Tanzania, Malawi cross rubicon

Thursday July 2 2020


By Karoli Ssemogerere

Early this week, Malawi and Tanzania produced big news. First Malawi swore in a new president, Pastor Lazarus Chakwera, who speaks with quite some confidence.

He defeated incumbent president Peter Mutharika in the re-run of the 2019 general election, which had been cancelled by the High Court. The re-run left in place Parliament whose 196 members were elected last year and a female speaker, a first for their country.

A number of applications by the Electoral Commission came to court. Then there was an application to keep the Chief Justice in office, whose official term was approaching expiry.
The courts considered this issue and ruled he was still in office until the last day of his constitutional term. In the end, everyone seemed exhausted. The former president’s former wife crossed to the Opposition.

The Malawi Congress Party led Malawi to independence under Hastings Kamuzu Banda, an elder in the Scottish Prysbeterian Church, highly educated, who did the bidding of the former colonial masters.

At the time of his exit, old age had washed off his senility, but the State still functioned and it did during this period. His official companion Cecilia Kadzamira died a few years later.

Many of these countries have interesting features of state. Malawi’s State House is a Chinese construction just like Tanzania’s Ubunge’s building in Dodoma. Images of former presidents of Tanzania sitting relaxed off the chamber made it easy to sell their successor’s election.


So for Malawi – why and how did they succeed? First from independence, whether under one party and later multiparty, the country has been holding regular elections, leaders have come and gone and even died. The instability factor is linked to excessive borrowing. The country is poor, but also culturally stable.

Tanzania on its own is an ipso facto one -party state. Tanzania’ main Opposition party, Chadema, dominates the politics in the northeast, but seems to have little interest elsewhere.

For years, this has been the norm, People from Chaggaland are relatively wealthy, they grow coffee. But now things are changing, agribusiness in cash crops like sisal, sugarcane is seeing private sector activity. When we talk to colleagues in Tanzania, who are now farming, they seem to have grabbed it at the right scale.

One of the favourite photos of friends of my friend is a trip with his family to visit his grandmother. The family travelled by jet service. The photo was so much fun. The second photo was the dad doing homework with his doctors around a large table before school begun and acres of sugarcane. In Uganda, you have to be a big sugarman to manage such acreage.

Yet today, Tanzania has officially made it to the middle income status designated by the World Bank. In 1978-1979, Tanzania bankrupted itself overthrowing Amin - more of Amin’s mistake rather than Nyerere’s mistake. Installing Obote a second time carried a lot of baggage that Obote himself even with arms and bills Uganda to repay back did not work. By 1985, Nyerere had left the scene survived another 14 years till he died in 1999.

The World Bank’s designation is a major development for Tanzania, the calm giant. Most indicators in this mineral and agricultural-rich country are up. A villager in Musoma has big dreams after excavating two Tanzanite rocks worth $12 million.

When I shared the post on my page, some of my NRM friends tried to trivialise this great news. I was surprised. We haven’t been trading with our giant neighbour yet most illegal travel during the current pandemic has been from Tanzania rather than Kenya.

Middle income status at $1,000 means Tanzania now has a GDP of $50 billion. Other signs of this wealth are interesting. When Tanzanians come to Uganda, they seem to have money in need of shopping. A friend told me they come with big delegations. I salute our neighbours and liberators.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate.