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Open Letter to Incoming President of Tanzania

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

Open Letter to Incoming President Kikwete of Tanzania

Dear Hon. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete,

When people in the North think of Tanzania, most imagine safaris to view big-game animals on the Serengeti plains, or Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro. Many have images of intractable poverty. Some recall Julius Nyerere, one of the few indisputable leaders of the 20th century.

Tanzania has the reputation of being one of the most peaceful nations in Africa. However, of late people are hearing that, in the words of the East African Standard, “Tanzania is major crime incubator.”

In an article published on October 9, the Standard said, “the myth of foreigners perpetrating crime was dispelled when the government admitted that its forces are complicit in violent crime targeting banks and big business.”

“Finance minister Basil Mramba is one of the high-ranking people in the CCM [Chama Cha Mapinduzi, the ruling party of the Tanzanian] government who have no doubt about the complicity of the police and the army in the current crime wave,” the Standard reported.

Robberies have become an almost daily occurrence, with tourists and hotels being prime targets. What is the reason for the recent crime wave, especially as it often involves the very people whose duty it is to protect the populace?

Obviously crime reflects a breakdown in society. And when robbery and violent crimes are aided, abetted, and even conducted by army and security forces, a people’s loss of faith in the future threatens to reach very dangerous levels.

Tanzanians, like all people, don’t like outsiders’ lecturing them about the problems of their country, and that is certainly not my intent. My intent, with an outsider’s perspective, is to suggest that Tanzania could have an important role to play in leading the world away from the negative aspects of globalization, and toward the positive potentials of a global society.

That may seem implausible, given Tanzania’s persistent poverty, and the image of Africa as having insurmountable problems. But I believe by renewing the principles of good governance and self-reliance that were the cornerstones of Nyerere’s philosophy, Tanzania could tap into global capital and partnerships, and become a model for Africa and the South. And in doing so, it would give people in the North something they desperately want and need: hope for the future of humanity.

As the American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins said, “Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilization.”

Therefore the first challenge, which is both the hardest and easiest for a political leader to address, is attitudinal. That is difficult for a political leader because appealing to the entrenched mindsets of a country are usually what get people elected. The tendency afterward is to maintain the status quo, or worse, to reward the factions and special interests that enabled a person to rise to power.

With your election assured and popular support strong, and possessing charisma evoking comparisons with Julius Nyerere, you are presented with a great opportunity. Of course, you must speak in your own voice and find a new path. Nyerere’s socialism, while lofty and in some ways ennobling, was not successful in lifting the people out of poverty.

People in the North are looking with hope equal to people in the South for leaders who can articulate a vision of the ‘free market’ that frees rather than enchains human beings. The American-style capitalism that is sweeping the world is killing this planet.

I am fully aware that one cannot speak to a man or woman with an empty stomach about philosophical insights and spiritual growth. But to ignore the spiritual dimension in the process of material development is to lose ground in both dimensions of human life.

Nyerere understood this when he said “it is people—human beings with all their prejudices, hopes, stupidities, and potentialities—who are the purpose of every human organization and institution.” That authentic and abiding feeling, which imbued his mission as the father of the nation and was embodied, during his presidency, in the spirit of the Arusha Declaration--is the true legacy of the man.

Tanzania can be a country that draws people from around the world not only for its beauty and wildlife, but more importantly (with true political/economic leadership), as an incubator of great ideas and experimentation.

Mwalimu (which as you know means teacher) Nyerere said, "African nationalism is meaningless, dangerous, anachronistic, if it is not, at the same time, pan-Africanism."

At this critical juncture in human history, I entreat you to look beyond even that horizon, and encompass humankind as a whole in your vision of governance. Then, I believe, Tanzania will gain the best the world has to offer.

Best wishes to you and the people of Tanzania,

Martin LeFevre


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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