President Jakaya Mrisho 159, the fourth president of Tanzania, came to power on 21 December 2005. In this wide-ranging interview, he tells our editor, Baffour Ankomah, what his government has achieved in 15 months in office, how the country is marching boldly on to greatness, and how the future of Africa is very promising. "There is hope for Africa. I am optimistic," he says.
Baffour: In July, the African Union summit in Ghana is going to discuss a union government for Africa. Looking at the complexities on the ground today, do you think Africa will ever have a union government in a continent of 53 disparate countries?
President Kikwete: I believe Africa will have one government some day, but I cannot say when with certainty. Let's see how the discussions in Ghana go. Certainly this is the dream that the founding fathers had for the OAU, that ultimately there is going to be African unity and this unity is symbolised by one African government. The issue has been how do we get there? The whole transformation of the OAU to the AU is to give greater focus to this trail.
Again, just like the debate on the East African Federation, we may come to a point where we will have to get a roadmap. Of course, while some countries think we can have a map, some think we need time. However, some time in the future, we will have to do as we did in East Africa--have a team of people come up with concrete proposals and targets that are time bound, and then we can discuss these targets and start a process of moving towards the implementation of those targets. I am confident that some day Africa will have one government and that government is desirable. The sooner the better.
Baffour: From where you sit, in that hot seat, how do you see the future of our continent?
Kikwete: The future of the continent is promising. There is hope for Africa. I am optimistic, because the Africa of today is not the Africa of yesterday. Certainly we have come of age. Democracy is on the march, the economies are getting stronger and stronger, there is a greater realisation of the need to work together towards the attainment of the lofty goal of African unity, so I am confident. Of course, we still have low levels of development and this is our biggest challenge; 48 of the poorest countries in the world are in Africa. This is what is holding us back, but there is hope for the future.
Baffour: In your maiden speech in parliament on 30 December 2005, you said: "My victory and that of the CCM is, in fact, a vote of confidence in our party and its policies, a vote of confidence in the dedicated leadership of my predecessor. As a CCM member, I am pleased with the results. But as president, I should like to assure everyone that we have no intention to wipe out the opposition." That was a noble pledge, wasn't it, considering that in many African countries, opposition is a dirty word.
Kikwete: Yes, of course we need the opposition. I cannot build the opposition myself, but I am not going to take measures to strangle them. We are quite keen to see them flourish, and we give them the opportunity and the freedom they need to grow. This is all we can do. The rest of the job is theirs.
Baffour: But they keep on accusing your government of rigging the elections, including the recent by-election which, they say, they won't accept the result.
Kikwete: [Laughs]. Of course we are used to these accusations, but they are baseless. Our party, the CCM, has a strong popular base, and the candidate we put up in the recent by-election is a popular candidate. So winning was easy. Of course, the opposition would always say the election was rigged.
But how do you rig an election in this country? Let's look at our procedure. Baffour goes to the polling station with his registration card. There is a desk at the entrance where agents of all the contesting parties stand to scrutinise the registration cards against the electoral roll. The supervisor announces: "This is Baffour, registration number so and so." All the agents have registration books for that particular polling station. So everyone checks Baffour's registration against the books. They then say: "He is okay, he can vote."
Then Baffour gets a ballot paper, he goes to a secluded area and ticks the box of the candidate or party he wants to vote for. He comes back and places the paper into a transparent ballot box, in the full view of everybody, and walks out. After the polling is closed, the counting is done at the polling stations. In the past we used to collect all the boxes and transport them several kilometres to the district headquarters where the counting took place. But these days the ballot papers are counted at the polling stations, in the presence of all the polling agents who sign the certificate of the results. Each polling agent then goes away...