Tanzania: Trials of a policy salesman

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sun Aug 5 13:40:07 UTC 2007

  Trials of a policy salesman  *August 5 - 11, 2007*

Thank God for David Mafabi. Without him public affairs debates in popular
media would suffer impoverishment. Whatever one may think of his arguments
and the positions he takes, he deserves credit for sheer tenacity and
doggedness. No shrinking violet, he will defend his position even where he
is wrong and can only cling to thread-thin arguments to keep going. Consider
his recent column "National Service and the Kyankwanzi Retreat" (Sunday
Monitor 29.7.07).

Loath to let 'negative commentators' run away with 'shooting down' what in
his opinion was a sensible resolution by the National Resistance Movement
parliamentary caucus to introduce compulsory military training, he deploys
verbal gymnastics and conjecture in place of hard evidence to defend it. He
starts off well by referring to the constitutional provision that provides
the legal framework for conscription into military training. Unlike Mary
Karooro Okurut who in her attempt to defend the resolution claimed, without
a shred of evidence, that such training would turn us into 'better
Ugandans', Mafabi refers to article 17(2) of the national constitution,
according to which it would be for purposes of defending Uganda's
territorial integrity.

This far he is on solid ground. It is when he starts mixing up compulsory
military training with 'national leadership training' and 'national service'
that his case starts collapsing. Military training and leadership training
are neither necessarily the same thing, nor do they necessarily occur

That is why in the military there are commanders' courses designed
specifically to deal with leadership, tactical and strategic training. Also,
national service does not have to entail military training. It can be in the
form of young people going out into villages to, among other things, teach
those who never went to school how to read and write, improve their civic
diets and health, and protect the environment.

Mafabi's decision to dress up military training in the same clothes as
purely civic activities is probably a symptom of lack of clarity in his own
mind about the nature of the policy he is trying to sell or defend, or a
calculated attempt to mislead. Assuming that it is the former, one is
compelled to wonder why he does not first work it out in his mind. And if it
is the latter, the question then becomes what he and his party are trying to

To be fair to him, he later points out, in contradiction of his earlier
arguments, that national service may or may not include military training.
But in so doing he disregards declarations by NRM leaders who have been
emphatic that what was being proposed was military training and even gone on
to speculate about who would be forced to receive it. The discordant
messages again point to confusion about the nature and content of what the
ruling party and the government want us to believe is a serious policy
The president's man goes on to suggest that lessons from other countries
inspired the resolution.

For a long time our local Swahili lobby has been arguing that the language
has been behind the stability and cohesion associated with Tanzania's
post-colonial history, and that if Ugandans want to end their perennial
disunity, they, too, should adopt it as their national lingo. Now Mafabi
asserts that it is not Swahili, but compulsory military training which
helped Tanzania achieve unity. He provides no evidence.

Nor does he mention growing dissatisfaction in Zanzibar with the Islands'
union with the Tanzanian mainland and what connection it might have with
military or leadership training. Rounding off his admiration of what goes on
elsewhere he claims that in Nigeria "national service involves graduates in
developing the country". Presumably Nigeria is a developed (and cohesive?)
country, thanks to its national service.

He then praises the 'movement' of "over 60,000" Americans who perform
community service in their local communities. Presumably he forgets to
mention that this is a grassroots movement very much in keeping with the
centuries-old American spirit of volunteerism of which Frenchman Alexis de
Tocqueville wrote in his enduringly famous 'Democracy in America'.

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