Monday, November 14, 2011

Time for a Technocrat President in Tanzania?

We have tried a middle of the road type of a socialism that never truly worked. Behind it was an exemplary idealist and once in a generation leader in Mwalimu. Four years into his retirement, Berlin Wall fell; with it, 31 years of socio-economic experiment came to an end—with mixed results. Tanzania is a unified republic with a clear national identity; albeit with unperfected union. At 50 years old, Tanzania’s potential for human development is yet to be realized, the increasing income inequality (the fallacy of 7% growth) is squandering away the social capital that Mwalimu and Mzee Mwinyi had accrued. It has yet been clear to our governments that embracing untamed and imported neoliberal economic policies will not only wreck havoc to our fortunes, but also threatening our social fabric. The 2008 financial crisis was largely caused by income inequality*. Nevertheless, previous Tanzania’s government embraced the market economy wholeheartedly, though in some cases it was imposed upon us. If 17% of your budget is beyond your means, there goes your sovereignty—on everything. But I will argue that our embracing of bad economic policies is mainly caused by a misinformed leadership at helm more than anything.

For starters, our government is a massive, slow bureaucracy that is also inefficient. As it is, our government incentivizes her inefficiency—which sustains the crisis. The longer it takes for your passport to be issued, increases your likeliness to bribe. Why should the passport manager hurry up to issue you a passport? This is the model of our government from bottom-up. Its pretty shitty. No private company would be able to survive under this model. Too bad citizens are not allowed to shop for governments of their residence. That would be the perfect market solution to punish our lousy governments. Surprisingly, national dialogue on development continues to bypass the fundamental flaw of our country, an ancient governing model. As I pointed earlier, this too is the leadership problem.

Tanzanians have always elected career politicians for the presidency. Mzee Mwinyi, Mzee Mkapa, and currently Jakaya Kikwete were all career politicians prior to the presidency. Even opposition parties also nominated career politicians. Dr. Slaa is the embodiment of a career politician, so as Prof Lipumba (by virtue of running more than twice). Folks who after decades of running sections of the inefficient bureaucracy have convinced themselves that, only they have the wisdom to take us to the promise land. But they almost always underperform. To me, this is a manifestation of their lack of policy knowledge, and lack of understanding of intricate ways of the barbarous globalized economy. I am not saying wonkish president will save us, few politicians are wonkier than Bill Clinton and yet he repealed Glass-Steagall Act . I am saying that, the next election might be the appropriate time to elect wonkish president, because for our government to work for the people, it needs a leader who has intimate knowledge of how to reform a demented institution with 6 billion dollars budget. Career politicians do not possess such knowledge. More than anything, he will increase the size of it all to accommodate all his political allies he accumulated over the years. In Italy and Greece, career politicians have all retired leaving the position for more technocratic Prime Ministers. The ground is shifting beneath us.

The next presidential election in Tanzania, might be of the most important for this generation. We still have our social fabric intact, which is vastly needed for any growth; but we do not know how long this fabric will remain intact—with the increasing income inequality**. We will need the president who can best articulate the policy prescription to our government so that she can live within her means, while also protecting the society from the externalities generated by our investors. We ought to look for the leader who can dare to create an income inequality that would benefit the poorest, bridging the technological gap, and reform our rather messed up education system. To get that kind of a leader will require political parties to nominate for more technocrat candidates and shy away from the good ole names that we have been used to hear for decades.


* Stagnant incomes of Americans, made subprime mortgage a trillion dollar industry. Basically, a trillion dollar of garbage loans that did not qualify for government backed security.

**Arab awakening is the results of income inequality that is threatening social fabrics of these countries. Tanzania can be next.


Frank Payne said...

The most important point made in the article is the one about the ineffectiveness of large government bureaucracies which are inefficient and not able to be effectively held accountable for their actions between elections. In the interim they entrench themselves in power through cronyism, power mongering and dispensation of largess to supporters and acolytes, by raiding the public purse. This is not only an african phenomenon, but it is certainly a predominant one on the continent. One only has to study the likes of Zimbabwe and disasters to the north, together with the unravelling of honesty and morality in the South african context, where public corruption has become an endemic sport, fast reducing the status of the country to that of a banana republic. Somehow people of ability and professional ethics have to be appointed and held accountable,by the electorate, to re-establish proper and effective management of the day to day operation of public service. Politicians by and large don't have the knowledge or ability to do the job and see their terms of office as a way to enrich themselves at the expense of the citizens.Commonly held ideas of democracy are farcical, as the populace at large feels disempwered and helpless, fomenting unrest and the breakdown in law and order. The current political dispensation is a recipe for disaster as it fosters power mongers and charletans to seek the corridors of power.

Semkae said...

I agree with Payne that the most important point made in the article is that of the ineffectiveness of government bureaucracy. My experience as a civil society staff participating in governance, particularly policy processes indicates to me that we can continue harping on about what president we need (technocrat or otherwise) but things will remain the same if no major transformative behaviour and action takes place beyond the usual declarations and rhetoric given. As the author pointed out, you need the right incentives to enhance efficiency and at the moment I mainly see government actors reforming simply to satisfy donor conditionalities.

But how do you begin to get the incentives right? I think one thing we have often ignored whilst trying to impose enhanced systems of governance and accountability is the need to equip ourselves with an elaborate understanding of our mental models. That is how we internally explain our external realities helping us with cognition, reasoning and decision-making. To give an example, if high public office is seen by many in government as the best way to enrich oneself, a proliferation of new policies, laws and regulations won't help much. All you will get is adoption of these, bold talk of reform, accountability and participation and elections every five years with little change and continued looting of the public purse. Too often in Africa we hear of a 'new crop of leaders' emerge with their supporters heralding a new dawn only to be disappointed 20 years and four elections later. In other words, the mental model represented by: 'I must make best use of my time in public office' and in order to achieve that 'I must talk reform, be seen to be accountable and participatory' makes perfect sense if that is one's thought process about how things works in reality.

How do we deal with these mental models? Read about the Systems Thinking Iceberg:

It is painstaking advocacy work and not for the faint-hearted wanting quick results but if one is successful, it potentially could change the way government actors behave.