Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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New Politics Shape Canadian, Tanzanian Futures

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, December 21 / 15

Zack Gross

Canada has been embarking on a new path in recent days, following the October 19th federal election that brought in Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  While not everyone voted for Trudeau or his party's candidates, the young and attractive PM is enjoying something of a “honeymoon." 

Trudeau's popularity is fueled by his “sunny ways
,” following the sombre visage we all experienced from the outgoing PM, Mr. Harper.  Another cause of strong Canadian support is Trudeau's election promises which are now being tamped down to reflect the realities of tough budgeting and existing alliances. 

At the same time, Justin's sincere and open attitude toward social and environmental issues, something that suffered from a “freeze” during the Harper years, has been greeted by a “Canada is back!” response from leading politicians, academics, journalists and ordinary folks. 

This includes a recognition of the challenge of climate change, a welcoming of refugees from troubled parts of our world, and an opening for indigenous groups to see action on issues such as murdered and missing women and residential schools.  Holding press conferences and meeting with provincial premiers after ten years of non-communication are some other changes that have occurred.

In Tanzania, East Africa – a country that many Brandon and Westman people have connected with over the years through international assistance projects – a similar change has taken place.  Ten days after our federal election, on October 29th, John Magufuli, a 56-year old teacher and politician, won their national election over a bitter rival, taking 58% of the vote.  Tanzania's ruling party, the CCM, has been in power since Independence in 1961 and there is no question that Magufuli is more popular with the people than his party!

Magufuli is from the northwest of Tanzania, along the shores of Lake Victoria, not far from where groups such as the Marquis Project, People to People and others in our region support projects that ensure education and employment for children and young adults.  His nickname is “The Bulldozer” due to his no-nonsense attitude toward getting things done – a trait that has made him sometimes unpopular with his colleagues.  He also often did push-ups publicly during his campaign, in order to show he was fit to rule!

What made him unpopular with many other politicians but very popular with the public is that he has no use for the corruption that has slowed progress in Tanzania and left many hardworking citizens poor with no services no matter how productive they are.  Not unlike some of the concerns that have arisen in Canada recently about accountability in politics, Tanzanian politicians often travel first class, eat sumptuous meals on the public purse and don't always put in the hard work necessary as national leaders.

Magufuli has announced, since his election, restrictions on government travel and has canceled the heavy and expensive lunches that politicians have enjoyed during meetings.  He has said that if a meeting is only two hours long, a cup of tea and maybe a few nuts should be sufficient.  He has also shown up unexpectedly at government offices in order to check that staff are hard at work.  He emphasizes his own humble roots and promises to end Tanzania's poor infrastructure where roads are bad and electricity is spotty.

Other challenges that the new President faces in Tanzania include guarding the country's tourism industry, a big part of the economy, from poachers.  The death toll on elephants and rhinos as part of the illegal ivory trade could wipe out these magnificent animals in the coming years, not only a blow to biodiversity and endangered species but also meaning many fewer people will travel to East Africa to go on safari.

Magufuli also has to find a way to keep the island of Zanzibar a part of the Tanzanian nation.  This traditionally Muslim island, well known for its seaside beauty and tasty, fragrant spices, is often the scene of cross-cultural tension and political division.  Finally, the new President recently named an academic and human rights activist, Abdallah Possi, as a Deputy Minister 
a signal that albino Africans, with the features of an African but the skin colour of a white person – deserve better treatment.  This is an issue for another column!

For Canada and Tanzania, it is an exciting time
that period when a new leader is elected and brings great energy and resolve to his country.  As has been observed about our own reality in Canada:  It is like a breath of fresh air!

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of the Marquis Project in Brandon.

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