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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Regionalism & Factionalism in Multiparty Politics

Acting on Regionalism and Factionalism in Tanzania’s Multiparty Politics

Chambi Chachage

She hails from one of the regions in the northern part of Tanzania. Her revolutionary sympathy seems to lay with a political party that is accused to be primarily ‘north-based’. When I asked her about what is increasingly referred in Swahili as siasa za ukanda (politics of regionalism) within the country in relation to party formation, she remarked: “hakuna chama kisicho cha kikanda” (there is no political party that is not regional).

In a country that has been celebrated for containing the politics of ethnicity especially during the ‘single party’ reign of its first President, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, it is ironic that ‘tribalism’ is rearing its ugly head under the guise of regionalism. For sure the conditions for starting a new party after the return to multiparty politics in 1992 have attempted to ensure that we don’t end up having a party that is based on a region. But it appears this has not been sufficient enough since the law stipulates that a party only has to have at least 200 members from at least 10 regions to be eligible for registration.

Little did we know that regionalism in Tanzania will come to mean something more than mkoa (region). Currently, the country has 30 regions. But when people talk about the politics of regionalism, they are talking about the politics of an area that constitutes more than one region. In other words, they are talking about an area in which one or a couple of ethnic group dominates. This area can be outside of the ethnic group’s region of origin.

CHADEMA, the leading opposition party in Tanzania, is a case study as its detractors claim its main ukanda is the area that constitutes the northern regions of Kilimanjaro and Arusha. Since, ‘commercially’, the Chagga are the ‘predominant’ group in both regions, they easily become the allegedly face of this party. This is almost convincing given that its founding chair is a Chagga based in Arusha and its current chair is a Chagga who also happens to be the Member of Parliament (MP) of the Hai constituent in Kilimanjaro.

Probably not knowing that he was feeding into the discourse – if not propaganda – that the party’s accusers were continuing to propagate, its then member, Zitto Kabwe, penned these words in 2012 after campaigning in a by-election somewhere between downtown Arusha and Kilimanjaro: “Jambo moja la dhahiri baada ya uchaguzi wa Arumeru ni kwamba ukipanda basi kutoka Moshi kwenda Arusha, utakuwa ukipita katika ngome ya CHADEMA. Ni ngome ya CHADEMA kuanzia Moshi mjini, Hai, Arumeru Mashariki na Arusha Mjini…eneo hili sasa ni Liberated Zone, yaani ukanda uliokombolewa.”

At the risk of misquoting the quotable quote, one can thus directly translate those words: “One things is clear now following the by-election in Arumeru, that is, if you board a bus from Moshi to Arusha, you will be passing in CHADEMA’s stronghold. It is CHADEMA’s base from Moshi town, Hai, East Arumeru and Arusha Town…this area now is the Liberated Zone, that is, a region that has been liberated.” In other words, since then the MPs of all those constituents across the legendary highway are from CHADEMA.

Yet, like his ex-fellow members who did not hail from the north, he thus defended the party resolutely in a lengthy online interview in the social media in 2012: “Chadema ni chama cha kitaifa. Kingekuwa chama cha kidini au kikabila kingefutwa. Katika uongozi wa Chadema unapata watu toka mikoa na kabila mbali mbali, pia watu toka dini mbali mbali. Diversity hii haipatikani katika vyama vingi humu nchini. Nadhani mtazamo huu unapandikizwa na watu ambao hawakipendi chama chetu na wanaoona chama kama threat kwa maslahi yao binafsi.  Pia sisi kama chama tunapaswa kuwa makini sana, hasa viongozi tunapofanya kazi zetu ili kutothibitisha taswira hii mbaya dhidi ya chama chetu. Baadhi ya wanachama wa CHADEMA ndio mabingwa wa kueneza jambo hili…Chama chetu kimesambaa nchi nzima na viongozi wake ni wa dini zote na makabila yote.”

Risking misinterpretation, one can thus paraphrase those words by way of translating: “Chadema is a national party. If it was a religious or ethnic party it would have been deregistered. In Chadema’s leadership you get people from various regions and ethnic groups, as well as people from varying religions. This diversity is not present in many a party in the country. I think this perception is propagated by those who do not like our party and who view it as a threat to their personal interests. As a party we also need to be very careful, especially when we do our work as leaders so that we do not affirm this bad perception about our party. Some member of CHADEMA are the champions of propagating this perception…. Our party is spread throughout the country and its leaders are from all religions and ethnicities.”
Now, having fallen from the grace of his (former) party, the tables have been turned on him. His new party, Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT), is now on the receiving end of accusations about being primarily ‘west-based’. By this they mean the regions of Kigoma, where he hails from, and Tabora, that is connected to it.
Maybe also unaware, he fed this discourse-cum-propaganda when he held rallies in downtown Kigoma and Kasulu soon after CHADEMA stripped him of his appointed leadership positions in the party in 2013. Tellingly, before Zitto joined ACT officially in 2015, it won majority of the seats in Kigoma’s Mwandiga, in 2014’s local governments elections.

For conspiracy theorists, even the choice of Tegeta in Dar es Salaam as the place he was officially issued with ACT’s membership card capitalized on the apparent presence of an ethnic enclave from Kigoma. They extrapolate this from the fact that in 2013 Zitto was vocal by questioning – and intervened successfully against – the arresting of Tanzanians from Kigoma residing Tegeta who were wrongly accused of being illegal immigrant.

Dar es Salaam, the de facto political headquarters and de jure commercial capital of Tanzania, is a melting pot of ethnicities in the country. So, it is quite disturbing when its areas are associated with particular ethnic groups. Maybe it is understandable in relation to the dynamics of migration. The problem, as we have observed in neighboring countries, starts when such ethnic associations are politicized especially in the context of elections.

Gathering solid data on ethnic composition, particularly in cosmopolitan areas, has not been our preoccupation. “The Tanzanian government has not gathered any census data on ethnic affiliations since 1967”, aptly noted Matthew Collin in 2013,  “considering the matter to be taboo”. But like many other researchers, especially those from abroad, for him it is an interesting matter as his study on ethnic enclaves in Dar es Salaam attests.

Yet it is an open secret, for those of us who cling to the taboo, that such and such an area is this or that ethnic enclave. I, for one, resided in a street where CHADEMA won in the 2010 general elections and now, in 2015, I have moved too a street that is not very far from that one and where CHADEMA won the local government elections in 2014. People hardly talk openly about it but it seems almost everyone knows why this is a ‘liberated zone’.

We can opt to dialogue openly and honestly about these politics of regionalism-cum-ethnicity that are slowly but probably surely extending beyond the regions where those ethnicity originates from. Or, as Professor Samuel Wangwe has recently cautioned us, keep taking our nation for granted as if our ‘unity in diversity’ has and will always be there as if the task of building the nation is done.
Zitto’s close ally, Professor Kitila Mkumbo, may be utterly right by thus decrying the ‘conspiracy theory’ against their new party vis-à-vis CHADEMA and the coalition of leading opposition parties known as UKAWA: “This theory that ACT has been founded for the purpose of ‘divide’ and ‘rule’ remains a theory.” They may even be both right in insisting that they are building a party that is not only patriotic and democratic, but also nationalist and socialist. What remains to be seen is whether they will act against and move beyond the legacy of regionalism that is an Achilles heel of many a political party.

Here it would be instructive for the de facto – and probably soon to be the de jure – face of the ACT party to recall and reapply this personal clarion call from back in his heydays of (political) activism: “I must graduate from being a divisive figure to a uniting figure.”

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