The United States has announced that it is suspending partnership with Tanzania on the Millennium Challenge Account’s new Compact development supposedly because of the election in Zanzibar and the application of the Cyber Crimes Act.
For a start, this decision was expected. Those of us in diplomatic circles have long been privy to the US Ambassador’s constant complaints and badmouthing the government about things mundane and substantive.
We knew the type of Ambassador he was going to be, coming straight out of the West Wing, a high-minded and moralist liberal with direct line to key decision-makers in Washington.
This was supposed to be a blessing for Tanzania. Unfortunately, with transition of administrations here in Tanzania, his vision of a powerful US ambassadorship in Tanzania never materialized. Enter Dr. John Pombe Magufuli. And the United States was treated like any other country. And this is what this thing is all about.
The American decision is not about democracy. Why? Because Tanzania had already gone through all the rigorous criteria, including democratic governance, and qualified. The decision moves the goalpost, making the whole MCC approval process a joke. The decision is not about the election in Zanzibar, and it is not about some legislation, which has not put anyone in jail. Had the America’s decision been about democracy, we would have seen it stay away from Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Egypt, who overthrew a democratically-elected government, who has now killed his people and thwarted all forms of freedoms, but he is still receiving a cool $1 billion of American aid. Had the America’s decision been about democracy, the United States would have at least hand-slapped Paul Kagame in Rwanda, who is always winning in sham elections, who has changed the constitution to become Rwanda’s life president, and who is killing his opponents and getting the press and the entire country to sing to his tune. In January this year, the Saudis beheaded Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shiite cleric, simply for stating his mind. And what does the United States plan to do about it? Award Saudi Arabia with Obama visit in April. In Cuba, where there are still political prisoners, where there are no elections, and no free press, the United States opened USAID office – to facilitate aid to Cuba, aid that is being denied to Tanzania for exact reasons that made the US embrace Cuba!
I probably should not go down the path of comparing Tanzania to Rwanda, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Cuba. We are a much better country – and American assistance shouldn’t be seen as affirmation of our worth for we know that that assistance is at times offered, and has been offered, to people who we wouldn’t want to be in their company. We are a small country trying to build our own democracy, in our own way. The Americans have been part of messing Zanzibar up in the Cold War plays and the historical electoral challenges should be very familiar to them. But what calls for indignation is the arrogance, the holier-than-thou attitude that is embedded in the structure of some development partnerships.
God made human in His image. America wants Tanzanian democracy in its image. Would you accept MCC money for a democracy that elevates and celebrates Donald Trump? Would you accept MCC money for a democracy with laws such as the Patriots Act? Would you accept MCC money for a democracy that tortures war captives, that spies on its people and foreign allies, that hold people without trial? Perhaps the appropriate stance, a moral position, would be for us to ask the United States to keep its money, and its mouth shut, until Guantanamo Bay prison is closed, until NSA stops spying on the Americans and foreign leaders, until torture by its jail-masters is ended, until drone killings are stopped, until its complicity (by silence and military aid to Israel) in the annexation and annihilation of Palestine is ended.
One can say that this riff is familiar, especially from people who are defending themselves – the Mugabes, Castros and so forth. But the basic point here, without going into details of explaining the Zanzibar election, is that partnership, a term used by the Americans in describing the MCC suspension, should be equally fulfilling and beneficial.
And, if, as indeed MCC apparently is, the partnership is structured to correct bad behaviors, the correction should be both ways. So, how does MCC partnership correct Americans’ behavior? It does not.
It is simply a doormat to rub the big feet of America, with blood stains from trampling over small people around the world, to cleanse its conscious, before it enters the house of family of nations.
The cheer that this decision has met from the unthinking section of our intelligentsia is pathetic and sickening.
Colonialism of the mind has been extremely powerful and everlasting such that our elites’ yearning to be positioned close to, and to think like, and to speak as, the Americans has been the greatest threat to our pride and emancipation as Tanzanians and Africans in general.
What we should be proud as Tanzanians is that the basic trajectory of our democracy is a positive one. Tanzania is one of the freest countries in the world and we continue to build our young democracy.
There’s vibrant civil society and press, people can write anything, can insult political leaders, without the slightest fear of reprisal. We didn’t do this because of America’s pressure or demands. They found us already a peaceful and democratic society. They should let us be.
As President Magufuli works to build a new and better society, as he has shown complete independence of mind as to treat the US Ambassador just like any other diplomat, he is bound to be punished.
Perhaps he should take this as a reward. The path to independence is hard and painful. The Americans have reminded us that we are not there yet. We have our own flag and national anthem. Time to capture our own sovereignty.
- By Abdallah Liwaka