Zanzibar looks to Florence for guidance, advice

Former city manager Rodger Bennett travels to Africa to create founding documents

Once in a while, an individual gets to make a real difference in the world. Imagine having the opportunity to make a contribution that will significantly impact tens of thousands people. That is clearly the case for Florence resident Rodger Bennett.

Bennett is a former Florence City Manager and currently a senior member of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). ICMA members, like Bennett, work with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to tackle challenging democracy building situations around the globe.

The goal of the two separate organizations is to assist local officials from around the world in setting up the legal and logistical framework needed to have an effective municipal or even a national government. Most important is to help to establish a government that is accepted and respected by the people that it represents.

Bennett has been a professional administrator for more than 30 years and is familiar with a wide range of governmental models.

“I was asked to Zanzibar to help draft new foundation documents for an organization called ZALGA, The Zanzibar Association of Local Government Authorities. It is the present system of local governance,” he said.

Currently, the area’s elected officials have very little say over what happens in their locality.

Often, they can only regulate building permits.

Paramount in Bennett’s mind was working closely with the members of  ZALGA to produce the constitution that will best reflect the group members’ wishes.

“There is a current and very progressive trend in Tanzania right now — a  desire to move to a more Democratic system of governing. Mostly by creating what we do here, a bottom up approach,” Bennett said.

To most Americans, Zanzibar is an exotic sounding name of a dreamy, distant locale. Even just the  word conjures up images of far away places and unusual cultural experiences.

In reality, Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of the country Tanzania, which is located on the East Coast of Africa. It is an archipelago of an idyllic island that lies about 20 miles off the coast of the African continent.

Bennett believes that the work that he was previously involved in with indigenous populations in Oregon and Washington was one of the reasons he was asked to assist here.

“Cultural sensitivity plays a large part in meeting and understanding others. That, and the ability to listen to what people are really saying,” he said.

Zanzibar is made up of two small islands, Unguja and Pemba.

The country was the world’s original “Spice Island,” and the agricultural component of the Tanzanian economy continues to be strong, primarily in the production of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and what was once the most sought after of spices, black pepper.

The uglier side of the country’s history shows a reliance on the slave trade and the sale of ivory.

The location and fertility of these two small islands offers a clear path to economic viability for Tanzania and the people of Zanzibar.

The shimmering turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean undulate along the islands spectacular mile-long white sand beaches.

“We spent time on both islands talking to the local authorities. We learned that the first  thing they wanted was to have a unified voice in talking with the national government,” Bennett said. “They also wanted better training for  local officials. As newly elected officials come on board, they don’t know what their jobs are or how to do them effectively.”

Bennett and associates finished the first stage of the  foundation document creation project in Zanzibar two weeks ago.

He has been asked to return in the near future to confer with ZALGA, and to then assist in  incorporating any needed or suggested changes into what will, most likely be the new constitution for Zanzibar.

Bennett is pleased with the work already done and feels  the documents created accurately reflect the wishes of the people.

“When it came time to writing, the words were already there all I had to do was format them,” Bennett stated. “And when they witness the fact that their words are what is written down, then they realize it really is their constitution and they start to own it at that point.”

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