Willy Komba

Following the adoption of the recommendation for a multiparty system by the Presidential Commission on single or multiparty system in Tanzania in 1992, a number of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) have taken up the challenge of setting up a programme of education for democracy. Such a programme was presumed to be the prerequisite for a successful transition from the one-party, authoritarian system to political pluralism. The most active NGO so far has been Research and Education for Democracy in Tanzania (REDET). This programme was initiated in 1992 and is administered by the Department of Political Science and Public Administration of the University of Dar es Salaam. The Government of Denmark supports it through DANIDA. REDET aims to enhance the establishment of a strong foundation for democratic politics and democratic governance in Tanzania. Its intervention revolves around five mutually interlinked components, namely, research and publications, leadership development, civic education, democracy advocacy, and discussion fora (DF). This article focuses on the latter component and provides a critique of the DF strategy. The critique is informed by the results of impact evaluation research conducted in three pilot districts of Mtwara (Rural), Bukoba (Rural) and Pemba. Willy Komba is a senior lecturer and Head of Department of Educational Planning and Administration at the University or Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Promoting Democratic Values through the Discussion Forum (DF) Strategy: Evaluation of its Impact on the Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices (KAPs) of Adult Learners in Tanzania

Purpose of the Research

In eight districts, discussion forums (DF) were set up at district, ward and village levels in order to provide an avenue for democratic dialogue. The DFs were intended to create democracy without insisting on ideology; to solve problems through discussion; to build tolerance and get citizens to do things for themselves; and to instil civic responsibilities, such as voting. Each forum meets six times a year, or more often depending on the felt need and pressing issues to be discussed.

The participants are adult learners drawn from each level identified among government officials, leaders of religious denominations and NGO’s, political party chair persons, prominent business and other influential persons. Facilitators and recorders/secretaries, who are identified, trained and supervised by REDET, lead the DFs.

The research was inspired by the need to determine how effective the training workshops were in achieving the three tasks of REDET, namely:

  • To assist society to unlearn and discard the quiescent or subject political culture;
  • To impart knowledge on the workings of a multiparty system, and to imbue the public with democratic and participatory norms;
  • To nurture the evolution of a democratic political culture, enhance citizen competence, and create conditions for meaningful and effective participation.

It was assumed that there was a deficiency in competence among adult learners, in terms of knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAPs) necessary for participating in a free and democratic society. Thus the study aimed at gauging the extent to which the training workshops and DFs caused some change in the desired direction.

Conceptual Framework

The REDET project is based on the assumption that the process of changing people’s political culture from an authoritarian into a democratic one involves, among other things, the acquisition of appropriate knowledge, the changing of outlook (attitudes, beliefs, values) as well as practices (or behaviour) (KAPs) both at personal and at societal levels. REDET believes that knowledge about how the political system operates and about what one’s rights, responsibilities and obligations are, is a precondition for responsible citizenship (REDET, 1997; Gross & Dynneson, 1991). Useful kinds of knowledge, therefore, include the following: knowledge of widely accepted principles of human rights and justice as enshrined in the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania; an understanding that personal, institutional and societal behaviours/attitudes and structures can have the effect of either promoting or denying social justice; and, knowledge of the current situation in which human rights are not recognised and social justice is not available to all, both locally and globally (Komba, 2000).

Another component of democratisation is the cultivation of dispositions such as criticism and self-criticism, respect for difference (diversity), tolerance, respect for truth/reasoning as well as respect for human rights, appreciation of the commonality between peoples, empathy with those who have been denied justice, commitment to defending one’s own rights and the rights of others, ability to create positive change, and a readiness to take practical action which is appropriate to the learner’s own situation (White,1989; Harber, 1991).

The acquisition of appropriate knowledge, coupled with the right dispositions, should enable people in a democracy to participate more effectively, in harmonious collaboration with others, regardless of the social differences that may exist between them arising from gender, colour, religious belief, political ideology or place of birth.

It is upon this conceptual framework that the training workshops and DFs were conceived as a strategy of promoting a democratic political culture, enhancing citizen competence, and creating an enabling environment for meaningful and effective political participation. This framework also guided the assessment of impact of the training workshops and the DF strategy. The major research question was: to what extent has the DF strategy been effective in changing the outlook of adult learners, in promoting democratic behaviour and in building self-confidence?


In this evaluation, data on the effectiveness of the training workshops and the DFs were collected by using a questionnaire. The questionnaire was meant to collect data from a small sample of ordinary members of the discussion forums at ward, village and shehia levels. It was designed to collect information on attendance, level of interest in the discussion forums/training workshops, effectiveness of representatives (chairpersons/secretaries), topics covered during the workshops, and information on the impact of the discussion forums on the respondent’s knowledge, attitudes and practices.

Research Findings

Impact on Knowledge

Generally speaking, the quantitative data suggest that the impact was greater on the acquisition of relevant knowledge and on attitudes than on actual democratic practice. There was no significant gender difference in how the respondents perceived this.

With regard to knowledge, the data indicated that a total of 235 (64.9%) out of 362 respondents said the programme was very effective in changing their outlook. A greater percentage of men (70.2%) than of women (54.2%) perceived this to be so. The qualitative responses suggested that through the training workshops and the DFs, they gained new knowledge about democracy, they realised that they needed to learn more, and they also realised that to criticise a village leader for being irresponsible was not a sin. But what is even more important is that the leaders, at least according to what some respondents said, were now open to criticism and were very positive about it.

Impact on Behaviour

A total of 203 (60.8%) out of 334 respondents said the programme was very effective in changing their behaviour. There was no significant difference between men and women in how they perceived this to be the case. The respondents acknowledged that they were freer than before to speak their mind, that there was greater mutual understanding between leaders of different political parties; that they could exercise their freedom to choose their leaders more freely; that they could discuss political issues without any fear; and that the spirit of self-reliance through self-help activities had been revived thanks to the DF strategy.

Impact on Self-confidence

A total of 211 (57.5%) out of 365 respondents said the programme contributed greatly to their self-confidence. There was no significant gender difference in how the respondents perceived this. Repeatedly, respondents reiterated that they now had the courage and confidence to discuss different issues, both local and national, without fear. To quote just one example:

‘We have the opportunity to criticise the rulers, namely the party and its government for its monopoly by providing them with constructive criticism.’

Impact on Democratic Conduct of Affairs

A total of 180 (53.4%) out of 337 respondents said that the programme had a great impact on democratic practice. There was a noticeable gender difference in the perception. More men (57.5% out of 228) than women (44.9% out of 109) said the programme had a great impact on democratic practice. The procedural skills included the following: criticising leaders and peers without fear; using discussion to reach consensus; respecting the views of every member; co-operating in solving problems among village members and among political parties, and competing by the force of reason rather by the reason of force or violence.

However, as regards the impact of the programme on the acquisition of democratic skills there was no significant gender difference in the respondents’ perception. About 53.7% (out of 121) women said the programme contributed greatly to the acquisition of democratic skills, while 52.3% (out of 243) men had a similar opinion.

A total of 252 (69%) respondents said the programme greatly stimulated discussion of national issues. There was a slight gender difference in how the respondents perceived this. About 70.8% (out of 243) men said the programme greatly stimulated discussion of national issues, while 65.6% (out of 122) women had a similar opinion. It was alleged that the programme contributed to the reduction of open corrupt practices, the revival of self-help schemes, and the establishment of local civil organisations, such as the elders’ council. One respondent summarised the impact with the following words:

‘The discussion forums have greatly promoted the freedom to speak, to criticise and to participate in activities without fear, recognising that this is a right of every citizen.’

Emerging Issues and Lessons for the Future

One conclusion that can be made about this assessment is that the majority of the respondents perceived the programme to be very effective in changing their outlook, their behaviour, self-confidence and democratic conduct of affairs. This great achievement for REDET needs to be sustained. On the basis of these findings, it is, therefore, recommended that the training workshops be extended to more districts in the country.

However, owing to the manner in which the data gathering instruments were designed, it has been difficult to assess the differential impact of the programme on various categories of participants other than by gender. If additional information about the participants’ level of education were asked for, an analysis of the data by level of education of the participants could provide more insights into the educational needs of the respondents. Such information might be useful in designing future programmes that cater for the specific needs of learners.

It may be helpful in future to distinguish between formal training sessions and the less formal discussion forums. While in the former scenario streaming might be desirable for enhancing the impact of the training workshops (particularly with regard to the teaching of new, graded knowledge), in the latter scenario the participants may benefit more from the diversity of educational backgrounds and corresponding ways of looking at social and political issues.

As much as possible, facilitators should use participatory approaches in the delivery of the formal lessons. Research evidence has shown that co-operative, interactive teaching and learning strategies are best suited for the promotion of cherished democratic values.


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