Opposition leader Zitto Kabwe says the past four years of CCM rule have been disastrous and lays out his vision for a thriving and happy Tanzania.
Opposition leader and MP Zitto Kabwe (centre, in white) visiting a market in Tanzania in October 2019. Credit: Zitto Kabwe.
Tanzanian election year has arrived and should be a time to change our political and economic trajectory. We say goodbye not only to 2019 but to the past four years as the people have the power to choose a new team to create and implement policies to rid them of fear, trouble and poverty and deliver a life of wellbeing and happiness.
Over the past four years, Tanzania has experienced a period of turmoil caused by the oppressive rule of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). Many different groups have been hurt by the decisions and actions of this regime, from government critics to ordinary farmers.
Dissidents have faced extreme suffering and cruelty. There are those who have been killed, kidnapped or disappeared and whose whereabouts remain unknown. Those who were showered in bullets near Parliament with no follow-up investigation, whose offices were bombed, who were falsely charged with money laundering and economic sabotage to silence them, and who continue to spend time in courts' corridors and are not permitted to organise freely. All of this was enabled by repressive laws that violate people's fundamental civil rights, freedom of the press and the basic principles of democracy.
2019 was not a typical year for me personally or for opposition parties in general. I attended numerous court hearings for cases affecting me as well as those of friends and fellow politicians. I slept in police stations and visited prisoners jailed on false pretences. I met with farmers who were never paid after selling their produce, fishermen whose fishing nets were burnt and who were beaten so badly they now have permanent disabilities, herders whose cattle were expropriated by the government and their houses burnt, workers who weren't paid their annual salary increment, business people who were multiply taxed, pensioners who weren't paid their benefits, sick people unable to access care in public hospitals, and students denied the chance to get a good education.
Available statistics show that President John Magufuli's government has caused a huge amount of damage. It has undermined all major crops that were profitable in years past. Cashew nuts were a major source of forex revenue. No longer. Legumes were doing well. Not any more. The same goes for corn, tobacco and other goods. There is every indication that the government will now intervene to try and control cotton and other crops, scaring off more investors in the process.
The government boasts of the many large-scale projects it is supposedly implementing. With projects like the construction of a modern standard gauge rail line, dams for electricity generation, bridges and roads, and even the purchase of aeroplanes for the national carrier, we should have seen an annual rate of economic growth of around 10% and significant benefits for ordinary people. We should have seen more money circulating in the economy because normally investments in construction projects have a significant multiplier effect.
But in the streets, people complain that their lives are tough. This is because these large projects are financed through either domestic or commercial loans with a short maturation period. This is driving up the national debt and increasing the cost of debt servicing as the government increasing borrows internally to pay foreign creditors. By the end of November 2019, the national debt had risen to $28.6 billion, up from $22 billion in November 2015. In other words, the CCM government in the past four years has grown the national debt by $6.6 billion, or $1.5 billion annually.
The government is also borrowing internally to pay foreign contractors, which means it is taking money out of the local economy. All the large infrastructure projects currently being implemented use materials from abroad including commodities like steel. This approach undermines the government's ability to use its spending power to stimulate domestic production. Moreover, it fails to improve the lives of Tanzanian workers. The government has failed to increase the salaries of public servants because of a lack of money as tax revenues fall and funds are sent overseas to external creditors and contractors.
In October 2015, Tanzania was ready to implement infrastructure projects worth $52.8 billion with all the necessary financing lined up. This was meant for initiatives including the Lindi natural gas pipeline ($30 billion), Bagamoyo port ($10 billion), the Standard Gauge railway ($7.5 billion), the mining of iron in Liganga and coal in Mchuchuma ($3.3 billion). All these projects would have brought money into the country and would not have used the government's own tax revenues. If implemented as planned, many jobs would have been created, business activities would have improved, and the economy would have been stimulated.
Instead, women vendors who were promised heaven and more during the 2015 election are now being forcefully moved from markets and are being made to pay when they go to the hospital to give birth. The quality of education continues to decline, while university students who were promised loans are now being expelled for demanding the money they were promised. Both young graduates and those without an education are in the same situation: unemployed. The formal and informal sector are languishing. The elderly have to keep working even in their old age because their younger family members are unable to get jobs or a decent income due to the declining economy.
At the same time, the prices of basic commodities continue to rise and increase the cost of living. A sack of corn is now at $38, up from $17 in October 2018. The price of rice and beans have risen too. In October 2015, the country had a food reserve of 253,600 tonnes. Since Magufuli entered office, the government no longer maintains a food reserve. What was there has mostly been sold to help purchase its aeroplanes, leaving just 55,000 tonnes, equal to one kilo of grain for each Tanzanian.
We are told that this administration is fighting corruption, yet the same administration resists all forms of transparency and passes laws to ensure it can continue conducting its business in the dark. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), Prof Mussa Assad, was unconstitutionally removed from his post because he refused to be controlled and continued to expose the unaccounted-for loss of public funds. Tanzanians are not stupid. You cannot make them believe that you are fighting corruption when what you are really doing is fighting those investigating corruption.
Despite being prevented from carrying out routine political activities for four years, opposition parties prepared themselves for the December 2019 local elections so that Tanzanians would have a chance to express their frustration with the current administration. But CCM decided to deprive Tanzanians of their right to choose the leaders they prefer. The ruling party, which alone has been able to conduct its political activities unhindered for the past four years, was afraid to go before the people to be judged. It deprived people of their constitutional right to choose in a cruel, unjust, repressive act for which there is no precedent aside from the stolen 2015 election in Zanzibar.
What do we expect in 2020?
This is the situation Tanzania finds itself in as we greet the new year. The good news is that, despite being beaten down, Tanzanians don't easily lose heart or give up hope. After four years of work without a pay rise, farming without getting a good price, doing business without profit because of excessive taxes, and living without freedom of expression, ACT-Wazalendo envisions working alongside Tanzanians to build a country where people live with happiness, where people who work hard benefit from their sweat, where watu wana kazi na pia bata ("people have jobs and ducks too") and they have bread but also roses. We envision building a Tanzania where the economy flourishes and our policies ensure an inclusive, solidaristic economy rooted in job creation.
We will also take on the leadership of a country facing many challenges resulting from a growing population. At present, there are 11 million primary school-age children and that number will reach 16 million by 2025. In other words, we have to increase available class space by 24,000 each year. But we also have to stimulate economic activity so that Tanzanians can get jobs as an additional 1.6 million people enter the job market annually, of whom only 70,000 currently get a job.
As the leader of a party preparing for government, I know the extent of the challenges we face, many of which are a result of the decisions made by our current government. By contrast, I want our party to head a government that can attract foreign direct investment to increase wealth and expand productive economic activities. I want us to increase the number of tourists to reach six million per year so we can create many good jobs and earn more foreign exchange. I want our party to lead a government that implements policies that enable us to benefit more from our natural resources such as minerals, forests, and natural gas. God has granted us a country with an advantageous geography, with a long coast and surrounded by other countries with which we can trade. I want to lead a government that uses that opportunity to turn Tanzania into a major transport and commercial hub in the Great Lakes region.
I also want to see us invest more in the economic activities of ordinary Tanzanians, especially agriculture by extending irrigation to new areas and expanding the areas for fishing and animal husbandry. An economy for and by the people is what makes a country strong, not an economy run for and by the government. ACT-Wazalendo wants to build an economy for ordinary people through the expansion of workers' cooperatives, business associations and trade unions.
The Tanzania we are imagining is a Tanzania with good social services, quality education and skilled graduates, a Tanzania with enough teachers, enough classrooms, and investment in vocational training. Our aim is to have quality health care to treat people, to have enough health centres and hospitals, diagnostic labs, skilled health workers and improved water sanitation to reduce the overall disease burden.
The aim of ACT-Wazalendo is to build a strong judicial system to combat bribery, to release the many people who have been falsely charged over the past four years, and to clear the records of those sentenced and punished for crimes they did not commit. Our dream of a future Tanzania is itself borne out of the dreams of many Tanzanians we have met on our listening tours of the country, a Tanzania where life is filled with happiness, where people work but have luxuries too. We believe that, by continuing to gather the views and opinions of ordinary Tanzanians, we will be able to develop a manifesto that guides us to our goals.
I wish all Tanzanians a happy 2020.