Politics changes. So do politicians. Hence we must not freeze political perspectives in the past. However, the past demands attention. This is why no wonder the decision of the President of Tanzania, Doctor John Magufuli, to appoint Professor Kitila Mkumbo as a Permanent Secretary has sparked a debate about their previous stance. As a leading public intellectual and political advisor of an opposition party that he co-founded prior to his presidential appointment, the Professor has been critical of the hegemony of the ruling party that the President chairs.
As one of the four professors in a fledgling Department of Educational Psychology and Curriculum Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam, the don had also been critical of the President for appointing professors in his administration at the expense of the academia. It was by doing what he perceived as one of the main roles of professors that the President singled him out for praise in 2016 for his report on a ‘predicament’ at the University of Dodoma.
In a country with a dearth of public intellectuals and political initiators of the stature of Professor Mkumbo, what are the implications of his presidential appointment? The clue is in the third edition of the ‘Standing Order for the Public Service 2009’. In section F.21(a), it states that “a public servant shall not be employed or hold office in any Political Party while still in the public service”. For those who are wondering why Professor Mkumbo did not resign from his party ‘position’ while he was working in another public institution, i.e. the University of Dar es Salaam, this may not be sufficient. But is being a Permanent Secretary in a government Ministry the same as being a University Professor with ‘Academic Freedom’?
The leader of his party, Zitto Kabwe, must have been aware of this difference when he penned a press release that indicates that Professor Mkumbo submitted a letter of resignation as their party advisor. However, as if what he wrote and read was not sufficient, Zitto Kabwe used his presser to elaborate. In doing so he fell into the trap of saying Professor Mkumbo was already a public servant and as such, the presidential appointment was simply a promotion in public service hence he could have not said ‘no’ to his boss i.e. President Magufuli.
Our analysis begs to differ. We have a precedent. Even during the era of the one-party state, Professors Seithy Chachage, Mwesiga Baregu and Aikaeli Kweka “received letters from the Central Establishment in the President’s Office, removing them from the University and requiring them to report to other institutions.” Not all of them accepted. The University of Dar es Salaam Academic Staff Assembly (UDASA) that Professor Mkumbo came to chair later protested. So did the late Member of Parliament, Patrick Qorro, in the August House.
When I asked one of those dons why didn’t he accept it even after a senior official offered him a lucrative post, he told me that the moment you get lured, you lose the freedom you have as an academic and become someone who can moved from one post to another at the pleasure of the appointer. For him, being a Professor by application even in a public university guarantees relative autonomy compared to being direct presidential appointee. An astute a public intellectual as Professor Mkumbo should know this.
A colleague has strongly argued that being a Permanent Secretary does really not stop one from being a public intellectual, citing the articles that another Permanent Secretary, Professor Adolf Mkenda, continues to write in newspapers. Yes, Professor Mkumbo can also continue to write in Raia Mwema but as Professor Mkenda knows very well, they cannot contravene this line from Section F.21(d) of the Standings Orders: “a public servant shall not be allowed to utter any words which may embarrass the Government due to his political affiliation; a public servant shall not take part in Political activities which can compromise or be seen to compromise his loyalty to Government activities”. In other words, both professors who used to freely and openly critic the establishment are now what a Gramscian may call ‘hegemonic intellectuals.’
Zitto Kabwe is at pains to tell us that they chose between their fledging party and the country/nation. Understandably, he had to talk as a politician and even a diplomat. But, analytically, since when is choosing the role that Professor Mkumbo plays as a public intellectual, speaking truth to power in many an instance, and being a bureaucratic bourgeoisie a choice between a party and the people?
For sure, the times have changed. And as we noted earlier, we cannot freeze politicians in the past. But there is an interesting line from what Zitto Kabwe said in 2008 that captures one of the major implications of the appointment of Professor Mkumbo: “To me, the most important challenge we must overcome is to end single party dominance in our country.” What has happened to someone who once declared that his dread is to end this single-party hegemony?
Today, as their fledging party and multiparty democracy is under threat as Zitto Kabwe’s query ‘Will the real Opposition emerge under Magufuli’s repressive CCM?’ stresses, how is consolidating the hegemony of the ‘de facto’ single-party state helpful to our dear country/nation? Was Professor Mkumbo’s ‘prediction’ in 2015 that CCM’s nomination process “could surely mark the beginning of the end of the party’s hegemony in Tanzania’s politics”, premature?
“A strong opposition in Tanzania”, as Nabil Omar aptly puts it, “is the beginning of a mature democratic system where the ruling party will always be held accountable.” Surely it in the ‘public interest’, and not simply ‘party interest’, for the likes of Professor Mkumbo of ACT-Wazalendo to strengthen multiparty democracy. But, alas, it seems we are back to where the late Mwalimu Nyerere left us when he said, “we now experimenting with a multi-party system.”