Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete takes the stage and immediately removes his jacket, recognizing the informality of the affair. (His uniformed military aide instantly strides over to him and takes it.) The president starts by documenting his common ground with other TED speakers: “Talking to Bono, he speaks about the loneliness of sitting around a table where everyone works for you, travelling around in a private plane. I guess there’s some common ground between rock stars and presidents.”
President Kikwete lists some of the challenges and priorites in a country where “most of our people live under conditions of great poverty.” They include maternal health, addressing HIV, reducing unemployment from 12%, providing medical care in a nation where there is currently 1 doctor to 20,000 patients, “connecting the country through reliable roads” and lending startup funds to entrepreneurs.
The country is still changing away from its history of command economy. “Twenty years ago, the decision was made to take up the politics of choice. It goes hand and hand with the market, and it was a tremendously difficult decision.” When asked about how the reforms are going and what’s the time scale, he responds, “There is no time plan. We will continue on the political and economic reform path.” He urges the audience – especially venture capitalists, philanthopists, and NGOs – to support this process. And he thanks TED for putting inspiring and radical ideas on the table for African audiences.
Chris Anderson takes the opportunity to ask the President some pointed questions about the nature of African leadership. President Kikwete is much more revealing in this forum than in his formal speech.
“In the past, leaders would march in, declare themselves President, dismiss the parliament. They’d declare a ‘revolutionary council’, but there’s no revolution there. This used to be the way the continent worked.” We’re moving beyond this, and beyond the leaders who led us out of colonialism.
Asked what went wrong with those anti-colonial leaders, the President suggests that the problem wasn’t the men, but foolish policies. “And the longer they stayed, the more autocratic they got.” Tanzania, under a multi-party government, is quite different: “If I do something wrong, someone will say so. There’s greater oversight and power in parliament than there used to be. And it’s more difficult for leaders to be as reckless as they used to be in the past.”
Addressing the emergent theme of the conference – African critiques of aid – he argues that the problems occur “when African countries do not take ownership of their problems.” But this is often due to the nature of Northern intervention. He tells a story about working with international consultants when he was the Minister of Water. “A consultant came in with instructions to do irrigation dams, improve the water supply. If you’d asked me, the Minister, I’d suggest where to go – but he had instructions from Rome. He’s already decided on what to assist us and where.” Without listening to African voices and African leaders, aid is bound to fail.
What would he hope for as a legacy, at the end of one or two five-year terms? “That I joined them here and left them here,” moving his hands low to high.