31 Jan 2012

Who will drive change in Tanzania? Young people?

By Daraja's Monitoring and Research Officer, Eric Kalunga

Last week Twaweza hosted a panel discussion. The theme was ‘who will drive change in Tanzania?’ while the country is at a crossroads and faces unprecedented crises. It was proposed the choices that are made in the next few years may be pivotal to moving Tanzania forward.  But to do this who do people turn to? The government? CCM?  Chadema? Religion?  NGOs?  The media or an enlightened private sector? The three panelists represented three sectors among our potential saviours; Maria Sarungi, John Ulanga and Zitto Kabwe.

“Frustrations are so huge we are in a situation of hopelessness,” said Zitto Kabwe (MP Chadema) when he was invited to speak by the moderator Ayoub Warioba. He spoke of a leadership crisis, lack of accountability and citizens who do not trust each other anymore. The way out according to the MP was a strong accountability system, an independent media (not the ‘mercenary media’ we have now) and evidence based civil society organizations. But above all this he said we needed to place all our hopes in the young and upcoming politicians. Create a code of ethics for young politicians and have periodic reviews to ensure no one steps out of line. According to Mr Kabwe, this is the way to avoid the crisis looming over Tanzania.

John Ulanga, executive director of Foundation for Civil Society, said ‘change’ is an understatement and what we need is a ‘managed transformation’. Stopping just short of calling for a revolution he said Africa needs a second liberation from its own leaders. The fundamentals that have held the country together in the past have changed. For instance we are not so equal anymore with huge gaps between the poor and the rich and with public services in a sad state. But the question is who can trigger this change? He ruled out the ruling party CCM and said the opposition has potential but is still in the formative stages. Civil societies offer no hope since they were ‘deformed at birth’. He also ruled out religious leaders and the mercenary media. The answer, he said, are the citizens.

Maria Sarungi argued that the root of the ‘problem’ lies in the past but that we don’t want to talk about it. We suffer from a system that rewards mediocrity and that forces everyone to assimilate to it. Therefore we need to replace this system with one that rewards merit. Social media and other forms of media are the tools we can use to acquire the consensus of the citizens towards overhauling the old mediocrity system.

The debate that followed these opening statements focused on who can actually bring about the change that apparently everyone agrees is needed. The popular answer was the vaguely defined group of ‘citizens’. It was agreed that the ‘forgotten’ citizens will be the ones to bring about change. Another popular category was the ‘youth’. Here again there were no specifics but instead an idealized view of youth was implied. Youths that care, youths that are energetic, youths that are on facebook and twitter and blogs and who are ready for action; all that is needed is a spark.

One question to ask is whether ‘youths’ are really an historical force and whether they can act together as a group to change their circumstances on the basis of the fact that they are young? It is important to note that there are many differences within this group in terms of gender, religion, ethnicity, income, education and future aspirations to name just a few. A person is just as likely to act in a certain way because she is from that region, went to that school and is married with two children.

So highlighting certain sections of society as drivers of change risks creating false categories and wasting time and resources. Generally social categories defy definitions and tend to act on their own. Perhaps the first step towards this liberation is to conceptualise what it is that we want to be. Or as panelist Sarungi put it ”It’s not that we don’t know what we want but we don’t dare articulate it.” This could be the first step, knowing exactly what we want to be liberated from and what ideal society we envision. From this it is possible to move towards actions informed by a theory of change which might have been what Mr Ulanga was referring to when he mentioned ‘managed’ transformation. It is an idea that can draw people together regardless of their age, sex or income status.