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Monday, April 10, 2017

In Defense of Professor Mkumbo's Appointment

When Chambi Chachage is wrong


Reading Chambi Chachage’s well written piece on The Implication of Prof. Kitila Mkumbo appointment by President Magufuli, I couldn’t help myself thinking about one John Maynard Keynes. 

You see, Keynes was one of the foremost economic scholar of his generation. Some says, between the two world wars; 1914-1945, he was probably the most brilliant economist of the era.

But on December 15, 1917, he wrote his famous letter to a friend, Duncan Grant…... The most quotable line of the letter reads; “ I work for a government I despise for ends I think criminal”.

Keynes was working at the Treasury for the Liberal government. Prior to the appointment, he was living the life of Prof. Mkumbo before the recent development –as a public intellectual at the University of Cambridge.

Keynes peers at the Bloomsbury Group was surprised by his decision to accept working at the Treasury in a war time Britain. The group was known for its anti-war stance and one of its stars was joining the government to help in its war effort! 

So, one thing is clear, Kitila isn’t the first intellectual to make a decision that surprises many. Simply put, isn’t the only one to leave the intellectual world and accept to work with the government (he despises).
In his article, Chachage made a point that there is a precedent for intellectuals to defy the appointing authority in Tanzania. The example he gave was that of the late Prof. Chachage Seithy Chachage and others.

I think this argument is flawed. First, Kitila is a politician and an intellectual. In his student days at the Hill, he was once the President of the Student Government (DARUSO). The only other intellectual at the University of Dar es Salaam to have that credential is Prof. Adolf Mkenda alone.

The Chachage’s were not politicians. Their ambitions, desires and dreams were of the different ilk to Kitila. While the former saw himself at the Hill for the rest of his working life, the latter was thinking of quitting the University for a political career later in his life.
The writer made a mistake of thinking Kitila as Popperian Critic. Popperian critic is a public intellectual whose function, according to Prof. Edward Said, “is to represent a message or view not only to, but for, a public and to do so as an outsider, someone who can not be co-opted by a government or corporation”.

Prof Said’s assertion is an expanse of Karl Popper theory. Chambi is wrong to count Kitila in that group. How can he be while he was already co-opted by the ACT-Wazalendo in the first place? 

There is another fact that eluded Chambi dissections of former UDSM don appointment. Popperians are known for their obsession with the so called conventional wisdom.

But, as John Kenneth Galbraith once noted; conventional wisdom of the elite is not necessarily one of the mainstream. Problem is; politicians, like Kitila Mkumbo, will always listens to the mainstream and not conventional wisdom.

This is why the exercise of putting Kitila with the likes of the late Prof Chachage is futile.

What of the ACT leader Zitto Kabwe? What of his well documented loathing of CCM? Will his dream of ousting CCM out of power be realized now that Kitila is not with him?
Politicians are a rare breed. Kitila, as Chambi noted in his piece, was once of Chadema. They didn’t oust power from CCM even if the party was stronger than ACT. 

Instead, Kitila was expelled from the party with a humiliating title of a traitor. At this moment in time, Kitila might be more useful in the government than in the opposition.

Being in the Inter-Ministerial Technical Committee (IMTC), Kitila will get valuable lessons of how the government machinery–at the very topoperates. 

Some of us are also hoping that Kitila will have the same impact in the government like the one Keynes had in the Treasury. If access to water improves dramatically because of his leadership of the sector, no one will say he made a mistake.

If he performs, the masses will believe in the ability of the opposition to change the country if given the opportunity. Kitila is now the “Opposition Ambassador” in the government. That is the risk he is taking.


In some instances, an opposition party joins the ruling party in the government. This is not a sign of throwing the towel in the ring. In politics, it is not all the time that winner takes all; sometimes, you lose some and you win some. 

So, if CCM wants to have ACT-Wazalendo in the government to form a coalition (I doubt it will happen), the party may accept the offer even though the urge to kick CCM out is still there.
One thing is for sure; Kitila departure to the government is not good news to ACT and the opposition in general. But, as well, it is not that bad.

The role of the opposition, now, is to build that critical mass of supporters. And for that, it doesn’t need only conventional wisdom; it needs the mainstream behind it.

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