President Kikwete at TED Global 2007

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.

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5 Responses to President Kikwete at TED Global 2007

  1. Pingback: Jikomboe » TEDGlobal 2007: Kikwete Kwenye TEDGlobal + Mkutano wa Wanablogu Afrika

  2. Pingback: Tanzanian President Kikwete at TED Global 2007 - AfricanLoft

  3. Bongo Man says:

    Well done president Kikwete. It is high time that Africans realize that the west and indeed the world does not owe them anything. Africans must own their problems and learn to resolve them.

    However, the president should have at least commented on the culture of leadership irresponsibility. The African leaders including himself should hold their predecessors accountable for their past recklessness. If they do not do so, how are we going to be sure thay he himself has grown out of the dictatorship and spin? while journalists, NGO’s and the independent sectors tell the leadership what they exactly want to hear, the reality on the ground is different.

    President Kikwete, time for rhetotic is up, we need to see consistent action before we believe in your speech.

    Thank you

    Bongo Man

  4. Bongo Man says:

    I should have said before that the level of democracy is measured by the level of freedom that a common man has to criticize the state without worrying about the state agents harrasig them or cyber-bullying them in anyway. Why is there no criticism to the president’s speech so far? mmmh I wonder. I will keep my eyes peeled!

    Bongo Man

  5. H j says:

    It is great to see that Kikwete is taking the time to talk to outsiders about his real feelings on development. Unfortunately the same treatment is rarely given to Wananchi.

    http://conscious-revolution.blogspot.com

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