Opinion: Why Federalism Would Fail in Tanzania.

Encyclopedia Britanicca describes Federalism as a mode of political organization that unites separate states or other polities within an overarching political system in a way that allows each to maintain its own integrity. The three main federalist states in Africa are Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia.

Before I go on to explain the effects federalism would have on Tanzania and what the challenges of implementing such a system in Tanzania would be, I would like to quote J. Tyler Dickovick of the
Department of Politics, Washington and Lee University. In his paper Federalism in Africa: Origins, Operation and (In)significance) he states in regards to federalism in Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia:

Each country used ‘holding-together’ federalism in order to accommodate ethnic pluralism. Each country—especially Ethiopia and South Africa—also experienced several key centripetal forces: dominant governing parties, top-down state administration and high degrees of fiscal centralism. Federalism mattered in offering accommodative decentralization, but in its operation subnational governments have limited autonomy because of these interlocking centralizing features.

What do all three of these states have in common? All three countries have strong tribal identities with both Nigeria and South Africa maintaining strong local chiefs and Ethiopia with political parties based on tribes and ethnicity.

After Tanganyika gained independence, Mwalimu Nyerere quickly abolished tribal chiefs and promoted Swahili as a national language. That step was taken deliberately in order to discourage any political organizing based on tribes. That is why even today, it is illegal for one to start any formal group based on tribal leanings.

Now, it is true that even in the current structure we have regions and districts and both a home to certain tribes. But leadership in regional and district governments are not based on tribes. A Sambaa from Tanga can be a regional commisioner in Kilimanjaro, home to the Chaggas. A Chagga can be a district commisioner in Dodoma, home to the Gogos. But with a federal system, regional governments will likely be filled with people from the local tribes.

This form of government could then fuel tribes to seek more autonomy for their regions and created regions of the haves and have nots. Those regions with more resources and wealth will likely demand more power and autonomy for themselves.

With a federal system we have to choose between weak state governments such as in South Africa and Ethiopia or a weak central government beholden to the state governments. Even in states with a long standing federal system such as the US, you have a strong central government with state and local governments only having powers not specifically held by the central government. If that is the case, we are better off continuing with our current system.

A federal system also means more taxes for citizens. In all federal systems you have state taxes and federal taxes. Each state would have the power to create their own taxes independent to other states and the federal government. Any politician advocating for reducing the tax burden of the mwananchi cannot possibly advocate for such a system.

Finally, we already have two layers of government, the Union government and the Zanzibar government. Adding another layer of government will only serve to complicate the system even farther. How do you have a semi autonomous Zanzibar government and on top of that have semi autonomous state governments within Zanzibar? If you are to exempt Zanzibar from having state governments you would be placing the state governments in 'Tanganyika' in equal footing with the Zanzibar government minus the title of president.

It is for all the above reasons that I believe Tanzania should not enter into a federal structure. As good intentioned as it may be, it would only cause farther division in a country which has maintained strong national unity for the better part of sixty years.

Thomas J. Kibwana.



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