In his book, Conversation With Myself, Nelson Mandela narrates an interesting story of The Wind and the Sun… brief interpretation of the story is that soft power is often more effective that the hard power, which often manifests with attention and force. Mandela is very right to refer to this story given his own long-lasting approach of using soft power after attempts of hard power failed in large parts to counter apartheid. Of course, there is always a role of hard power (even Lord Jesus Christ, as Mandela referred to also, had to use force in one of dealing with thieves in His father’s holy temple) and its place cannot be sidelined. Nonetheless, there are issues that are effectively addressed by soft power, which yields better and sustainable results however gradual progress may register in the beginning.
In relations to that, as much as the opposition in Tanzania has a reason for fighting for their constitutional right – the operating space, their success and sustainability of that space will be dependent on their approach. The President has restricted opposition space to carry out its affairs under the general justification that it is time for work and not politiking. The opposition has lamented the president’s move to be unconstitutional along side many other complaints including by passing of the rule of law in some of the president’s decisions made so far. The outcry from the opposition is that there are emerging signs of dictatorial trends in the current regime. A situation that has come as a shock following the relatively open and wide operating space the opposition enjoyed in the immediate past regime. In reaction to that and after a number of failed rhetoric attempts, the opposition – in particular CHADEMA- has announced its planned national wide demonstration on the September 1st known as UKUTA (Umoja wa Kupambana na Udikteta Tanzania). The president has not only discouraged this plan but he has also threatened to react when it happens. This confrontation is not light. It gives me goosebumps whenever I think about it. As a Political Scientist, I can never ignore statements given by the president and their meanings that are often hidden and can be identified through analysis of the language, non-verbal language, personality display, and contextual analysis.
I have often tried to throw away the thoughts of what might happen on the September 1st with consolation that the opposition will not actually go on the streets and/or the president (through police force and other state tools) would not react, but as the days move on I feel the urge to engage in this discussion. After much reflection, I think the opposition should not go on with the September 1st plans and that the president should go into dialogue (even a meeting) with the opposition. My reasons are:
- Tanzania cannot afford to tarnish its image as a peaceful country. Tarnish this image has implications beyond those who will be hurt or may be killed in the demonstration. It is implication is global and regional. Tanzania is one of the few countries that have proven to the world wrong that African countries can only be chaotic. Tanzania is also a beacon of hope – a candle on the Mountain- that the region looks upon for its light. Why should we switch off this candle that has been on for over 5 decades and brought so much hope to our neighbours?
- The unfounded dictatorial trends that are being observed or claimed do not present a strong case for a demonstration that may lead to tension and an unnecessary confrontation. The president has not (yet) done anything structural that has eroded the constitutional base through which the opposition operates. There is no need to panic. He has only used his constitutional powers to do what is doing. Whatever is happening now is a manifestation of the remaining but weakened aura of a single-party system underneath the political foundations of Tanzania. The early 1990s reforms were superficial and the real reforms have been happening incrementally, which means time is required to see real change from the 1960s established path.
- Any tension or confrontation that may occur on the September 1st might deter the (I believe) genuine desire/motivation of the president to bring about change and development in the country. It would force him out of development/change agenda into another agenda that will only waste country’s resources and time. So it should also be the president’s interest to engage in a dialogue.
- Given the popularity that the president has gained among members of the public, it could end up being a political suicide for the opposition if it continues with the planned demonstration. From the hindsight, it does not look like there is much public support for the planned activity. To be honest, I cannot boldly say that since there are no public opinion survey carried out yet to find out the public feeling and support for UKUTA. Nevertheless, in general and from quick reading and overview of media outlets and social media discussions, there seem not to be significant support for UKUTA. Most citizens think that it was a high time for Tanzania to change, to get more serious on its business, and that it had got to a point that work discipline needed to be re-established in civil service as well as in private sector and the informal sector too.
In light of that and following the Wind and the Sun story, here are my suggestions to the opposition in moving forward:
- Focus on constitutional review to ensure that power moves from the executive branch of the government to people. The Warioba constitution draft is an excellent reference point. The opposition made a mistake of “abandoning” / sidelining its concentration on the constitutional review with a diverted attention towards gaining power. The decisions and compromises made in 2015, by and large, were a miscalculation and have cost the opposition significant amount of its soft power. It is, however, never too late to rejuvenate the focus on constitutional change, which may give it a reliable agenda to push through and that which will bring back the opposition into track.
- Secure dialogue with the president before going to the street. The opposition should find a better way of dealing with the president who has shown less interest in politics (even on his own party). Since the president has declared “Hapa Kazi Tu”, the opposition should convince him under the same slogan that for the Kazi Tu to be possible, the opposition needs to be engaged and politics somehow accommodated. Now, the style and the manifestation of the approach so far has portrayed an image of work vs. politics. In Tanzania we had a slogan of “Siasa na Kazi” – this could be brought back in a smarter way if the opposition convinces the president that doing politics is also part of pushing the kazi wheel.
- The opposition MPs should convince citizens of their role in the society and development by working with and for the people who elected them. It would be excellent if MPs take advantage of the political mood in the government corridors and its trickle down effect on local government authorities to ensure implementation of development projects in their constituents. The people need to feel the role and the difference of having an opposition MP in the changing CCM ruled government that is psychologically embedding its position as a credible and hard working ruling party- a position that had eroded for many years.
To end, I urge the opposition to use other methods in reclaiming their “lost” space. This is the task for all Tanzanians to ensure that there is a fair space for the ruling and opposition parties to operate. It is healthy. Thus, the opposition need to convince every Tanzanian (belonging to CCM or opposition) that opposition parties play a significant role in development and its space should be respected. Doing this needs soft means- conviction- and not demonstrations and confrontation. Like the heat from the sun, continuous soft effort will finally prove more powerful and yield sustainable results more than the noisy wind.
Suggested other relevant reading:
Nye Jr. J. (2008). The Powers to Lead. Oxford: Oxford University