Geeska Afrika Online

Do we really need presidents or are they just a force of habit? Don’t laugh, think about it

BY: Elsie Eyakuze. The political events of the past couple of years have me wondering if it is time to examine our democracies again. The political arrangements of the nation-state have been useful so far but perhaps it is time for an upgrade.

As much as I like to give the pan-Africanist movement and the African Union grief, in truth my disagreement lies with the how of the concept, not necessarily the concept itself. A “borderless” African continent sounds mighty fine.

Elsie Eyakuze

The thing is, the AU is an expensive retirement club for the political elite that is doing very little to advance the pan-African dream.

Just this year, the AU has issued the African Passport… for the leadership and diplomatic classes who are the very last people who need one. The myopia and arrogance of our African leaders is breathtaking.

So they got me thinking about the concept of leadership as we practise it now. Do we really need our democracies to be presidential systems or are we ready to evolve into less hierarchical and centralised polities? Since one should always start at home, I have no problem with the thought of a Magufuli-less Tanzania.

I mean this very impersonally, but it does come from observing his leadership style, which I take exception to.
When our public servants take the oath, there is something in there about serving their country to the best of their ability. Magufuli should be serving, not leading, and so should all our other African heads of state.

I consider public servants of all echelons analogous to doctors. Yes, they are experts at what they do but at the end of the day you have rights. You should ask questions and always seek to understand and participate in your own care to the best of your ability.

In Tanzania, this is guaranteed to annoy most clinicians and all politicians. Yet they work for our benefit and we are paying them, however little, however much.

In the past few months, I have watched my president confidently make decisions that suggest he does not consult with experts, whether it be economists or labour law practitioners or even public health practitioners…while purporting to reform this country?

To those who see this as a sign of strong character, I say that sometimes the last thing a country needs is a strong character. No matter how intensely clever a person is, they are never smarter than the collective that they serve.

Which is why I wonder if it is time to permanently decapitate our republics. In place of presidents, I can imagine a Cabinet made up of truly exceptional people and a civil service that runs with the smooth and quiet efficiency of a piece of German automotive engineering.

When I bounced this idea off a fellow thinker, she suggested that presidents are useful in concentrating the focus of the people and embodying, if you will, the hopes and dreams of the nation.

She has a point, but what she’s talking about sounds like a mascot and mascots don’t get to make decisions. Except maybe for Donald Trump; nobody has proved that he isn’t an animated effigy.

Ultimately, the possibility of this evolution lies with the citizenry. We inherited a paternalistic system in which we went from being told by colonials that we’re not smart enough to take care of ourselves to being told the same thing by the ruling classes.

I beg to differ, especially now that education systems have taken care of much of the literacy deficit.

The modern era has made a great deal of information available and nothing disrupts hierarchies as effectively as making knowledge freely available. With all this going on, the case for having presidents is getting weaker with every rigged election.

So I offer you this thought-exercise: What do you imagine your country would look like without a head of state?

I can already venture some guesses depending on where in the neighbourhood you come from and have an inkling that Ugandans would probably be the least offended by this question in the first place.

Either way, it is not a comment on your particular president so much as a challenge to you as a citizen. Do you really need your president or is it force of habit? Have a good week.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, E-mail:



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