n Tuesday, President Jakaya Kikwete accorded an exclusive interview audience to senior journalist Daniel Kalinaki of Nation Media Group. The Head of State spoke out on the state of Tanzania, relations with Rwanda, religious extremism, and why the fight against corruption is far from won. Excerpts.
QUESTION: What is the most significant thing about the upcoming celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika?
ANSWER: The significant thing is that the Union has survived. It’s not been easy. We have examples of trials, of bringing two countries together, that have failed; Sene-Gambia, I think the Ghana-Guinea thing failed, Egypt, Libya tried, but we have survived 50 years and that’s one of the landmark achievements. It has not been rosy all the time; there have been difficult moments, there have been challenges but we have managed to overcome the challenges and not only has the Union survived but it has also gone from strength to strength. The current exercise we are undertaking of the constitutional review will even strengthen it further and consolidate the gains so that we have a stronger union after the constitution process.
What is the evidence of many people? What is your evidence?
A lot of the rhetoric in the media seems to suggest that there is a large push towards realigning the way the Union works.
You are talking of the media and not the people. There is no evidence that the people of this country, that many people, want a three-tier government. Even the commission itself did not discover that.
Is this a deal-breaker for you in the negotiations over a new constitution?
We are discussing the structure of government and which one is better for us and I am one of those who believe that the two-tier government is the best for this country so it is not just a question [of] trying to maintain the status quo. You have to change if there is a basis for change; you have to change if it adds value. I don’t see a three-tier government adding value; it will create problems and ultimately may lead to breaking up the Union itself.
At your swearing-in in 2005 you said your top priority would be improving relations between the Mainland and Zanzibar. How well do you think you have done?
We’ve done a lot. One of the things I said at that time was to deal with the fault lines in Zanzibar – the political fault lines – which we have done. Now we have a government of national unity because prior to that we had a lot of problems because every time you go to elections there were squabbles and then instability after the elections so we brought the two parties together, we had serious discussions together, and the agreement and the understanding is that they should come together in one government. Whoever wins brings the other on board and Zanzibar has stability now.
That sounds like progress yet there is also evidence of a growing secessionist tendency or sentiment in Zanzibar. We are also seeing the growth of religious extremism that sometimes turns into violence. Is that something you are concerned about?
he religious extremism has nothing to do with the Union. Mombasa has been having bombs there. Religious extremism is a phenomenon that we have to grapple with all of us, and it is very much related with the al Qaeda movement, the number of cells that they have established all over the world. It is something that we have been working on jointly, like sharing of information between Kenya and Tanzania, sharing a lot of intelligence information.
I remember we had to deal with some groups that wanted to disrupt the Kenyan elections; they were trying to hide here and we had to arrest them before the Kenyan elections but these are issues that we always deal with quietly.
The separatist movement is not something new. In 2009, we had a phenomenon of people from Pemba who wanted to secede from Zanzibar itself and had written a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, so these kinds of people will always be there from time to time but I don’t take them to be big issues that we have to blow out of proportion; we will always be able to manage them and I don’t think they will be able to wreck the country.
You will always have some crazy guys with these crazy ideas.
Looking at Somalia, Kenya, Boko Haram in Nigeria; is religious extremism and terrorism something that could morph into an existential threat to state stability in East Africa?
Extremism is a serious matter, particularly the threat of terrorism. We are constantly on the alert – yesterday (on Monday) in Arusha we had a bomb there -- that’s why we work so hard, we’ve built capacity to investigate, to make sure that we don’t get surprises. It’s a serious matter; it’s a worldwide problem. That time they were targeting US establishments but these days they are targeting our own people, our own establishments so it is something we are concerned about.
Tanzania is behind its neighbours in the region on pro-business reforms. It is even behind countries emerging out of war like Liberia and Sierra Leone. If you look at the World Bank Doing Business Report between 2013 and 2014 Tanzania falls back nine places; have you taken your eye off the ball?
It’s something that concerns me because in 2007 Tanzania was among the top 10 reforming countries in the world and then the slippages now is something that concerns me. The business environment is key to growth. When the climate is good and permissive people get encouragement to come and invest so it’s something that concerns me. We are beginning to take action and let’s see what comes out of the action that we are going to take definitely we cannot go on slipping backwards.
Transparency International, in its latest rankings, has Tanzania as the 66th most corrupt country in the world. Is this something that you go to sleep at night thinking about?
Of course it concerns me a lot. We are investing a lot in fighting vices in society and corruption is top on the agenda. Political will has never been wanting in the fight against the vices but we are not succeeding well, particularly in the courts of law, particularly when it comes to the big-time corruption cases. Of course we have done well in terms of arresting a number of them, taking a number of people to court – some of them fellow cabinet colleagues – but we really want to see us succeeding. We are not doing very well on that and it is something that really concerns me. We have to succeed in this fight; failure is not an option.
You’ve had, under your watch, fairly big-scale corruption scandals. Richmond and the External Payments Arrears are two that come to mind. Do you take any personal responsibility for that happening on your watch?
The External Payments did not happen during my time, only that the issues came to the open during my time. The Richmond took place during my time. The Prime Minister took political responsibility for that so we cannot say we have not done anything about that; we have done something.
happy with what you have done? Is that something that restores confidence to people who are coming to invest in Tanzania and also among ordinary Tanzanians, that their government has the political will you spoke about to fight corruption?
We have not seen evidence of decline in interest to invest in Tanzania. In 2005 FDI was $150 million and now we have $1.7 billion in 2013. Of course Tanzanians need to see more action taken but we have taken action. The prime minister assumed political responsibility for the mistakes that were done. And that’s it.
Many people were impressed by your open approach to the media when you took office but in the last couple of years there have been attacks on the media – closure of newspapers, physical attacks on journalists. Do you feel that the space for media freedom in Tanzania needs to be expanded?
Tanzania has plenty of space. If somebody tries to blame Tanzania over media space, I think they are being academic. But it does not mean that we can accept anything. If press freedom is the freedom to destroy a country that’s something we cannot accept. If somebody incites the military to rebel against the government, that’s not something we can accept and we cannot consider that as freedom of the press; you are just creating problems and we close those newspapers. If it is freedom to say this government has failed, the people are still poor, they don’t have water, we like that kind of information because it keeps us on our toes in order to be able to take action.
Last year you advised the governments in the region – DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda – to have political dialogue with rebel groups they were fighting against, having failed in some cases to defeat them militarily. There was a very angry response from President Kagame of Rwanda who described the proposal as “utter nonsense”. Were you surprised by the nature of the response?
Of course I was. I thought I was just honest, but everybody has got his own country and knows how best to run his country and if they think my advice is something that they don’t accept, that is up to them.
How are relations between you and President Kagame?
Well, I don’t have any problems with him. I don’t have any problems with him. As far as I am concerned, there is no problem; I have no problems with anybody.
Do you still think that dialogue between the governments and these fighting forces is a tenable option?
I don’t want to continue discussing these issues. They are worthless. They add no value. They add no value; it is up to the Rwandese to decide. It is not about Tanzania.
Do you feel that the “Coalition of the Willing”, as it came to be known, was a deliberate isolation of Tanzania?
My concern and our concern has been on issues that we have agreed within the East African Community to do them jointly and if they decide to leave Tanzania out. This is something on which we have to raise an issue but also, there were two issues at that time, where we had actually agreed; how to operationalise the Single Customs Territory (SCT) and to work on the road map for East African Federation. We had assigned the Council of Ministers to work on these two issues and report back at the next summit, which was going to take place in Kampala. So when these two issues were included in the discussions of three of our members, and taking decision on them, this was not right.f course this reference to the “Coalition of the Willing” was one of the statements that were coming out of the press. In fact at the meeting in Kampala when we were discussing this matter, I raised these issues then all the presidents said they had not said it; all my three colleagues said this is something that the media created – it never came from any one of them. Because if you say it is a coalition of the willing, it would be justified to say that Tanzania and Burundi are not willing if and only if we were invited and we refused to participate.
Have you resolved these issues?
We discussed it in Kampala and resolved it. At the Kampala summit formally the issue of the SCT was brought as a substantive agenda and we decided on it, the issue of the road map was brought, and we discussed it as a substantive agenda item and we are going to meet towards the end of this month in Arusha again to get a report on the roadmap towards the EA Federation.
You’ve said you look forward to your retirement in 18 months or so. One of the problems that hold back Africa is leaders who do not want to peacefully relinquish power; do you share that concern?
I am going to retire next year. I am excited about my retirement. I am planning for my retirement now. I will go back to the village and look after my cattle. I am a pineapple grower; I will look at how to expand my farm. Every country has got its own constitution, its own modalities. If there is a country that has a constitution that is open-ended, it is up to them. If the people of that country decide, it is up to them; it is not up for me to judge.
What lessons can you share from Tanzania? You’ve had a long-running leader, and then a succession of leaders who come and go.
Before President Nyerere retired, we had a constitutional amendment and agreed that from now on leaders are going to stay in office for two terms of five years if they are elected. We agreed and thank God we have observed it. We have had no experience of temptation by any of my predecessors to change that and I don’t have it either, so that’s Tanzania. I don’t speak about other countries.
What is your legacy going to be?
The Tanzanians will decide but I consider my term of office as a time of scaling up. We have scaled up on roads, on construction, on education, on health, and many other things.
It is Tanzanians to judge but my biggest satisfaction is that we have done a tremendous job in the road infrastructure, in the expansion of primary and secondary education.
We had only 40,000 students in university, now we have 180,000, which is phenomenal; we had 525,000 in secondary school now we have 1.9 million. The important thing I want Tanzanians to appreciate is that I have made my contribution. I found them somewhere and I leave them somewhere better than they were before when I took office.