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Transforming a Nation


I am sure we have all noted that the general trend in public discourse leans towards the yearning for transformation. Even as you walk down the street, you see this feeling that Tanzania is at a turning point in its life as a nation. Its citizens, young and old, want things to improve. There is a feeling that we are punching below our weight. And, you note that people want things to be different. There are certainly encouraging signs of progress, but there are also fears, and some have been expressed in this blog, that the gravity of old habits, mediocrity and corruption will forestall the social and economic transformation of Tanzania, robbing the nation of a historic opportunity to emerge with a new national self identity and as a competent, self-reliant and prosperous country. 

But, now: what triggers this transformation? This is the crux of the matter. The transformation of our nation as a whole requires change among the individuals and institutions that compose it. Among the core principles required for change are: 

1. Fostering a national sense of purpose: Tanzanians must be inspired by a galvanizing vision of what Tanzania can be and of how they can make it so. The political leadership and the “civil society” and also the family at home can effectively communicate that ‘we can be better than we are’. Political leadership and others in positions of influence, like the clergy, must inspire Tanzanians to see greatness in themselves, indeed to ignite a desire to become great. The vision of purpose must be driven deep into their hearts to inspire ordinary Tanzanians to do extraordinary things. This sense of purpose is essential because no one will die for a strategy, but people will make heroic sacrifices for a noble cause. Special appeals should be made to the youth, who are the next generation of leaders and to women, who are the first educators of the nation. 

2. Building trust and confidence in leadership, institutions and the people themselves: The political leadership should demonstrate repeatedly with strong evidence, that change is possible and that it can occur in many areas of national life. People must see that they themselves can be engaged in important programs of change, and that Tanzanians can increasingly trust their countrymen to meet the challenges of change. (The massive expansion of secondary education over the last four years is an excellent example – the government promised schools… the people delivered them by volunteering to build them). Transparency about the challenges the nation faces and the action underway to meet them is essential to building public confidence, as people trust most what they understand. The trust and confidence that Tanzanians have in their leaders at the moment is very low. Apart from the President, only very few political leaders enjoy the trust and confidence of the masses. The government must be seen as competent and caring. The role of government, indeed the raison d'être of political leadership, should be beyond service delivery. Building roads, providing water, electricity, etc. are things to be celebrated but cannot be the only litmus test for good government. Government is best when Tanzanians are best; Government delivers when Tanzanians deliver. Tanzania is at its best as a government and as a people when there is partnership and cooperation, not when government just delivers services to its people. In this way, there needs to be a change in how people understand themselves and their contributions to Tanzania’s future, and a new national self concept must emerge to effectively turn the corner for a new democracy in Tanzania. This is critical because we have to avoid being crippled by dependency-syndrome – that all the problems – including the piling of trash in our backyard - and all the solutions – including taking care of trash from our backyard - are the responsibility of others. It is very worrying that these days almost everyone you hear is complaining, some about things they can take care. This is not a good sign. 

3. Demanding integrity: It is important that Tanzanians understand that social and economic transformation is founded on unified action, fairness, transparency and accountability. For a plan of change to work, people must be compelled to make new and different decisions to comply with higher standards. Transparency creates public accountability that drives change. People must consider this not just in terms of elected officials, but within their communities, among friends and family, and in all aspects of daily life. The situation as it is now, where 78 percent of Tanzanians do not trust each other, cannot be helpful. We must value honesty, reason, rationality, thrift, hardwork, and a sense of fairness. We must hold ourselves to high standards before pointing fingers to our public officials. 

4. Boosting public morale through communication: Everywhere, for people to be inspired to do greater things, they must feel optimistic about the future. Are we optimistic as a nation at the moment? I think the media has created a sense of pessimism among Tanzanians such that the public morale is low. Under these circumstances, greater effort is required to make people believe again in the future of their country. Nyerere succeeded in this area: we were doing terribly economically but people were hopeful and they followed Nyerere despite ambiguity. Political leadership must be visible, passionate, and articulate in speaking for a plan for change, conveying the vision of the nation, explaining the challenges Tanzania faces and indicating where change will come and how people will effect it. The plan for change must have a face and a heart. People of every background must be able to see themselves in the process of change and must feel themselves to be in intimate partnership with this process. 

Finally, let me just say: the nation is as strong as the character of its people, and it is such a disservice to the nation if a national discourse turns to be about personalities.


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