For those following Tanzanian politics, you would be aware of a United States government aid agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The agency and a slew of other western donor entities have recently announced their withdrawal of general budget support and other development projects in Tanzania, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-35917339). They cited Zanzibar elections and Cybercrime Act 2015 (to a lesser extent) as their primary reasons for stopping aid to Tanzania, (http://www.ippmedia.com/frontend/index.php?l=90487). Subsequently, the move has triggered a heated debate and flurry of commentary both on social media and mainstream media. Some have been defiant and called out the West for their hypocrisy. Others have suggested that we should pivot to Russia and East Asia to countries such China and Japan. Likewise, others have proposed that we should go and explain ourselves to donors (of the democratic strides we have made over the last 50 years or so). There have also been those who called for greater self-reliance as a panacea for foreign meddling into our ‘internal’ affairs. Overall, this has been a difficult period and painful reminder of how vulnerable and aid-dependent we are as a country. As a concerned citizen, here is my take on the ongoing debate.
The strength of being self-reliant cannot be overestimated. It gives us the power to make decisions in our own best interests, enables us to take responsibility for our own well-being and restores our dignity and confidence in our ability. As the saying goes, “You do not raise your child with borrowed food.” It is clear that, in order to rid ourselves of external control, both politically and economically, we need to create a long term proactive vision of reducing and ultimately eradicating aid dependence. We have everything that we need to be self-reliant. Our dependence on foreign aid is appalling. No Tanzanian with country’s best interests at heart would argue against the need for greater self-reliance. Hence, there is no argument there. Crucially, we should not be waiting until foreign donors withdraw or threaten to withdraw aid for us to start seriously talking about the need for economic independence and reasserting our ‘patriotism’. We need to have proactive strategies rather than reactionary ones. What is also true however is that, we cannot just free ourselves from this dependence overnight. The country’s budget and development projects are still largely dependent on foreign aid. Consequently, their withdrawal of general budget support and grants would, in the short term, significantly hurt development projects especially in most vulnerable parts of the country, in rural areas.
Nonetheless, the desire to be economically self-sufficient should not be used to rationalise the blatant abuse of Zanzibaris’ constitutional rights. Those clinging to power in Zanzibar have recently and often resorted to the oldest trick in the book to justify their abuse of power; for ‘security’ reasons and to preserve the Union. The implication here is clear. The other party cannot be trusted to maintain peace and the Union. Consequently employing the politics of fear, they present us with two options; ‘democracy’ or ‘peace’. Nevertheless, this view is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, it assumes that peace and democracy, however defined, are mutually exclusive. That is, the absence of democracy ensures peace. Nothing could be further from the truth. Secondly, it presupposes that we can strong-arm Zanzibaris into an effective working union. If we are good students of both our own and world history, we should know that the desire for self-determination is unquenchable.
Unquestionably, the electoral democracy in the west is not perfect. Undeniably, their foreign policies are not consistent and are fundamentally tied to their own national interests. Moreover, honouring our fellow citizens’ choice of their own leaders is not a ‘western’ idea nor ‘un-African’. It predates multipartyism and ‘democracy’ as we know it. This desire for self-determination is what led us in the 1960’s to challenge and ultimately defeat the shackles of colonialism in Tanzania and throughout the continent more broadly. Undoubtedly, our neighbours in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and arguably Kenya more recently, have not been the best examples in this regard either. But we can do better. Just because we are one-eyed in the continent of the blind that should not make us feel like kings. Ours is a country that is steeped in the history of Africa’s revolutionary past and struggle against colonialism, fascism and apartheid. The Mozambique Liberation Front, (FRELIMO), was founded in Dar-es-Salaam. We served as the headquarters of several southern African liberation movements including Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC). We defeated Idi Amin. We have always stood up for the oppressed even at a considerable cost to our own economy. We have always raised the standard and gave light to others that needed hope. Therefore, suppressing Zanzibaris’ rights to remake their society in accordance with their own ideals is not a repudiation of western values but our values.
Turning to different donors to fund our development projects and the national budget is a band-aid approach that does little to heal an ulcer that needs a far more systemic administration of deeper procedures. We need a proactive vision that will deliver a long term solution. Foreign aid will always come with certain donor ‘expectations’ be that political, economic or otherwise. The inescapable fact is that their aid policies will always be integral part of their foreign policies.
In sum, it is vital that we do not conflate the suppression of Zanzibaris’ constitutional rights with our very noble goal of self-reliance. The two are distinct and not mutually exclusive issues. To deliberately muddy the waters between the two is, at the very least, disingenuous. We can and should strive to be self-reliant. Economic independence cushions us against the forces of imperialism and neo-colonialism that often manifest in the form of ‘foreign aid’. Moreover, that should not and does not give us licence to undermine our fellow citizens’ rights to elect their own leaders and ultimately to shape their own destiny. We need to be better connoisseurs of history. Though history might not repeat itself, it often rhymes. Let us not deceive ourselves, justice smashed down to the ground will rise again undaunted!