Maasai woman, Liliondo, Tanzania. Via Cultural Survival.
So, about that next President of Tanzania. I am sorry to bring this up again, but the Zimbabwe elections have scared me into it.
Once upon a time, Robert Mugabe did heroic things for his country. But then he stuck around, and stuck around, and stuck around far past his use-by date, as our old liberators are wont to do.
With his clean-living vegetarian ways, Zimbabweans could continue to enjoy the benefits of his prehistoric politics until the Second Coming.
This made me think a little bit about the fate of my country, especially since there are already creeping suggestions of delaying the next election to 2017 on the pretext of the new constitution.
2017? To the ones testing out the idea in the hopes that it will gain traction, a little advice: Keep in mind that half the reason Tanzanians don’t revolt is because of our social pact.
We only have to endure 10 years of an incumbent, then we are rid of him forever. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea to fiddle with that, no matter what the excuse.
Strictly speaking, of course the 10-year rule hasn’t always been upheld: Nyerere hung around for quite a while. But then he stepped down and he apologised for some if not all of his most egregious mistakes.
When was the last time you heard a grown man in charge of anything — a country, a corporation — apologise of his own volition? Yes, character used to count for something in the nostalgic past.
One of my deepest political desires is to be led by a woman Commander-in-Chief. Feminists get accused of wanting a female president because of the Looks Like Me Principle.
As in, if you can get someone in power who Looks Like You, then they will do everything you would do if you were in that situation. They will fulfil your fantasies of how the world should be and align their worldview with yours. It doesn’t seem to work that way in real life.
My desire for a female president isn’t based on the belief that she would be intrinsically more moral than a man would be, or more motherly or kind-hearted. I spend too much time being a woman to believe in any of that nonsense.
The real advantage that a contemporary Tanzanian woman could bring to the presidency would be her smarts, skill and resilience after a lifetime fighting the status of second-class citizen in her own patriarchal country.
Basically, true grit. And also, just a refreshing change from the boy’s club.
Women are not the only minority. I would be somewhat excited by any candidate who comes from a group that is traditionally absent from the political landscape, like say maybe a Tanzanian of Asian descent or maybe one who is publicly agnostic, or even a libertarian for that matter.
Just for the excitement of it.
But my preference is for a woman to take the reins, in my lifetime if I get lucky. We do make up the largest minority there is and I figure it’s about time for a respite from the old boy’s club.
When Mugabe won the election, the unsurprised amongst us — meaning everyone — must have noted the congratulatory remarks offered by fellow African heads of state.
It caused me some despair. This, and every other dodgy election that sanctifies the dismantling of our delicate young democracies is a travesty.
Worse yet, it is helping to entrench a creeping conservative bent in the current generation of young Tanzanians that doesn’t bode well. Might is right is no way to build an inclusive future.
One way to break that might be to make things diverse, politically speaking. At present, the group of people who have traditionally held power — middle aged and old men — are running amok, some of them being far more dangerous to society than any other group one could think up.
We just haven’t given ourselves an opportunity to shake things up and dabble with alternatives.
A woman as president would distract us usefully from all our petty schisms — race, religion, what does it mean to be a leader — and could pave the way for other future presidencies that deviate from the conservative norms.
This article was originally published on The East African.