Realising Economic Justice in Tanzania – an Interview with Zitto Kabwe – Part I

Zitto Kabwe interviewed by Martin O’Neill and Joe Guinan


Zitto Kabwe has been a leading opposition figure in Tanzania’s national politics since he first came to parliament in 2005. He quickly joined more seasoned opposition MPs in drawing attention to a string of government corruption scandals. He was also closely involvedin activist efforts to reform Tanzania’s mining legislation, a push that ultimately led to the replacement of the World Bank-backed 1998 Mining Act. 

Zitto returned to Parliament for a second term in 2010, taking up a powerful position as Chair of the Public Organizations Accounts Committee (POAC). Under his tutelage, POAC challenged the government repeatedly over corruption, prompting then President Kikwete to reshuffle his Cabinet in 2012. Shortly thereafter, actors within the ruling party—Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM)—manoeuvred to change the parliamentary standing orders and scrap the POAC. The popular Zitto nevertheless bounced back in 2013 as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). 

The PAC soon gained its own notoriety. Thanksto Zitto’s “forensic skill and determined handling”, the committee brought a damning report to Parliament in 2014, implicating several ministers and wealthy business tycoons in a £116m energy scandal. The “escrow scandal”, as it was known, captured national attention and led to the firing or resignation of several ministers and the (somewhat delayed) arrest of two businessmen. 

In 2015, Zitto left his former party, Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA), and founded the avowedly left-wing ACT-Wazlendo party, a new force for democratic socialism within Tanzania, on whose ticket he won his third term in parliament. 

After the 2015 elections, though, the political climate in Tanzania changed markedly. President Kikwete’s successor, John Pombe Magufuli (also from CCM), swiftly moved to crack down on opposition parties and activist organisations, to rein in Parliament, and to constrain the space for dissent even within the ruling party itself.  

The list of anti-democratic measures include: an unconstitutional ban on public rallies by political parties; the suspension of several newspapers; the arrest and imprisonment of opposition leaders; the harassment of prominent activists and public figures; failure to investigate the disappearance of multiple opposition activists and journalists; failure to investigate an assassination attempt against Tundu Lissu, another prominent opposition MP; the enforcement of new, authoritarian legislation; and the list goes on.

Throughout this period, Zitto has continued to adopt a bold stance in and out of Parliament. He has done so despite numerous threats and one prior arrest. 

In mid-2016, Zitto published a lengthy and highly critical statement in Tanzania’s leading English-language newspaper, which offered an early summary of many worrying political trends.    

Beyond statements, he has been at the forefront of challenging government, both for its political repression and damaging economic interventions. In November last year, for instance, he was briefly held by police after he raised concerns about official government growth figures. As many international commentators noted, there was considerable substance to Zitto’s concern. The heavy-handed government response, meanwhile, prompted one observer to conclude, “Tanzania’s macroeconomic outlook: less growth, more repression.”  

In Spring of this year, Zitto again played a leading role in drawing attention to the government’s illegal move to withhold an export levy on cashew nuts, 65 percent of which should have been returned to cashew nut farmers. After nearly three years of staying relatively quiet, Parliament rallied to challenge the government, spurred on by hundreds of farmers who travelled to observe the parliamentary proceedings. 

Ultimately, ruling party MPs were forced to back down, but even so, the controversy alerted an increasingly authoritarian government that it had gone too far.

This past Sunday, 28 October, Zitto came forward again, this time conveninga press conference to raise a number of serious concerns. These related to:

(1) A renewed crisis affecting the cashew nut sector, in part engendered by the government’s earlier decision to withhold funds;

(2) The recent abduction of Tanzanian billionaire Mo Dewji and the need for more transparency from security services surrounding that affair;

(3) The general state of insecurity in the country;

(4) The alleged killings of over 100 civilians nearly three weeks ago during a police operation to remove livestock keepers from a protected forest in Zitto’s home district of Kigoma. 

Regarding the last point, Zitto calledon the police to provide more information. 

Instead, three days later, on Wednesday 31 October 2018, he was arrestedat his home in Dar, charged with sedition over his comments about the killings and denied bail. The following day, he was again questioned, his house was searched, and after the police found nothing, the police again denied him bail and refused to allow him to appear in court.

Having spent two nights in jail in what his close associates say are very poor conditions, Zitto was released on bail on Friday 2 November. He still faces charges of “sedition” relating to his public statements.

Interview – Realising Economic Justice in Tanzania:

Martin O’Neill and Joe Guinan met up with Zitto Kabwe in Liverpool on 28 September 2018, during the Labour Party conference, and The World Transformed festival.

Martin O’Neill:   Zitto, it’s wonderful to have the chance to talk with you here in Liverpool, and we’re very grateful that you have time to talk with Renewal. To start with, can you tell us about your political party, ACT-Wakalendo, which I believe is quite a new party?

Zitto Kabwe:  Yes. It’s four years old now. It was founded in 2014 as a result of an ideological struggle within one of the main opposition parties, Chadema. A group of us wanted to change the Chadema Party, which although it been focussed on ending corruption, was very much a centre right party, and we wanted at least to move it to the centre left, while retaining an anti-corruption stance. We knew that it was impossible to make Chadema into a fully leftist party, but the founders of the party were not ready for even a slight shift in position, and so we were expelled from the party. So we decided to form a completely left-wing party.

Martin O’Neill:  Before this, had there been an existing socialist party of any kind in Tanzania?

Zitto Kabwe: Yes, there was. There is an existing party that had been at least partially socialist, which is CCM, the ruling party (Chama Cha Mapinduzi). You know, most of the liberation parties in Sub-Saharan Africa were left-wing parties. They were to some degree socialist parties or they at least called themselves socialist parties. But in Tanzania this held even more, with our liberation party having a real socialist tradition, and with Tanzania having been a real centre for the left-wing movement in Africa following the Declaration of Arusha – the Arusha Declaration by Julius Nyerere – on Ujamaa and Socialism.

Martin O’Neill:  The idea of “Ujamaa” is something I want to ask you a lot more about…

Zitto Kabwe:   Yes, of course, no problem. So what happened was that the ruling party, the CCM, abandoned Ujamaa and the Arusha Declaration in 1992 following much pressure from international institutions, following policies associated with a more neoliberal adjustment programme. This type of policies we are talking here are about privatisation of almost everything, with these measures being pushed on us  in Tanzania during the times of the Washington Consensus. And then the CCM party turned to the right completely. And so then there was no longer a socialist party – a real socialist party – in the country up to when we formed the ACT in 2014.

Martin O’Neill:  You’ve mentioned Julius Nyerere, and his tradition of African socialism, and the idea of Ujamaa. Can you say a bit about what your party is trying to do to reengage with that tradition of Julius Nyerere?

Zitto Kabwe:  Yes. Actually, that’s exactly what we are doing. The bad thing is, most of our documents are in Swahili. We haven’t managed to translate them into English as yet, so we haven’t yet been able to explain our thinking to a broader international audience. Hopefully in the future with the work that we’ll be doing we can look to translate more of our party documents into English, and explain our political thinking more broadly. 

The foundation of our party is seeking towards the revival of Nyerere’s Arusha Declaration, the revival of Ujamaa, but modernising it. Not taking it as it was, because times have changed. Ujamaa was announced in 1967 and there are new problems and issues happening in the country, new political dimensions to address. So we modernised it, and in June, 2015, we announced what we called the Tabora Declaration.

So the Tabora Declaration can be seen as like the Arusha Declaration, version 2.0. We are looking to maintain the principles of ujamaa but also trying to reform some of the ideas. For example, and here there are parallels with the discussions you are having in the British Labour movement, we can take the issue of public ownership. We are trying to avoid the mistakes that happened in ’70s and ’80s where it was often the case that public ownership translated as state ownership. Because for us, it was merely the same capitalist structure but owned by the state and it was state capitalism rather than public ownership.

Martin O’Neill:  You’re right that the same conversations are happening here. There’s been a lot of work, from Thomas Hanna and Andrew Cumbers and others, and from Cat Hobbs and her colleagues at We Own It, thinking through what more democratic forms of public ownership might look like, and thinking about how power and control can be dispersed in the way that public services are governed. And you see this kind of thinking being developed in Labour’s Alternative Models of Ownership document, to which people like Matthew Brown of Preston Council and Mathew Lawrence of the IPPR contributed.

Zitto Kabwe:  Yes, yes. So the approach that we are pushing more is looking at how the people themselves, either through their trade unions, or through people’s associations on the ground, can own the major means of production, rather than the owner just being the state. Because you can have a state that is not a socialist state, that isn’t democratic, but that is the owner of public services or utilities. And a very good example there I gave is the Apartheid state in South Africa. The Apartheid state owned almost everything. They owned all public utilities 100%. They owned a lot of things 100% but that did not make them socialists, that did not make them left.

So these are the things that we try to avoid in the policies and ideas of the Tabora Declaration. Last year we celebrated 50 years since the Arusha Declaration and one of the major discussions we had was on how to update that for today’s politics and in light of our understanding of economics today. For this, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been very useful for us, in advancing our analysis.

We looked at Piketty’s analysis of increasing returns to capital, and this is a huge issue for us, also that the owners of capital are paying lesser taxes on their returns than what is paid by workers on their earnings. 

In Tanzania, despite wages being low and corporate profits often quite high, workers pay two times more taxes than the owners of capital. The corporation tax from companies is at a low level compared to tax receipts from workers.

Martin O’Neill:  As Piketty’s book shows, and as is backed up by, for example, recent OECD data, throughout the world there’s been a shift towards more of overall economic returns accruing to capital holders rather than to those who work for their living. But might the problem be even more pronounced in Tanzania, in that you could have the additional problem that so much of the capital returns are leaving the country, so much of the return to capital is basically ending up extracting money out of the economy and bringing those returns to shareholders in other places? So the structure of the ownership of corporations operating within Tanzania would seem to present an additional worry about the misdirection of returns on economic activity. Is that part of what you’re going to try to address in your political programme?

Zitto Kabwe:  There are new things that we are learning here in Liverpool, and from talking with people around the Labour Party, that we are going to take away and think about how to incorporate into our own proposals. For example, over the last two days, we are learning about, for example, a proposal that John McDonnell has put forward, the idea of Inclusive Ownership Funds, for the workers to get part of the dividend, and to benefit from capital returns. It’s something that we are learning. We will definitely try to analyse some of these ideas, and to see how it fits to our situation and how these ideas can be adapted for Tanzania. What is important to understand is that our investment in Tanzanian has mostly been foreign direct investment into our economy. There was a push from the global institutions like the World Bank and IMF for growth driven by FDIs. And there was a push for us to change our laws to allow repatriation of profits, and to do everything that would benefit foreign investors. And that’s why you have a lot of money being taken out and because the law had to be relaxed in order to invite capital to come into the country.

So you have a very skewed ownership structure whereby the Tanzania just remain as workers earning whatever the wage that they’re supposed to earn but the whole capital is owned by foreign multi-nationals. And since 1997, we had huge investment in the mining sector, especially gold. We became number three in Africa for producing gold after South Africa and Ghana. And for years, for more than 20 years, gold mining companies were not paying corporation tax in Tanzania because of the structure, the strategic ownership structure that has been put whereby most of the taxes are paid here in the UK. Because as I said in one of the meetings at the World Transformed, the City of London is the city of capital, it is “the capital of capital”. So because it’s a low tax jurisdiction, you have companies doing shifting profits away from countries such as Tanzania, bringing it to low tax jurisdictions. So they pay very low amount of taxes here and they pay zero over there, in our country. So these companies end up having a lot, and we lose out.

And we have had a lot of exemptions given to companies in order to encourage FDI in Tanzania. So we have that question as well that companies declaring losses year in year out, so they are not paying corporate taxes. So then if you have a proposal like McDonnell’s Inclusive Ownership Funds, if it were funded by profits, then there be nothing to give in Tanzania, because the dividend is declared here in the capitals of capital, whether in Toronto or in London or the likes. So definitely, we will have to have to contextualise that analysis and see how it fits into Tanzania context and that’s what we are lacking, and try to think more about how some of the benefits of FDI can be kept for the people of Tanzania, and not just extracted to the City of London.

And so we’re eager to work with people on the British left – with Labour, and with academics and think tanks. We know that we need to find a different economic system in Tanzania. And we know that unless we find ways to address the systemic and structural injustices of our economy, our ambitions will mean nothing. 

Martin O’Neill:   I’d be interested to learn about what the left in Britain can do to help in what you’re doing in Tanzania.  If, as we all hope, after the next election in the UK, when there is a government led by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, what do you think are the main things that a Labour government here can do to assist countries such as Tanzania, especially given the role of British capital, and of the City of London, within the global system? What could a Labour government do to make it easier to create more just and more democratic societies in Tanzania or in other countries in Africa? What are the main things that an internationalist labour government here can do to make your job easier in Tanzania?

Zitto Kabwe:   First and foremost, we ask that the UK moves away from paternalistic behaviour, from an old paternalistic relationship. Because British empire rule in Tanzania doesn’t mean that it has to continue patronising us. The whole paradigm of “foreign aid” is patronising. We want to build a more just society together, not to be beneficiaries of patronising charity.

People might see that they’re helping, they’re sending money, they’re helping in health, whatever, but the way, the structure that it is, it is completely paternalistic. So we hope that when Jeremy Corbyn, as we all hope, visits Africa as a prime minister, he has to come to Africa and meet fellow prime ministers or president at par, as equals, as head of the government. This is very important because this is also a psychological issue. Once that is solved, then the discussions become more honest and genuine. So that is point one.

Second, addressing the whole issue of economic justice, the especially the issue of tax avoidance. Yes, countries like UK suffer as well, lose revenues because of tax avoidance by big companies. But for us, it is do or die, it is a matter of life and death. Because if our governments don’t have enough revenue, it means it will be difficult to supply the basics of health and education, and the very essentials of life. So it is so important that we address this issue, and we address the questions of the ownership of capital and how British companies investing in Tanzania or in Africa are paying fair taxes there where the economic activities are done, and not only here in the “capital of capital”. This will be very, very important.

And thirdly, in foreign policy, British foreign policy has to shift from being imperial, from an imperial mindset. The UK is a member of the Security Council. It can influence a lot of things. It’s the fifth largest economy in the world. It can influence a lot of things that are going on in the world. There are still places where we don’t have that voice, where the voice of the African people is not heard. We expect that Jeremy Corbyn will work with the institutions like the African Union to address the key issues and the voice of Africa on a number of issues, for one to take the example of Western Sahara. I understand that Jeremy Corbyn is an internationalist, and supports the Palestinian struggle. But it is also important as an internationalist to address the struggle of the people of Western Sahara, and to find a solution to this question.

So there is an issue of foreign policy, and we hope that under the next Labour government, that British foreign policy will be more progressive, to be more developmental, and essential to this are questions of economic justice, and of how investments come into Africa, and what happens to the proceeds of those investments. We are not saying that no investment – far from it – but the rules have to be justifiable to both countries, and we have to ensure that the benefits are not all extracted from countries like Tanzania, that instead we can all benefit.

In Part II, African Socialism in Theory and Practice, Zitto Kabwe discusses ACT’s domestic agenda for economic justice in Tanzania. He considers the prospects for exporting elements of the Preston Model of Community Wealth Building to Kigoma Town, a Tanzanian city governed by the ACT. Zitto also gives more detail on the political philosophy underpinning his vision of democratic socialism in Tanzania, discussing some of the main philosophical elements of African socialism, the idea of Ujamaa, and the legacy of Julius Nyerere.

Zitto Kabwe is on Twitter @ZittoKabwe. The ACT-Wazalendo Party – the Alliance for Change and Transparency – are also on Twitter @ACTwazalendo