Thursday, November 25, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

November 25, 2010

News reaching Nairobi late last evening indicated that President Jakaya Kikwete had finally appointed his new cabinet almost two weeks since he was sworn in as Tanzania’s President. Without a doubt, one of the highlights of this cabinet appointment was the inclusion of Prof. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka as Minister for Lands, Housing and Settlement,

For those who may not remember Prof. Tibaijuka, she was until recently an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN-HABITAT in Nairobi. Until her resignation in 2010 to run for political office in Tanzania, she was the second highest ranking African woman in the United Nations system.

Looking at Anna Tibaijuka’s life, her debut into politics reminds us of many successful men and women who have made a name internationally and in academia but on entering politics have not found it easy to fit in to the murky world of cut throat competition.

In Kenya, one is reminded of Dr. Josephat Karanja who became Kenya’s first High Commissioner to London and later the first Kenyan to hold the post of Vice Chancellor at the University of Nairobi. However, when he ventured into politics in the late 1980s, his appointment as Moi’s Vice President hardly lasted a year. He was hounded out of office through hired political thugs whose job was to discredit him in public as much as possible to prepare ground for his sacking.

Another colourful Kenyan to have suffered the fate of dirty politics was Prof. Wangari Mathai, the only woman from Africa to have earned the coveted Nobel Peace Prize. Despite being an elected MP in 2004 when she was honored in Oslo in 2004; despite being a world renowned environmentalist, the government of Kenya never saw it fit to elevate her to a full cabinet minister. Instead the government let her serve as an assistant minister in the ministry of environment under a minister who had no clue about the environment.

One of Uganda’s high ranking former United Nations official is Olara Otunnu. When he retired from the United Nations to come back home, he plunged into elective politics with the aim of taking over Uganda’s oldest political party, UPC, as a springboard to the top post in the land.

However, as days have turned into months and months are slowly turning into years, the name of Olara Otunnu is slowly fading away from the Ugandan public. He is slowly realizing that elective local politics is never a bed of roses. There are thorns all over the place.

Yet with his wealth of experience, international recognition and massive international network, one would have expected that irrespective of the election outcome, he is the kind of person that any government in power would consider including in the cabinet. And just to think aloud, what better Foreign Minister would Uganda have than one Olara Otunnu if meritocracy had to have its way?

In discussing meritocracy in political appointments, I am reminded of one Barack Hussen Obama who, after a grueling contest against Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton in the primaries, he still went ahead to appoint one his running mate and the other his Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He knew their strengths and thought it useful to have them help him serve his country.

For Kikwete to have appointed Anna Tibaijuka to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Settlement, the President must have thoroughly read the lady’s CV and concluded that she was the right choice for the docket.

With her academic credentials in Agricultural Economics and having handled settlement issues on a global scale for years, that docket was hers for the taking. However, one must admit that that kind of reasoning can only come from Tanzania based on its political history and culture.

There is one better thing that Kikwete’s lineup has given to East Africans. Unlike Kenya which has 42 cabinet ministers and 50 assistants, Tanzania, despite its bigger population and bigger territory has only 29 ministers and 21 assistants. The combined number of those serving in the cabinet is just about 50% of the Kenyan cabinet. It shows that President Kikwete had in mind the burden that a huge cabinet can have on a country’s economy.

In an ethnically polarized society such as Kenya, Uganda or Nigeria, one would still have looked at Anna Tibaijuka’s tribe, region or even religion before asking her to serve her country in the best way she knows. Thank God for us; Tanzanians are light years ahead of us in dealing with the cancer of tribalism. They confined the ghost to the islands of the Indian Ocean long before Mwalimu Nyerere passed on.

Undugu still reigns supreme in Bongoland.