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Revealed: Angola’s Largest Hospital Without Ambulances

6 min read.

The Luanda General Hospital (HGL), for example, considered a potential “reference unit” in 2016 by the then governor of Luanda, General Higino Carneiro, has been without functional ambulances for more than two months to assist patients in need.

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Revealed: Angola’s Largest Hospital Without Ambulances

The largest hospital in Luanda, reopened in June 2015 by the Angolan executive and currently managed by the GPL, has been without functional ambulances for about two months to assist patients who need them. In the struggle between life and death, many are forced to wait more than 24 hours for light at the end of the tunnel and a chance to save their lives, when there is still time.

At a time when governments around the world are forced to reflect on the attention and investments they devote to their health systems, due to the collapse caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital units in Angola, regardless of their size and or capacity, they also face needs that are so elementary that they compromise their normal functioning, often costing defenseless citizens the lives of them.

The Luanda General Hospital (HGL), for example, considered a potential “reference unit” in 2016 by the then governor of Luanda, General Higino Carneiro, has been without functional ambulances for more than two months to assist patients in need. immediate medical transfer to other hospitals in the capital, a source confirmed to Maka Angola.

Our source says that currently the HGL has only one ambulance in operation and that it has been with this one that has helped the “most serious and urgent” cases. To make matters worse, the vehicle, despite “running more or less well”, does not have the ideal specific requirements to be used as an ambulance.

“This car lacks a siren, a horn, the fireflies don’t work well and there’s not even oxygen in the back”, assured our source.

It is a white Toyota Land Cruiser, with a sticker bearing the Republic of Angola insignia and large letters written “Ministério da Saúde”, with a cracked front window, perhaps because it was hit by a stone or similar.

As for the poor technical condition of this ambulance, the HGL board confirmed to Maka Angola that it is aware of the situation, but does not consider it a problem. “It doesn’t have a siren, but at least it has an ambulance!”, the director of the HGL, Dr. Bernabé Lemos, told our report.

On the day of our second visit to the HGL, July 22, 2021, we witnessed the arrival of this same ambulance at the hospital, bringing two different patients, who did not even know each other, and in completely different health conditions: one lying on a stretcher and the other sitting in one of the back seats of the car. What, according to one of the nurses at the hospital, who prefers not to be identified for fear of reprisals, has been a recurrent practice, “due to scarcity of resources”.

“This has happened even during a pandemic!” emphasizes the nurse.

Parked in the interior park of the HGL, we identified two more ambulances, one of the Renaut-Master brand, in relatively good condition, despite having suffered an accident, it damaged one of its rear bumpers; and another brand Stavic Sv 270, visibly damaged, with flat tires and apparently out of service for some time.

None of them, as we have found, are working. “They’ve been out of order for some time,” adds our source.

“We found only one functional ambulance”

In order to better understand the imbroglio of HGL ambulances, there is a variable that cannot be ruled out. It is an alleged workshop where many hospital ambulances go and from which they never return.

Our source has memory of at least two ambulances that were taken to the alleged workshop and that so far have not returned to the hospital. “They say they are going to take the ambulances to the workshop. Some go and don’t come back anymore”, he declared.

A former HGL doctor, who also prefers not to be identified, says he has a memory that, during his time working in that unit, about a year ago, the hospital had about five ambulances.

“If I remember correctly, there was an ambulance for each specialty: one for surgery, one for gynecology/obstetrics, one for pediatrics, one for internal medicine and one for nephrology,” the doctor told Maka Angola.

Therefore, there is a question that does not want to remain silent: where are the other ambulances at the Hospital Geral de Luanda?

In order to better understand the imbroglio of HGL ambulances, there is a variable that cannot be ruled out. It is an alleged workshop where many hospital ambulances go and from which they never return.

The current management of the HGL, in office since May 2021, says it is not aware of the existence of the ambulances in question and claims to have received only three ambulances from the previous management, one in operation and two completely out of order.

“We found only one functional ambulance, but also in poor technical condition”, assures the new director of the HGL, Dr. Bernabé Lemos.

At this moment, according to the director, there is one more ambulance to be repaired so that the hospital can have at least two functional ambulances.

As for the alleged mysterious workshop, the current HGL management says they are totally unaware of what it is: “From our management, the only ambulances that went to the workshop are this one, which is walking, without a siren, and the other one that is about to go out.” If there are ambulances going to the garage and not returning to the hospital, adds the director, “only if it was in the past administration. In my lifetime there is no ambulance that was sent to the workshop at our command and has not yet returned.”

Maka Angola contacted the former director of HGL, current director of Hospital Josina Machel. In this portal, Dr. Carlos Zeca refuted the existence of more ambulances than those he left to the hospital’s new management.

“From 2016 to 2021 [the time of his term] the HGL only had three ambulances, which are the ones I left in the hospital,” said the doctor categorically. As for the “mysterious workshop”, Carlos Zeca says this is not a new conversation, as he also heard it when he arrived at HGL in 2016 to manage the unit.

“The ambulances at this hospital, when we arrived, they all said they were at the mechanic. When we got there, none of them were in conditions”, reveals the hospital manager. The former director of HGL also stated that the lack of ambulances has always been a concern for the hospital and that, therefore, they have always relied on INEMA’s collaboration for medical transfers. He adds that in 2019 the hospital received an ambulance from MINSA, through the Central for Procurement and Supply of Medicines and Medical Resources of Angola (CECOMA), the Renaut-Master, stopped in the hospital’s interior park due to an unknown malfunction.

Human lives at risk from mismanagement

While the whereabouts of certain HGL ambulances remain uncertain and others remain to be repaired, it is the patients who need them who suffer most from the effects of this problem of poor hospital management.

Jack António, 10, was admitted to the HGL emergency room on the morning of Sunday, 11 July, with severe pain in his jaw and difficulty breathing. The attending physician detected a fracture in his jaw and informed his family that he needed immediate surgical intervention.

As the HGL did not have any professional specialized in the type of surgical intervention required, Jack had to be transferred to the Josina Machel «Maria Pia» Hospital. The only problem is that at that time the HGL had no ambulance available.

António Komba, Jack’s uncle, says that his nephew’s condition got worse during the day he was admitted to the hospital, but that the staff said they couldn’t do anything else.

“They said to wait for the ambulance to be able to take the boy to Maria Pia’s pediatrics, but until 8 pm nothing had been done! And they weren’t touching him, they weren’t doing anything to him,” his uncle declared.

According to one of our sources at the hospital, who was on duty on the day of the incident, “the hospital was trying to contact INEMA to request an ambulance for the boy, but they didn’t answer”.

Daniel Nzagi, another uncle of the patient, explains that he had to impose himself so that the hospital would do anything to guarantee the transfer of his nephew. “I had to threaten the hospital management that I would denounce the ‘Fala Angola’ program if they didn’t solve the ambulance problem.”

As the HGL did not have any professional specialized in the type of surgical intervention required, Jack had to be transferred to the Josina Machel «Maria Pia» Hospital. The only problem is that at that time the HGL had no ambulance available.

After nearly 48 hours, Jack was finally transferred from the HGL to “Maria Pia” by an INEMA ambulance around 5 pm on Monday, July 12th.

As for this occurrence, the director of the HGL says he has no knowledge: “I was not going to allow that to happen. I don’t know; it didn’t come to me.”

However, it promises an internal investigation to investigate the circumstances of the facts that occurred.

Jack Antonio is just one of hundreds of patients who see their lives at risk due to the lack of ambulances at the HGL. Others weren’t even as lucky. In February 2019, for example, Jornal de Angola reported that a 13-year-old boy died at Luanda General Hospital after waiting eight hours for an ambulance from the institution that was supposed to transport him to the Josina Machel. The director of the HGL, at the time of the facts, denied the occurrence and assured that “we have the three ambulances working”, according to JA. An ambulance is more than a car; it’s a way that can save lives. It is necessary that the managers of hospitals in Angola look at the ambulances, their technical conditions and their drivers with a clear eye, so that they stop innocent Angolans from dying for serious errors in hospital management.

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Israel Campos is an Angolan announcer and reporter for Rádio Nacional de Angola (RNA). He joined the radio in 2014, the year he started to present the children's program called “Kaluanda-Pio”, on Rádio Luanda. In 2017, he was the winner of the “Best children's program presenter” award.

Politics

Kenya: Institutionalised Theft and the High Cost of ‘Budgeted Corruption’

Leaked data exposes loopholes in Kenya’s procurement process, enabling graft.

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Kenya: Institutionalised Theft and the High Cost of ‘Budgeted Corruption’

In June, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a lofty goal: vaccinating the entire adult population of 27 million against COVID-19 by the end of the year. But a long-time problem –– the lack of functioning medical facilities throughout the country –– left many skeptical.

The lack of clinics is not for want of spending.

In 2016, Kenya’s Ministry of Health paid over US$10 million to private companies to deliver and install shipping containers repurposed as portable clinics, to improve healthcare access for marginalised populations in the urban centers of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. For the next four years, the 100 containers sat near the Mombasa port while government agencies investigated how an obscure Kenyan company won a hyper-inflated contract to supply them.

Some time last year, the container clinics were moved from their storage place. Yet journalists could only locate a handful of them, and not one is operational.

Kenyans are used to seeing procurement scandals in the news, stories about billions in public funds paid to ghost companies for goods and services that never materialize. But they rarely learn who is behind the schemes, or why they’re so common.

When OCCRP member center Africa Uncensored acquired a leak of 25,727 public procurement records that spanned nearly four years and eight government agencies, reporters set about digging through the data. They identified companies linked to public officials, while seeking to understand the systemic loopholes that enable endemic fraud and embezzlement in Kenya.

Procurement contracts are now “commonly referred to in Kenya as ‘budgeted corruption,’” according to John Githongo, an anti-corruption activist and whistleblower, who added that there have been no consequences for the political elite involved in the plunder.

“Unfortunately it has been a defining characteristic of the Jubilee (Party) regime, and very sadly the health sector has been predated upon more than others,” he said.

The Jubilee Party did not respond to a request for comment on this story in time for publication.

Public Officials Prosper

While Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission has been pursuing the case of the hyper-inflated, non-operational portable clinics for five years now, police have made no arrests and no one in power has been officially implicated in the $10 million scheme.

“It is totally out of the question that they would get the contract without the involvement or assistance of a public official. It just doesn’t work like that in Kenya,” said Githongo, who blew the whistle on another public procurement embezzlement scheme in 2002, which is still under investigation.

In the leaked data, reporters found previously undisclosed business links between the obscure company that supplied the clinics, Estama Investment Limited, and public officials, including a charity headed by Kenyan First Lady Margaret Kenyatta called Beyond Zero. They also discovered two former members of parliament in the company network, and a current lawmaker who is under investigation for money laundering in a separate embezzlement scheme.

The director of Estama and Beyond Zero both declined to comment on the investigation. The Ministry of Health did not respond to questions.

This isn’t the only suspect procurement process exposed in the leak.

An earlier investigation revealed that board members of a government corporation were awarded tenders worth millions of Kenyan shillings related to the construction of two dams, intended for one of Kenya’s most water-stressed regions. Reporters showed that their companies continued to benefit even after being outed by Kenya’s Department of Criminal Investigations.

In another, reporters identified two obscure companies belonging to a niece of a powerful MP, Rachael Nyamai, who had oversight of the health ministry’s spending at the time the contracts were awarded. The companies, which had no history of delivering medical supplies, appear to have been paid $240,000 to do just that. One of the companies, Tira Southshore, was also awarded a mysterious $43 million agreement to supply hand sanitizer, according to the government’s procurement system. Reporters were unable to confirm whether the money had been paid, and Nyamai declined to answer questions.

A separate investigation showed numerous contracts belonging to companies owned by Frank Mithika Linturi, a controversial senator from Kenya’s Meru County (more on this below).

Kenya’s legal anti-corruption framework doesn’t ban public officials from doing business, and has very broad standards for what could be considered conflict of interest when it comes to public tenders. For example, a public official can hold shares in a company that wins a government contract, but cannot have a controlling interest.

“They played around with the law quite interestingly,” said Harriet Wachira, a program coordinator at Transparency International-Kenya, referring to the loopholes enshrined in the 2013 Leadership and Integrity Act.

There are several efforts now underway that would strengthen the legal framework around conflict of interest and other corrupt practices. Last year, Kenyan authorities started collecting beneficial ownership information, which will be accessible to law enforcement agencies. Senator Farhiya Ali Haji recently introduced lifestyle audit legislation that would target unexplained wealth. And the Attorney General’s office is actively reviewing a draft bill that would significantly strengthen conflict of interest standards, according to a 2019 version seen by Transparency International-Kenya.

“If all these laws come together the anti-corruption landscape would change completely,” said Wachira. “It would make very serious strides in sealing the loopholes.”

Middleman Money

A peculiar phenomenon of Kenya’s procurement system is the awarding of contracts to companies that don’t produce the goods they promise to deliver, and have no track record of providing the services required. Inexplicably, they are paid by government agencies to procure goods and services from other companies.

This was the case with Estama, which purchased the shipping containers from a Chinese company, as well as the two companies owned by Nyamai’s niece, neither of which produce the medical supplies they were paid for.

It was also a red flag in the controversial $630 million Managed Equipment Service government project that was meant to get much-needed medical equipment to Kenya’s 47 counties. Using the leaked data, Africa Uncensored revealed that the government paid obscure Kenyan companies to procure the medical equipment from foreign suppliers.

Linturi, the controversial senator, is linked to at least 14 companies, whose services range from insurance to pharmaceuticals to furniture supply. One of his companies, Atticon Limited, which started as a construction firm, was awarded a $1.1 million contract by the Office of the Deputy President in 2016 to supply honorary medals.

Former employees told reporters that the senator’s company received the inflated contract and then procured the medals from Dubai. They also said the senator employed fraudulent tactics to win the tender, using multiple companies he owned to bid against each other, creating an illusion of competition.

Linturi, who did not respond to questions from reporters, was briefly detained, reportedly on fraud charges, three weeks after the Africa Uncensored investigation was published.

The issue of middleman companies winning public tenders “for things that they’re not remotely qualified for, or have the capacity to supply” is “something that we have seen over and over again,” said TI-Kenya’s Wachira, citing various procurement scandals, including recent headline-grabbing stories about COVID-19 supplies fraud.

Current regulations require the awarding agency to do due diligence on the companies bidding for tenders, but there is no independent oversight or enforcement, according to Wachira.

In the case of the honorary medals, Linturi used multiple companies to bid on a tender from an office where his romantic partner was the chief of staff. Mariane Kittany told reporters that it’s possible he used their relationship to influence the tender.

“If you really want to award the work to a friend of yours there is no law that they can come after you with, to say that this person has no capacity,” said Wachira. “Legally there is no penalty for not conducting due diligence.”

‘Blanket’ Purchasing Powers

The majority of questionable contracts reporters identified in the leaked data were so-called “blanket purchase agreements,” which are typically reserved for trusted vendors who provide recurring supplies such as newspapers and tea, or services such as office cleaning.

But blanket purchase agreements in Kenya appear to provide fast and vague transactions, with minimal scrutiny.

“A blanket agreement is something which should be exceptional, in my view,” said Kenya’s former Auditor-General, Edward Ouko.

The leaked data lists more than 2,000 such agreements, however, committing about $1.7 billion to non-competed, single-supplier contracts in the span of 42 months. Among these were the contracts awarded to Nyamai’s niece, and the inflated contract to Estama for portable clinics.

“Procurement laws require that BPAs [blanket purchase agreements] be used in very selective circumstances,” said Kwame Owino, a Kenyan policy expert. “These contracts are kept out of the public space so we can’t see whether the price is reasonable.”

Leaked data analysis indicates that the Ministry of Health has issued more blanket purchase agreements during public health emergencies, such as the Ebola outbreak in 2015.

An audit of contracts awarded during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic also concluded that the Kenyan Health Ministry’s procurement agency engaged in multiple irregular procurement methods, including issuing retrospective single-source contracts, and choosing companies with no history or qualifications.

Steering the Software

In July, Kenya’s Auditor General Nancy Gathungu and Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o appeared before the senate to confirm yet again what has been flagged by watchdogs for years: The government’s procurement software system is prone to “fraud, error and non-disclosure of revenue.”

Gathungu went further, alleging that the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMIS) is manipulated “deliberately to hide information” from auditors at the close of the financial year.

Nearly two decades after IFMIS was implemented in Kenya to improve efficiency and reduce corruption in public procurement, the system that was championed by President Kenyatta in his previous position as head of Treasury, as well as the World Bank, has become an efficient vehicle for the theft of public funds.

Red flags raised by a previous auditor general identified numerous problems with the system that could be exploited by unscrupulous procurement employees and ministry officials. As early as 2016, auditors found duplicates of the same vendor, each potentially with a different bank account, duplicate and ghost login IDs, and remote access for some system users.

Reporters’ analysis of the leaked data also revealed problematic patterns, like people accessing the system outside of working hours, as well as hundreds of duplicate transactions.

Last year, the government quietly moved to overhaul IFMIS, according to TI-Kenya’s Wachira, who follows the developments on the civil society side. Advocates say there’s been a notable shift at the National Treasury on anti-corruption efforts since 2019, when its former leadership was dismissed in connection with a procurement scandal.

It’s unclear when the overhaul will be completed, and the results of a re-engineered procurement portal remain to be seen. Ironically, the tender awarded to a consortium of companies for technical work on IFMIS is being challenged as an unqualified supplier.

As always in Kenya, a lot will depend on political will –– the “soft system” as the World Bank calls it –– to use the software without corrupt intentions.

“There is a human element to the system,” Kenya’s previous top auditor Ouku told reporters. “If the human element is also not working as expected then the system cannot be perfect.”

This article was originally published by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)

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Tigray Conflict: What Happened to Ethiopia?

The ongoing displacement and killings of minorities and the ongoing war in Tigray—labeled by the federal government as enforcing law and order—are disturbing. It can’t go on.

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Tigray Conflict: What Happened to Ethiopia?

The recent goings-on in Ethiopia, particularly those of the last few months, have left many puzzled as to what exactly happened to the Ethiopia of 2018—an Ethiopia that promised major political transformations and even took a handful of steps to that effect.

Both the ongoing displacement and killings of minorities in regions such as Oromia, Amhara, and Beneshangul-Gumuz and the ongoing war in Tigray—labeled by the federal government as enforcing law and order—are disturbing. Toward the end of 2020, the federal government started waging what it startlingly called a “law enforcement operation” in the Tigray region, branding the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the leading partner in the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) between 1988 and 2018, as “a criminal organization and vowing to destroy it.”

From media coverage of the events, we have learned that some veterans of TPLF were caught and brought to court while others were killed. The hunt and its accompanying promise to bring the perpetrators to justice continues today; both the war and the legal procedures of those who have been caught are still ongoing at the writing of this post. The humanitarian crisis and the danger of famine in Tigray have become alarming to the international community, while the Ethiopian government seems to turn a deaf ear to humanitarian pleas and pressure.

One wonders where we got it wrong while actually trying to right the sociopolitical ills that the country has inherited from a troubled federal experiment and authoritarian rule since 1991, and a violent imperial history that preceded it.

If we take a closer look at Ethiopia’s political history, particularly in its moments of transition, a familiar pattern of relying on the criminal justice system to solve political problems can easily be detected. For instance, in November 1974, upon seizing power, the Derg (then provisional military government) ordered the killing of 60 high-ranking officials who served in the monarchy. They justified this action by labeling the individuals as criminals as attested to by a statement from the provisional military council.

“The executions,” the council said, “were a political decision taken to mete out justice to those officials of the previous government who had thrived on corruption, maladministration and a “divide and rule” policy.” The Derg also decreed that the rest of the detainees would be tried in a military tribunal. A new government, led by the TPLF/EPRDF, came to power after ousting the Derg in 1991. Again, the regime resorted to the language of law. The first step the EPRDF took was to hunt the perpetrators and bring them to court. These events, which journalist John Ryle described as “the first large-scale human rights trial of recent times,” unfolded on a grand scale: the entire former leadership of the country was under indictment for genocide and crimes against humanity.

On both the discursive and practical levels, there is continuity between these three events. The criminalization of political problems and the attempt to solve them through the court system is a consistent trait of these moments of transition. All three mobilize the law; with a particular  commitment to preserving a preexisting law. They believe in the courtroom—which, ironically, they control—to deliver justice. By this account, justice for victims partly depends on the removal of those who are now defined as perpetrators from the political realm, because they are reduced to being criminals, not political actors with constituencies. Only the victors are legitimate political actors; they claim to mete out  justice and are thereby absolved of any responsibility for partaking in the violence. All three regimes in post-imperial Ethiopia, sideline the main issue—that is, the unresolved political problems—while relying on the seeming universality and neutrality of the law.

Resorting to the criminal justice system instead of seeking political solutions through the intricacies of the political process justifies further violent actions in the interest of maintaining law and order. As a result, the political goes unscrutinized and the victors simply operate within the existing structure instead of introducing more profound change.

This simply shows that—as Mahmood Mamdani cautions in his new book, Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities—a “Nuremberg Trial” inspired approach to solving politically driven violence is inadequate. The courtroom in fact reinforces the vicious cycle of violence by dichotomizing political communities as either victims or perpetrators, thereby defining new enemies. Most of the sociopolitical and economic problems that necessitated the change, such as the quest for democracy, equality, freedom, respect of human rights, and economic development, remain largely unaddressed.

Unless Ethiopia is willing to give a new way of resolving political differences a chance, the vicious cycle of violence will continue unabated. As Mamdani suggests, there has to be room and preparedness to change rules and to be open to new political orders. Relying on the courtroom to solve political problems only serves the interests of those in power, and helps them maintain their position by creating enemies around which they can galvanize popular support. For instance, TPLF has now become the new criminal group; it makes perfect sense, then, for the government and its supporters to withdraw protection from civilians in Tigray and elsewhere who have been victimized in the name of restoring law and order. Collateral damage is the language used to explain atrocities on civilians. Conducting performative politics such as elections elsewhere in the country while framing the conflict in Tigray as a “law and order” issue will not address the deep seated problems Ethiopia is confronted with.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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Can President Samia Find a Way to Fulfilling her Reform Ambitions?

President Samia has inherited a divided nation, an opposition determined to rejuvenate itself, and a feeble ruling party. These constraints account for her inability to pursue fundamental political reforms.

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Can President Samia Find a Way to Fulfilling her Reform Ambitions?

When Samia Suluhu Hassan, the first female president of Tanzania, took office in March following the sudden death of the incumbent, John Pombe Magufuli, a sense of contagious optimism gripped the nation. Viewed by many as “calm, gentle and attentive”, she appeared to embody the possibility of a new beginning after five years of her predecessor’s autocratic and ruthless reign. However, the July arrest and detention of a leading opposition figure, Freeman Mbowe, on what many activists reject as spurious terrorism charges, has shown that the new president has not been able to devise a different way of dealing with the  political constraints that besieged her predecessor, and that she is, ironically (given her supposed demeanour), incapable of tolerating political skirmish.

The indefinite detention (terrorism charges aren’t bailable in Tanzania) of Mr Mbowe, a principled and unswerving chairperson of the Party of Democracy and Development (CHADEMA), coincided with growing agitation for a new constitution and an independent electoral commission. For the opposition, especially CHADEMA, and everyone else that believes the last five years (2015–2020) were a dark chapter in the country’s history of progressive governance, the death of President Magufuli needs to be seen as a historic window of opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime trigger for enacting fundamental legal and governance reforms, with the intention of preventing a recurrence of the excesses witnessed under the previous regime.

In contrast, the dominant coalition within the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), a majority of its rural-based support, a section of urban vendors, and a notable number of disparate leftists in the country regard the late president as a committed patriot and a fearless transformative ruler, though admittedly not a saint. This sharp schism between the opposition and the ruling party surfaced three months after President Samia was sworn in, when she acknowledged the need for a new constitution, and the restoration of political freedoms, but argued that these weren’t immediate problems facing the nation. She instead asked for time to stabilize the (ailing) economy.

The president’s views appear to have evolved in the intervening period, between when she took office in March, and when she revealed her position regarding the new constitution in June. In her first speech to the National Assembly, President Samia made a case for continuity – particularly in the form of working to complete her predecessor’s strategic infrastructural investments – but also used the occasion to announce plans for a potential dialogue with political parties, to “collectively agree on the direction and mechanism for conducting politics, for the benefit of the country.”

The terrorism charges against Freeman Mbowe and his three guards have been preferred at a time when the transitional government is grappling with growing pressure from multiple sources; demand for constitutional change from the opposition, public complaints over the July budgetary changes that have affected the price of fuel and doubled mobile phone transaction fees, and a vaccination campaign marred by intra-party resistance and mass public scepticism. The initially impressive approval rating of the new government is under serious threat, and the administration is struggling to turn the tide. While public outcry has compelled the government to reconsider its levy on mobile phone transactions, no solution has been unveiled to date. Moreover, no concession has been offered to those demanding broad governance sector reforms.

A key lingering question is, why has the sixth phase government, initially seen as reform-oriented, reneged on its early intention to pursue a restorative and inclusive political process? The answer lies in the nature of the political constraints facing the regime.

Political constraints

The death of President Magufuli, and the optimism associated with the new administration had the effect of emboldening the opposition, after a harrowing general election in October 2020. Opposition parties, especially CHADEMA, took advantage of the uncertainty associated with power transition to reach out to its members and re-organize. The Police Force, often a nemesis of the opposition, was not sure of what to do (until later when the president re-affirmed a ban on political rallies). The immediate mobilization that followed the unintended easing of restrictions showed that the opposition had not been “finished”, even after years of relentless pressure from the government and its organs. Keen political observers, and players within the ruling party raised the alarm that the new administration needed to be careful, or else it would suffer the consequences in the upcoming elections scheduled for 2025.

A strengthened opposition would be detrimental to President Samia’s distant but inevitable bid for re-election in 2025. Her ascent to the top office earlier in the year was accidental. She must, therefore, be naturally determined to prove herself at the ballot box, and cement her legitimacy and her legacy as the country’s (truly) first female president.

The death of President Magufuli, and the optimism associated with the new administration had the effect of emboldening the opposition.

The demand for a new constitution is a stubborn riddle for President Samia, for two main reasons. Firstly, her previous role as the deputy chairperson of the Constituent Assembly, in a process that was aborted, makes her indebted to the issue. Secondly, apart from the new constitution, there is no other political issue that carries the same huge potential for cementing her legacy. Imagine her name going down in history as not only the first female president, but also one that delivered a transformative constitution! In spite of this strategic and historic value, it is nearly impossible for the regime to preside over a successful process that would not, at the same time, deliver fundamental concessions for the opposition. As such, it is quite likely that the President will defer the issue, and pursue it in her second term (post-2025).

The tricky nature of the question of the new constitution partly explains why the president has not yet met the opposition, four months into her mandate, in spite of an earlier commitment to do so. It is clear that the administration has been dithering, due to the difficulty in identifying acceptable concessions that need to go with such a high-profile engagement. The prosecution of Mr Mbowe could be an attempt to further skew the balance of power ahead of a potential meeting.

The state of the ruling party

Intra-party constraints constitute another set of deep-rooted limitations that seem to have tempered the president’s desire for reform.

The ruling party – Chama Cha Mapinduzi – has dominated politics in Tanzania in different forms, comfortably and snobbishly, since independence in 1961. Its survival has always been anchored to its control of the state machinery, an invaluable avenue for accessing unlimited financial resources, organizational assistance, and coercive power. In recent years though, opposition parties have closed the organizational gap, and have increasingly and creatively relied on the public to bridge their financial deficits. The actual dominance of the ruling party has, therefore, been diminishing gradually – a phenomenon that has compelled the institution to increasingly rely on coercion.

Under President Magufuli, the party gained seemingly total but essentially fictitious dominance, as he sought to “finish off” the opposition, by any means. The 84 per cent of presidential votes that the late president won during the 2020 general election, and 98 per cent of parliamentary seats, do not reflect the known political diversity in the country. Nothing, other than the deliberate use of “extra-political” tactics (coercion, malicious exclusion of opposition candidates, and dubious defections) would explain the unprecedented electoral margin seen in 2020. The party’s growing reliance on raw power reveals a blatant admission of organizational weakness – one that the new president has inherited.

Upon taking the leadership of the ruling party in April, the new president made a commitment to safeguard the institution’s culture of “self-assessment and self-correction”, and announced her intention to initiate a review of the party’s “directives and policies” as they relate to vision, ideology, and future plans. The reference to self-assessment and self-correction points to the president’s ambition to reform the party, at least in a bid to consolidate her power, and at most, to give it a new lease of life.

The ruling party, until recently a ferocious election-winning machine, is grappling with a crisis of vision. It has consistently failed to resolve the ideological conundrum that emerged in the period following the collapse of Ujamaa (a socialist experiment pioneered by Julius Nyerere in 1967), and the triumph of neo-liberalism. The party’s constitution has retained a commitment to building a socialist and self-reliant nation, even though its various governments have been steadfast in advancing pure neo-liberal policies. How appealing can a socialist rhetoric be, to a population of predominantly young and educated people that are struggling with unemployment and poverty? It is a question the party would struggle to answer.

A strengthened opposition would be detrimental to President Samia’s distant but inevitable bid for re-election in 2025.

While the party continues to describe its primary base as made up of “farmers and workers”, its upper ranks are dominated by ambitious political and business elites who draw their inspiration from predominantly capitalist societies. Simply put, the party is peddling a (socialist) vision that the majority of its senior, elitist leaders don’t believe in. This bizarre form of duplicity – “socialist” rhetoric for the masses, and neo-liberal sweeteners for the elite – is a fundamental contradiction that has in the past caused the party to engage in policy contestations with its own government.

Since the party’s convoluted vision isn’t as appealing, a majority of those joining its ranks, both from the opposition and the general population, appear to be driven by the potential to access power, and amass the financial and status privileges that come with it. The long-term problem is that cadres with no clear moral compass and a sense of higher purpose can easily be corrupted by power, as epitomized by the ongoing criminal case against a popular CCM member, and former District Commissioner of Moshi, Lengai Ole Sabaya.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan has assumed the leadership of the country, and the ruling party, at a critical moment. There are many political wounds to treat, and differences to address. In spite of an early commitment to pursue reconciliation, changes in the political sphere remain shallow, mainly because of political constraints in the form of a concerted challenge from the opposition, and systemic weaknesses in her own party. The ultimate challenge for her is to strike a progressive balance between her party’s interests, and the nation’s future. Will she find a way out? Time will tell.

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