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Zanzibar follows Tanzania’s lead in turning to Tony Blair for help with its reform

By Abdul Halim, in Dar es Salaam
Posted on Monday, 25 October 2021 18:36, updated on Wednesday, 27 October 2021 23:59

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair leaves the BBC Headquarters after appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, in London
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London, Britain, June 6, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Just like mainland Tanzania, the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar has hired former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to help expedite the implementation of MKUZA, its 2025 policy plan of economic growth and poverty reduction. Public opinion over Blair's involvement remains divided.

Following contact from the head of external communications of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, certain parts of this article have been updated.

Zanzibar’s MKUZA is aligned with the country’s development framework for 2050 that aims to achieve a lower middle-income status.

As per its mission statement, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change “supports political leaders and governments to build open, inclusive and prosperous societies in a globalised world. We do this through developing policy and advising governments.”

In keeping with this vision, Blair paid Zanzibar’s President Hussein Mwinyi an official visit on 30 September.

Following the meeting, State House released a statement stating that Blair had promised Mwinyi that he would support the government.

“Apart form investing in the blue economy sectors, the institute’s experts will also assist the government in social sectors including education, water, roads, electricity and employment for communities,” the president said. “We believe that through his [Tony Blair] vast experience, we will be successful as long as we work together.”

Mwinyi was elected in October 2020 based on the pledge that he would use Zanzibar’s Blue economy to improve the region – financially – and people’s livelihoods.

But the head of external communications from the institute tells The Africa Report that: “While no agreement to work together has yet been signed, we are in dialogue with the government.”

He adds that the institute is a “not-for-profit entity and will not be making commercial investments into Zanzibar’s blue economy sector.”

Everyone’s confidante

In recent months, Blair has also visited mainland Tanzania, DRC, Kenya and Zambia.

Looking to the former British PM for help on how to move forward has left some puzzled. It has also raised questions of trust.

“[Does] this country lack[…] experienced people to advise the government. How can we go to a man who used his power to destabilise Iraq and the Middle East? The government should think twice about this decision,” says Makame Mussa, a political commentator based in Zanzibar.

The Africa Report tried to speak to Abdul Mohammed, Zanzibar’s chief communication officer at State House, to better understand the government’s strategy, but he refused to comment on the matter.

During his time in office, Blair and the then US President George Bush deployed soldiers to Iraq to overthrow and later kill then President Saddam Hussein, after accusing his government of possessing weapons of mass destruction. After an independent inquiry was conducted, however, it was found that Iraq had no possession of such arms.

Are his services free of charge?

In addition to using an external source to advise the government, some question the price paid for such a service.

As Thabit Jacob, a Tanzanian faculty member at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, notes, Blair’s services are not cheap.

“His service to the autocratic isn’t cheap at all. The government should tell us how much we pay him. He is doing PR [for] African leaders who undermine our democracy and good governance,” he said on Twitter.

An official who accompanied Tony Blair during his visit to Zanzibar however says: “In Africa, our support to most of the governments is free. We are not a profit organisation. Same with Zanzibar, there will be zero cost to the government.” The official spoke to The Africa Report on the condition of anonymity.

Both Tanzania and Zanzibar out-sourcing

The support of Tony Blair’s institute in Zanzibar comes just a few weeks after Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan also tasked the former UK prime minister to help the country in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and to help improve its image abroad.

The move solicited mixed reactions inside and outside Tanzania.

“I don’t think it is right decision for our government to use foreign agencies to implement some programmes. We have so many Zanzibaris and Tanzanians who are experienced enough to handle these jobs. We need to trust and use them effectively,” says Emmanuel Kaniki, a political analyst based in Tabora.

Admitting weakness

Over the years, African leaders who have turned to Blair for help include:

  • Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe;
  • Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame;
  • Guinea-Conakry’s former President Alpha Conde.

Many of these leaders have been or are accused of autocratic behaviour and undermining good governance in their respective countries.

In the case of Tanzania, Blair’s interest in Zanzibar comes at a time when the semi-autonomous government and union government have dismissed calls for constitutional change.

The two governments have also both decided against lifting a ban on political rallies, which was imposed by the late president John Magufuli.

In mainland Tanzania, the police force is leading a crackdown on opposition politicians, especially those from the main opposition party Chadema, whose leader Freeman Mbowe faces terrorism charges, a case that has attracted international attention.

But perhaps seeking Blair’s assistance is a sign of admitting that each respective government needs help.

“The administration understands well that it does excel in areas of democracy, freedom and human rights. Therefore, it is looking to clean its image at a global level,” says Aikande Kwayu, a political commentator based in Dar es Salaam.

She believes that political development in Tanzania is likely a reason behind the government’s interests in services provided by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

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