Tanzanians doubt `former' leader Nyerere will bring reform
Iringa, Tanzania — ``In this country, the party is the real government. Nyerere may have stepped down as president, but the landlord has not changed.'' These remarks by a Tanzanian businessman echo the sentiment here four months after President Julius Nyerere handed over power to Ali Mwinyi.
As chairman of the ruling party, Mr. Nyerere has remained in a position of overriding influence. Tanzania's new cabinet, observers note, consists primarily of political appointees in the Nyerere mold.
Considered a modest, uncorrupt man, Mr. Mwinyi is said to be averse to overzealous party actions. During the socialist government's highly unpopular resettlement of 11 million peasants into collective villages during the early 1970s, the party often used brute force despite presidential urgings that resettlement be voluntary.
There are signs of disenchantment, even hatred, among Tanzanians for the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) -- literally the ``turn upside down'' or revolutionary party -- and the way it seeks to regulate their lives. With a party informer in every tenth household, some critics say, people are afraid to talk. They are required to be at the beck and call of the party and make regular ``voluntary'' contributions to its coffers.
The rewards of Mr. Nyerere's widely proclaimed egalitarian society are reaped largely by party cell leaders, district party secretaries, or regional party chiefs, critics say. CCM cadres are visibly better off, wear smarter clothes, and have access to a wider and better range of consumer goods -- even cars. For Tanzania, freedom from white colonialism appears to have been replaced by CCM dictatorship.
Nyerere's retirement after two decades in office raised two fundamental questions. First, does it truly herald one of those rare occurrences in African politics when a leader voluntarily hands over power? Second, will Tanzanians finally get some of the economic reforms they desire but which Nyerere had for so long refused?
Clearly, Nyerere's popularity has waned. Many feel his policies of socialism and self-reliance have failed, leaving Tanzania economically worse off today than at independence in 1961.
Though not everyone agrees it is true, some observers say rural Tanzanians enjoy better education and, in some areas of the country, better health. Missionaries maintain that, over the past decade, malnutrition has grown worse in parts of the country because of government policies. Tanzanians earn less and produce less food than before. There is also less to buy. It is virtually impossible for state employees to live just on their salaries. Many run sideline businesses which, in turn, create a high rate of absenteeism from state jobs.
Corruption, too, has reached staggering proportions over the past two or three years, some observers allege.
``This was never the case before,'' lamented one longtime European resident. ``We are trying to resist it, but it is reaching the point that only a bribe will get things done. This is destroying the nation.''
Among the Tanzanians, diplomats, and foreign development officials interviewed, it is generally agreed that only a thorough overhaul of the economy can raise the country from the doldrums.
This would require a change in the socialist ideology that has guided this nation since Nyerere set forth his guiding principles in 1967: a one-party state, nationalization of key sectors of the economy, socialism, and rural development. Tanzania, analysts say, must reduce its heavy reliance on international handouts, dismantle inefficient state controls, and stimulate private initiative, notably among peasant farmers.
``The Tanzanian people could have told Nyerere years ago that his policies were disastrous,'' complained one Tanzanian agriculturalist from the north.
Recent months, however, have brought apparent improvements. More imported goods can be found in the towns, foreign exchange restrictions have been eased, and basic incentives for private enterprise introduced. After its economy hit rock bottom two years ago, residents say the country is beginning to edge its way back up. Whether Mwinyi will bring more changes or simply act as a stopgap president is far from clear.
In a BBC interview before he gave up the presidency, Nyerere indicated that the present liberalization was only a temporary measure. Nevertheless, some observers see no turning back.
``There is real demand for change -- a demand that comes from the people,'' stresses one Tanzanian company manager. ``They believe Nyerere favors reforms, but prefers to push from behind.''
Says another Tanzanian: ``How can he admit publicly that he may have been wrong all these years? He's still in charge. No decisions are going to be made without his blessing.''
Others, however, maintain that as long as Nyerere remains in the picture, the situation will not alter greatly. He has admitted certain mistakes.
``Yet he still feels his socialist policies are correct,'' a West European diplomat observes. ``It's only their implementation that has proven faulty, coupled with external factors, the world recession or high oil prices.''
For years, Nyerere has been viewed with reverence both at home and abroad. One of the most repeated comments is that he is a charming, charismatic, and well-intentioned gentleman. History, however, may judge him harshly. Increasingly, critics see him as an intellectual who experimented with his country but lost touch with the way his people think and feel.
Nevertheless, Nyerere has achieved much. He gave Tanzania relative political stability, a common language, and, despite certain tensions among its 120-odd tribes, a sense of nationhood. Such unity is rare in Africa. Only in Zanzibar, which united with Tanganyika in 1964 to form Tanzania, are secessionist feelings voiced.
Nyerere also distinguished himself as a fervent front-line leader pushing for change in South Africa, supporting certain anticolonial liberation movements. However, he has turned a blind eye to the ruthless repression practised by black African regimes against their own peoples such as those in Burundi, Zaire, and Ethiopia.
Only in the case of Idi Amin's Uganda did he intervene, and at a high cost to Tanzania. The government Nyerere supported in Uganda, set up by Milton Obote, was felt to be just as horrendous if not worse than Mr. Amin's.
Yet what really matters to Tanzanians is that Nyerere's socialism has failed to deliver to them what it promised almost 20 years ago.