Harold Wilson’s remark that a week is a long time in politics may have become a standard cliché trotted out in times of political crisis, but for Permanent Secretary to the Tanzanian Ministry of Energy and Minerals, David Jairo, it almost certainly rang true last week. On Monday, as the Minister, William Ngeleja, presented his department’s budget to the National Assembly, it emerged during the debate that Jairo had instructed the various agencies that comprise the ministry to each spend TSh. 50 million (together totalling Tsh. 1 billion, or around $633,000) on payments to MPs to secure the budget’s approval. In the face of anger from all sides (including, significantly, opposition from the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM – MPs), Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda tabled a motion to have the budget formally withdrawn, and the ministry was given three weeks to re-draft and return to the National Assembly. By Thursday, facing continued pressure on his position, Jairo had gone.
The backdrop to the latest political crisis is the energy crisis that has hit electricity supplies across the country since poor rains have seriously diminished production (Tanzania relies on hydropower for around 76% of its energy supplies, making it highly vulnerable to drought and long dry periods which see water levels in the hydropower dams drop). Tanesco is running a rotation of power cuts, with areas affected for hours at a time. Whilst essential services, such as hospitals, have had their supplies protected, others have been forced to rely on generators running on already highly priced fuel.
So who are the winners and losers from last week’s debacle? The biggest political loser is probably Kikwete himself, yet again demonstrating his inability to exercise authority over the increasingly fractured, and fractious, ruling CCM. The previous week, CCM MPs had already indicated they would not support the budget, the second time in the past two years that CCM MPs have defied their leaders and opposed a government ministerial budget (in 2009, the Ministry of Transport and Communication was forced to re-draft, but did not have the shame of being forced to formally withdraw it).
The biggest winner is almost certainly Pinda, and with 2015 in mind, eyes will now look to see how he capitalises on this moment in the sun. He played this exceptionally well. In addition to forcing the withdrawal of the budget, he also publicly stated that Jairo should go, adding that this was, however, ultimately a decision for Kikwete. Statesmanlike, demonstrating resolve and determination, and in pushing it over to Kikwete subtly (actually, not that subtly) reinforcing Kikwete’s weakness. One long-term Tanzania-watcher and resident, and someone who has seen Pinda work a crowd, has said this could be the man to watch. Pinda for 2015? It’s a long way off, and there are plenty of traps to catch early runners (not least brutal succession politics within the ruling party). But it is an intriguing prospect, nonetheless.
The other losers are, of course, those who look likely to continue to suffer power cuts and rationing as the energy crisis shows no sign of abating. The big question is whether, with the focus on the immediate political crisis, anyone at the ministry is actually taking the lead on seeking to resolve the energy one.