John Magufuli and the Future of Opposition Parties
By Chambi Chachage
With the nomination of John Magufuli as its presidential candidate, the ruling party in Tanzania – CCM – has resolved the ‘Lowassa Question.’ So it seemed near the end of July. Its committee responsible for ethics managed to ‘blot out’ Edward Lowassa’s name when it shortlisted 5 aspirants who were vying for the top position in the country. Hence his followers in CCM’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and General Assembly (GA) could not even vote for him.
To the bewilderment of many in the opposition parties who view Lowassa as the face of grand corruption, the former Prime Minister has joined the main opposition party, CHADEMA, and its coalition of opposition parties known as UKAWA. I, for one, wonders why this is so shocking to the then diehard fans of this party that both Aikande Kwayu and Ben Taylor aptly affirm attracted many followers not least because of its ‘anti-corruption’ stance against CCM.
As for me, I have always known CHADEMA as a business-oriented party. When my family moved to Changanyikeni, a peri-urban area in the outskirts of the commercial capital, in 1995 we were neighbours with one of its then top leaders. A club where the business elites from downtown and intellectual elites from the nearby University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) hanged out was opened. Interestingly, the place – and indeed the heart of our suburb – became known as CHADEMA. The party was simply a business club no wonder the working people shunned it.
Little wonder the late Joel Barkan had this to say about it in 1994: “Led by former finance minister and Central Bank governor Edwin Mtei and ex-deputy agriculture minister Edward Barongo, CHADEMA appealed to the same middle-class elements and potentially prosperous farmers as the Democratic Party in Kenya. It was outspoken in favor of private enterprise and classical liberal political values.” As far as the disgruntled youth were concerned, the opposition party of the day, in the wake of the return to multiparty democracy in 1992, was NCCR-Mageuzi. And in the 1995 General Elections the man of the moment was a former Deputy Prime Minister, Augustine Mrema who, after exposing a corruption deal and getting demoted, fell out with his colleagues and defected from CCM to join the then radical NCCR.
What did CHADEMA do? Mtei’s Autobiography recalls: “Parliament was about to be dissolved pending the elections, and Mrema, who was very popular with the masses, was being courted by a number of political parties to join them. CHADEMA sent a delegation to discuss with him the possibility of his joining us. His conditions, which he spelt out, were that CHADEMA should nominate him as the Presidential candidate for the next elections, as well as appoint him national Party Chairman.” It was such a tough, albeit tantalizing compromise.
CHADEMA seemed to have been desperate enough but there was one hurdle – the party required that the chairperson could only be elected by the national conference. “So”, Mtei reminisces, “even if I personally had been willing to resign to make way for Mrema, logistics and cost meant it was impossible to reconvene such a conference.” This is how they thus lost the opportunity to field the then ‘prized candidate’ in 1995: “CHADEMA was, therefore, prepared to nominate Mrema as its presidential candidate, but not so as its Party Chairman.”
Money mattered. It still does. This time around, the chairman of CHADEMA, Freeman Mbowe, is first and foremost a businessman. He has counted the cost. How can one be foolish enough, so he says, to bypass the opportunity to get million voters that Lowassa is allegedly coming with to UKAWA? Masked in that cost-benefit analysis is this question: Why can anyone say ‘no’ to billions of Tanzanian shillings when elections are now more about money?
His father in law, Mtei, knew very well that without money the party can hardly compete with CCM’s machinery that includes resources it has inherited from its then single party government. Mbowe has thus learned from the best. Here is an interesting anecdote from Mtei’s Autobiography that shows why it is so easy for cash-strapped parties to say yes when it comes to money: “I apologized to the businessman for interrupting him in his transaction at the bank, but I explained that I was trying to mobilise funds in order to purchase a new vehicle for the party. He said he had read about CHADEMA and – there and then agreed to contribute one million shillings by re-writing the bank pay-in-slip and giving the sum in cash. He insisted that his name should not appear in any party records, and I wrote him a receipt in the name of ‘Kobe’…I never knew the name of that Asian businessman, although the bank manager later told me the company’s name.” Today most parties and politicians have a lot of such tortoises.
When he was announcing his then attempt to vie for CCM’s candidacy in Dodoma, Lowassa was bold enough to say he has no money but he has a lot of friends with money. It was thus premature to presume that Magufuli’s candidacy, coupled with his image as a clean version of – and thus an alternative and answer to – the seemingly hardworking Lowassa, would virtually wipe away the opposition as Jakaya Kikwete almost did did in 2005 due to his popularity. This time around it is a contest of the heavyweights and the byproduct might do us well: a parliament that is nearly ‘fifty-fifty’, that is, with the integrity and potentiality of ensuring that there is no ‘one-party hegemony’ that has left many a youth angry.
Understandably, CHADEMA is loosing some, if not many, of the youth who had/have been rallying behind it because of the pragmatic approach to the politics of ideology it took especially during – and between – the 2005 and 2010 elections. In regard to 2005, this is how Mtei put it: “Freeman Mbowe argued candidly and persuasively that the CCM of Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere had undergone complete metamorphosis, and that under Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Benjamin Mkapa it was no longer the party of the downtrodden. It was now the party of the ‘filthy rich’, backed by unscrupulous, corrupt international capitalist tycoons, masquerading under the umbrella of globalization.” The tables were being turned, CHADEMA was ‘appropriating’ CCM’s image.
Zitto Kabwe, the former Deputy Secretary General of CHADEMA and current leader of ACT-Wazalendo, asserts that he was also instrumental during that phase even though, curiously, Mtei’s Autobiography that was published in 2009 does not credit him for anything. In his version, Kabwe affirms that, apart from those of Kigoma, Kilimanjaro, Shinyanga, Karatu and Ukerewe, people tended to avoid CHADEMA and the youth could then identify with other parties, such as CCM, CUF and TLP, because they only saw CHADEMA as the party of the bourgeoisies. He thus asserts it is Mbowe and Kabwe, who “brought about all the transformation in the party” that were to be seen between 2001 and 2010. Among other things, this included the recruiting and grooming of members such as the fiery youngsters, John Mnyika and Halima Mdee.
Kabwe, the self-proclaimed ‘socialist’, and the left-leaning professor, Mwesiga Baregu who was once a member of NCCR, indeed made CHADEMA appear as if it was no longer the party of the ‘business class’. So did Kitila Mkumbo who, tellingly, was once a member of CCM, and the firebrand activist, Tundu Lissu, who was already well known for critiquing multinationals and corporate capitalists. Yet we kept wondering what were they doing in the same party with the likes of Philemon Ndesamburo and his fellow businessmen-oriented-politicians. For us, CHADEMA was simply a ‘potpourri’ – a broad church – that had not shed its original mask.
Probably no one understood this better than its controversial sympathiser and the left-leaning ‘inactive member’ of CCM, Azaveli Lwaitama, who described it as a capitalist oriented party that is using the very language of socialism inherent in the popular demand for free education and other basic social services, in the 2010 elections. In that year the Secretary General of CHADEMA, Wilbrod Slaa, was the ‘prized candidate’ of the main opposition party. Shrewdly, he also described his party as center-right, albeit, using the philosophy of “people’s power” to bring about change.
Now the lingering question is: What is the political future of Slaa after the coming of Lowassa? Will he also vouch for the very same person he once listed as ‘grandly corrupt’ in the ‘list of shame’? If not, can Slaa go back to his former party i.e. CCM? Or can he move to ACT and thus follow Kabwe and Mkumbo whom he participated in ‘co-facilitating’ their ‘ousting’ from CHADEMA?
If CHADEMA has indeed lost its credibility among the conscientious electorate because of Lowassa, what will be the future of the opposition? Could this be the ‘golden chance’ for ACT to take over as the leading opposition party? Will it be able to do so without the money that seems to be relatively dry in its coffers? Is it living up to its promises, such as that of being transparent about its sources of finances and that of its leaders’ wealth, or its story is just like that of ‘Mtei and the Tortoise’? Can it speak out, boldly and transparently, against Lowassa whom it is also alleged to be connected to? If and when it does, will the disappointed voters trust it enough to listen? Or they will wonder why it didn’t quickly cite its Tabora Declaration’s Leadership Code of Conduct and tell us ‘plainly’ and publicly that Lowassa does not qualify to lead ACT?
One can only but wonder why, as one of the brains behind the founding of a party that is expected to rise to the occasion, Mkumbo has the audacity of proclaiming, tactically, that the “basis for Lowassa’s perception as a deceitful entity, however, has neither been established legally nor scientifically; it remains largely a political gimmick.” Moreover, at a time when CCM seems to be turning into the Lake Zone party partly due to the votes Magufuli may get there, CHADEMA appears as the Northern Zone party where Lowassa hails from, and ACT is projected as a Western Zone party where Kabwe comes from, the future seems bleak.
We need political coalitions that can reunify the country. Yes,‘unity is victory’. May Tanzania(ns) win. So help us all God. Amen.