mzee Mwinyi opened doors to local, regional and international media houses to operate in Tanzania, among them the Nation Media Group, the publisher of The EastAfrican, whose first copy was circulated in Tanzania early in November 1994 at a grand launch party at the Sheraton Hotel in Dar es Salaam (now Serena Dar es Salaam), Benjamin Mkapa, then minister for Science and Technology, officiated the launch.

Read: Former Tanzania President Mwinyi dies at 98

Private print and electronic media houses were to enter the market.


“We also allowed citizens to own computers and televisions,” the late former Tanzanian president wrote in his book, Safari ya Maisha Yangu.

The 1967, Azimio la Arusha (Arusha Declaration) had banned private ownership for all communications gadgets, including telephones, computers, and radio and television stations.

In 1991, Mwinyi’s government abolished the Arusha Declaration on Socialism and Self-reliance then established the Zanzibar Declaration that opened doors for ruling party members to enter into private business.

Today, Tanzania’s main opposition party Chadema says Mwinyi will be remembered for the way he oversaw the reform of economic policies and allowed free market systems.

Chadema’s deputy chairman for Tanzania Mainland Tundu Lissu said that Mwinyi will be remembered for strengthening the plural political system in Tanzania.

"Mzee Mwinyi brought important changes in Tanzanian politics by enabling an environment where citizens can fully participate in the political process," Mr Lissu said.

Mzee Mwinyi practically reversed all Nyerere’s Ujamaa na Kujitegemea, the socialist-inspired policies that dominated Tanzania’s politics, society, and economy during the 24 years of Nyerere’s tenure. His government moved from one of the most influential and passionate defenders of socialism and self-reliance to a free market economy, referred to as neoliberal capitalism.

Read: Former Tanzanian President Mwinyi hospitalised

In Safari ya Maisha Yangu, he says his administration will always be remembered for its great economic reforms, “a task that … was not easy at all, but change was must.”

When Mzee Mwinyi took over the presidency, Tanzania was at the brink of collapse economically. Ujamaa was something of a social success, but economically ruinous. Nyerere had succeeded in creating a sense of unity and effectively removed ethnic politics in a country with more than 120 tribes. But his policies on socialism and self-reliance were short on economic development.

Sectors like food production collapsed.

The Kagera War between Tanzania and Idi Amin’s Uganda in 1978-79 and continual attempts to resist assistance from the Bretton Woods institutions saw dramatic cuts in social services.

Negotiating with the World Bank and the IMF, he says, was one of the most difficult tasks he undertook. This was done between 1975 and 1985, with the first programme implemented in 1986.

Mzee Mwinyi explains in his memoir that the second-phase administration found Tanzania with external debt of more than 50 percent of GDP. He started to revive the economy by slowly moving away from Mzee Nyerere’s socialist ideology.