Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Tanzania's Mkapa: My presidency was tough

By PETER NYANJE for The Citizen | Wednesday, November 20  2013 at  07:49
Former President Benjamin Mkapa speaks at symposium on November 19, 2013. "I came into power when the country was not in good situation economically. It was one of countries regarded as poorest and we had to undertake all forms of reforms to get back on track," he said. EMMANUEL HERMAN | THE CITIZEN  
After a long silence, former President Benjamin Mkapa has opened up on some of the toughest decisions he had to take during his presidency. If there is one thing he wants, it is that Tanzania should remember him as the man who brought the country back from the brink of bankruptcy in 1995.
When Mr Mkapa took over as President, he says he inherited empty state coffers. The situation was so bad that, at some point, the government had to borrow money from businessmen to finance key expenditure. The country was also highly indebted it was on the point of losing its creditworthiness among local and international lenders.
Now, he says, his legacy is a strong foundation for the country’s economy, a project he dedicated himself to in his 10 years in office. Speaking in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday, Mr Mkapa said he also put a high premium on giving Tanzanians the power to determine their fate and run their affairs.
Speaking during the opening of a two-day symposium on African development, he added: “I came into power when the country was not in good situation economically. It was one of countries regarded as poorest and we had to undertake all forms of reforms to get back on track. One thing we did was to empower the private sector to complement what the government was supposed to do.”
But Mr Mkapa’s critics say he spent too much time reforming the macro economy at the expense of the micro economy—and this still left the majority of Tanzanians languishing in poverty.
Mr Mkapa was accompanied by former President of Nigeria Olsegun Obasanjo and former Botswana President Festus Mogae, a one-time winner of the Mo Ibrahim Prize.
Crucial decisions
Mr Mkapa was speaking out for the first time on what he wants Tanzanians to remember him for. He was the President from 1995 to 2005 and was succeeded by President Jakaya Kikwete.
He also revealed two crucial decisions he made when served as head of state. First, he said, he will always remember the resignation of one of his crucial Cabinet ministers.
“I was forced to agree to it due to public pressure but I was very sure that the allegations levelled against the minister were a work of fabrication,” he recalls.
He did not name the minister. But it is in record that in his first years in office, Parliament forced three ministers and one deputy minister to resign. They were Simon Mbilinyi, who was Mr Mkapa’s Finance minister; Dr Juma Ngasongwa, who resigned as Natural Resources and Tourism minister due to corruption allegations; and former spymaster Hassy Kitine ,who resigned as minister for Health.
Trade and Industry Minister Iddi Simba also had to resign later after he was implicated in a sugar importation scandal.
Dr Kitine was one of Mr Mkapa’s closest allies. Accepting Dr Kitine’s resignation is believed to be one of the toughest decisions the former President ever made because he believed the former spymaster was innocent.
Mr Mkapa also told the symposium that the second decision which will always stick in his memory was resisting the pressure to change the Zanzibar constitution in order to remove presidential term limits.
This took place towards the 2000 general election when some politicians in Zanzibar wanted the then President, Dr Salmin Amour Juma, to continue serving as head of state despite exhausting his two five-year terms.
Took a dig
Mr Mkapa took a swipe at the private sector, saying it has not done enough to complement the government in strengthening the economy.
Civil Society Organisations also came in for criticism. He added: “What they (CSOs) are doing is always meeting. If they are not in Bagamoyo, they are in Morogoro or Arusha... they are always planning but they don’t execute their plans.”
Though he takes credit for shaping the country’s economy, Mr Mkapa stands accused of not being careful enough in the privatisation process. During his tenure, many public firms were privatised—some at prices dismissed as peanuts.
His leadership is also accused of embracing corrupt mega deals such as Meremeta and the Liganga and Mchuchuma coal mine projects. The three former presidents said the continent needed to establish a think tank that would help governments in negotiations, especially on the economic front.
The former leaders noted that Africa fails to effectively use its resources as a source of capital and wealth because it lacks negotiating skills.
"We need to build a core of negotiators--be they under the East Africa Community, United Nations Development Programme or the Africa Union..." said Mr Obasanjo. “We need a strong team of negotiators who will be available to assist any country on the continent.”
Citing his country, Mr Mogae noted that many African countries have failed to benefit from their immense mineral resources because they did not plan from the word go.
Still valid
“When we discovered minerals we decided to talk and agree on what we were going to do with revenue from the resources,” he added. “We agreed that the revenue should be used for national development. We even singled out areas which should be financed using the income from minerals.”
After making decisions and plans, the leaders were all committed to ensuring that the decisions and plans were implemented to the later.
Mr Mkapa noted that Africa would have consolidated its place in the global economy if it had decided to use its immense resource base as collateral and capital.
"I entirely agree with the proposals that resources can be used as capital but this should not undermine the importance of financial capital,” he said. On fighting corruption, which is one of the serious threats to Africa’s progress today, the former presidents said they would not have done anything different if given a chance in office again.
"As far as legal framework and institution is concerned, I would not embark on anything new,” Mr Mkapa said after President Obasanjo told the audience that he believes that what he did as President to fight corruption was still valid.
The three leaders were invited to speak at the opening of the symposium jointly organised by Club de Madrid and Uongozi Institute, which was meant to propose development policies the continent could embrace to achieve quick development.
The symposium was designed to give African leaders an opportunity to analyse development challenges and shortcomings and come up with alternative systems to help foster economic development on the continent.