Is his party with him?
By Michael Collord
Analysts argue that widespread corruption and economic stagnation In Tanzania have much to do with the internal politics of the long-time ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). In recent decades, competing factions have increasingly divided the party, hindering its ability both to control corruption and to implement a coherent economic policy agenda. As Brian Cooksey argues, ‘within the ruling party, the use of rent-seeing of all types to advance the interests of groups of rentiers intent on taking control of the party has heightened pressures to loot the public purse and natural resources.’ Hazel Gray meanwhile underscores how, despite CCM’s strong formal institutional and appearance of centralized authority, ‘neither the president nor any one particular faction could enforce its particular agenda within the ruling party.’
There is a possibility that Magufuli is well positioned to impose discipline within the party in a way his predecessors could not. For one, Magufuli’s path to the presidency has left him relatively unencumbered by the kind of political baggage that has hampered his predecessors. He built his reputation as a competent, largely scandal-free minister, who most people discounted out of hand during CCM’s hotly contested presidential nomination struggle. One major reason for this was Magufuli’s lack of a strong mtandao, the Swahili word used to refer to the opaque political networks behind successful candidacies within CCM. And yet he emerged the surprise winner after two rival factions, one headed by then President Jakaya Kikwete and another by his former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, dealt each other a mutual, knockout blow.
A second factor that could play in Magufuli’s favour is the exit, or at least temporary silencing, of the faction within CCM associated with Lowassa. After losing out on his nomination bid, the former PM left the party to become the opposition presidential candidate during last year’s general elections. Politicians who were known to support Lowassa, and yet remained within CCM, are now being made to denounce their former ally while others have been threatened with the prospect of expulsion from the party. Meanwhile, members of the Tanzanian business community who backed Lowassa now find themselves in a very precarious position, with some reports of businessmen taking their operations abroad. Senior officials within CCM have suggested that, far from weakening the party, the fall from grace of one of its strongest factions could actually help restore unity, at least temporarily.
Another important point in his favour is that Magufuli himself has made an accurate diagnosis of the political challenge ahead of him. When delivering his inaugural address before Parliament, he identified two obstacles to achieving his development aims: ‘leaders like us in here and crooked, deceptive businessmen.’ Unlike his predecessors, who have made similar observations, Magufuli is showing signs of actually following words with action, notably through his crackdown on tax avoidance. He is also set to take over as CCM Chairman later this year and, along with the reform minded Secretary General, has hinted at a political cleanup in the 2017 internal party elections.
Finally, Magufuli’s popularity since taking office also makes it more difficult for any political opponents within the party to criticize him openly.
Each of these apparent advantages has its downsides, though. Magufuli’s lack of a strong network coming into office makes him vulnerable as much as it frees him from costly political debts. Discussions with some insiders have pointed to a potential isolation within the party, something which may not be helped by his tendency to appoint technocrats to key positions, or by his promise of an aggressive crackdown on political financiers and corrupt politicians alike. The purge of Lowassa supporters in the party, which former President Kikwete is leading, also shows signs of creating more divisions rather than restoring unity.
Ultimately, it is unclear how Magufuli—or anyone else—could do away with the entrenched cronyism that has come to characterize CCM. Since the 1980s and 1990s when first economic liberalization saw the party lose control over parastatals and then political liberalization cut its lucrative government funding, CCM has grown to depend on financial support from the private sector, which it then rewards through government tenders, tax breaks, and other kickbacks. This state of affairs is what has helped fuel party fragmentation across rival clientelist networks, as observed by Cooksey and Gray earlier in this piece. While Magufuli appears to have a window of opportunity to reign in rent-seeking within CCM, and deliver substantive development gains in the process, it is unclear how long his agenda can endure without a relapse into the old way of doing politics.