I have read some articles by concerned members of the public, government officials and politicians about US government’s recent decision to suspend all relations between our government and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
Sadly, however, articulate as some of these statements are, they miss the simple point that the world is not as simple and as straightforward as the writers/speakers seem to assume.
They also seem to suggest, unfairly in my opinion, that we Tanzanians bear no responsibility for what has happened and are mere victims of imperialist bullying by the mighty United States, but the truth is much more complex than that.
I have been arguing since this matter came up that, smart diplomacy is the only way to go in today’s complex world. Our diplomatic institutions have been caught napping by this predictable decision by the US. They should swing into action rather than resort to mere complaining and passing blame.
Without pointing an accusing finger at our intelligence and diplomatic institutions, in all fairness, our government should have anticipated the (US) reaction. The Americans more or less telegraphed their reaction with a threat to suspend relations, when the Escrow scandal broke out early last year. This was in connection with an MCC covenant in fighting against corruption in government institutions.
The government knew or should have known how MCC would respond to its handling of the Zanzibar election stalemate and taken necessary pre-emptive steps such as engaging the Americans and other partners immediately after it became clear we were going to have an electoral crisis.
I will not dwell on the disagreement over the cybercrimes law because in my estimation it is a mere red herring.
We should have demonstrated to the Americans and the whole world that the Zanzibar problem, while complicated, is firmly under control and a solution will be found, but it will take time and the world must work with us, not against us.
I have no doubt in my mind that this alone would have gone a long way in reassuring our partners and even various constituencies at home that serious efforts are being made to resolve the problem at hand and we would have secured the much needed political space to deal with this delicate matter internally in an atmosphere of calm without all attendant economic and political pressures that now seem inevitable.
It is a well-known fact that relations between nations are driven by interests not emotions. We should, therefore, not be surprised if the US leverages its considerable financial muscle to achieve its foreign policy objectives, including, but not limited to wanting to be an influential player in a region that is quickly becoming very interesting in the wider global geopolitical context.
Our reaction to this MCC announcement, therefore, should not be one of indignation and surprise, but rather, we should pick up a phone or dispatch our diplomats to Washington, Brussels, Beijing and Tokyo, clarify our position, name the red lines that cannot be crossed, but also ask our partners to be reasonable and supportive of our efforts to resolve our problems.
It is understandable that some people are offended by the hypocrisy and double standards of the US, but we must also understand that the US has never had any problems being called out as a hypocrite. It has never stopped them from doing what they do, be it the unjust 50 yearlong economic embargo of Cuba or the false claim of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq 15 years ago.
We must be smarter than that and we can learn about how to deal with people you are in disagreement with from none other than the US itself.
A good example is that although President Obama cannot stand his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, he calls him regularly to discuss important matters of state. He even keeps the infamous red phone in his office desk and on his bedside table in case of that unthinkable eventuality. He calls him even when they are in violent disagreement on ways of resolving ongoing global conflicts such as the one in Syria or Ukraine.
The MCC event is bigger than the money involved. Our failure to comply with the covenants we voluntarily agreed to, is a sign of weakness not strength. It is an admission that we have slipped on the governance scale even by our own standards. It will have consequences beyond the loss of the money being offered under the compact both locally and internationally.
Even if we did not need financial assistance for our development, we would need to maintain good relations with the likes of US, UK, China and EU if we want to avoid unnecessary disruptions to our development plans.
More importantly, however, we must ask ourselves if the decision to reject the MCC funds under these circumstances has the support of the majority of our people and the rights of some of our fellow citizens are not being sacrificed in the name of sovereignty and political expediency.
And while I wish it was not the case, Tanzania doesn’t have sufficient resources to fund all its ambitious development plans using internal sources even if we managed to stop all forms of tax evasion.
And running to the Chinese is not a sustainable solution in the long run. For all I know we will soon reach the ceiling of the debt we can sustainably take from the Chinese if this has not happened already.
The writers of various articles may be right when they claim that our relationship with the US cannot be defined by the MCC alone, but they are terribly mistaken if they think the US will leave us alone simply because we have decided to forgo the MCC money. That’s not how the world works.
We can be as certain as the sun will rise tomorrow that other development partners will soon follow in the footsteps of the US and the implications for us will become significant very quickly.
And let us be honest, Zanzibar is a real problem that requires urgent fixing. These recent elections were a terrible error of judgment. Soon we will see Dr Ali Mohamed Shein struggling to rule by himself in a country, whose Constitution assumes the government will always be made up of the two main political parties.
Now we have no opposition party based on the election results of March 20 and, of course, CCM has the numbers to amend the Constitution to enable it to govern, but such a move would deepen the crisis, not alleviate it.
I wrote a piece last year suggesting that the Zanzibar issue is too complex to be resolved through a one-man-one-vote solution. I also said that Tanzania Mainland could not stay out of the Zanzibar problem because for better or worse, for we are one and the same country.
A negotiated outcome would not have been a perfect solution to the election crisis in Zanzibar, but it would definitely have been better than the sham elections we just had. There was no rush to do this election because Dr Shein was constitutionally in office back then. Now, however, his legitimacy is shaky and he has become part of the problem - not the solution.
My hope is that when JPM takes over as chairman of CCM he will appoint a CCM leader in Zanzibar and on the mainland that can work with CUF and other opposition parties to bring peace and tranquillity back to the Isles.
I also hope that this new leadership will have wise answers to many pertinent questions that are being asked about the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar on both sides of the Union.
As for the MCC, we need to engage the Americans and push for the restoration of relations as soon as possible. Americans no doubt have an agenda, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have our own, because that is how the world works.
- By Ali Mufuruki; [email protected]
Mr Mufuruki is Chairman & CEO, Infotech Investment Group and co-founder and chairman of the CEO RoundtableMr Mufuruki is Chairman & CEO, Infotech Investment Group and co-founder and chairman of the CEO Roundtable