INDEPENDENT MEDIA | Elections in Tanzania: In search of the Mwalimu factor by Ronald Elly Wanda
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INDEPENDENT MEDIA | Elections in Tanzania: In search of the Mwalimu factor by Ronald Elly Wanda

By Ronald Elly Wanda

INDEPENDENT MEDIA | Elections in Tanzania: In search of the Mwalimu factor by Ronald Elly Wanda

Tanzania is often portrayed as an African success story of state and nation-building, surrounded by nervy neighbors like Kenya whose 2008 post-election violence left an indelible scar on its political conscience; or Uganda, South Sudan, and more recently Pierre Nkuruzinza’s Burundi, all of which have been ridden by conflicts and grave human rights violations. Worse still is the comparison with Rwanda, its immediate neighbour to the northwest, whose 1994 genocidal orgy continues to be a scar on the world’s conscience and an acute reminder of how low humanity can get. This is particularly noteworthy for Tanzania, which has a highly charged general election slated for 25th October 2015, when the country’s 24 million strong electorate is expected to bless their next ‘Mwalimu’ with a five year mandate. Jakaya Kikwete, the popular president inaugurated in 2005, is set to retire in November having served his two five-year terms. “It is a stressful and thankless job. I am glad to be retiring”, Kikwete said of the presidency recently.

The Candidates

This year’s presidential election will primarily pit Dr. John Pombe Magufuli, the current minister for Roads and Works, and the so-called “accidental candidate” of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, against his former senior CCM colleague Edward Lowassa, who was a former Prime Minister in the Kikwete government until his sacking in 2008. This came following a series of corruption charges linked to the energy sector, which is estimated to have more than 53.2 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves off the country’s southern coast. Mr Lowassa’s scandals go as far back as the Ali Hassan Mwinyi presidency in the late 80s, when he was relieved of his duties as a Lands minister once again because of corruption allegations- a scandal that reportedly infuriated Tanzania’s highly respected ‘founding father’, Mwalimu Julius Kabarage Nyerere. 

Mr Edward Lowassa recently jumped ship from CCM and joined Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA), the biggest opposition party in Tanzania, which has since formed the UKAWA coalition with three smaller parties, and pronounced him its presidential heir. This followed Lowassa’s accusations of his one-time friend President Jakaya Kikwete, and other CCM moguls, alleging they had deliberately mismanaged CCM’s 2015 primaries process with the sole motive of locking out his candidature. 

According to Lowassa, Kikwete reportedly favoured Foreign Minister Bernard Membe as his successor. However, in order to ensure Membe’s nomination, Kikwete had to derail that of Edward Lowassa. Lowassa, then an ambitious and determined CCM stalwart, had amassed significant support in the Central Committee and the National Executive Committee – the two bodies responsible for selecting the presidential candidate. To keep Lowassa off the ticket, Kikwete’s allies reportedly manipulated the work of CCM’s Ethics and Security Committee, which is responsible for reviewing, vetting and forwarding all candidates to the National Executive Committee. Instead of passing on the names of all 38 potential candidates, the Ethics Committee is understood to have held a highly irregular session and agreed to forward only five names, deleting Lowassa altogether, and putting together a shortlist that favoured Mr. Membe. 

Political Machinery

It is this move that accidentally opened up the chance for Dr. John Pombe Magufuli, the Minister of Works and Roads, who holds a PhD in Chemistry from Dar Salaam University, to secure a nomination. Although Dr. Magufuli is little known in the wider Tanzanian polity, he is said to be a close friend of the country’s former president Benjamin Mkapa, who gave him a chance to serve as Infrastructure Minister when he first entered parliament in 1995. Magufuli’s friends have pointed out his reputation for being serious, honest and hardworking. He secured 2104 votes out of a 2416 total vote count, beating by a wide margin the two women finalists, Ambassador Amina Salum Ali and Dr Asha-Rose Migiro, who got 253 and 59 votes respectively. Perhaps as a consolation gesture or sweetener for Tanzania’s massive female constituency, Magufuli has since chosen Samia Hassan Suluhu, the Member of Parliament from Makunduchi constituency - who has also been serving as a minister for Union Affairs in the Deputy President’s Office - as his running-mate. Women’s representation in the current Parliament is 8% for elected Members of Parliament (MPs), 50% for nominated MPs, and 100% for MPs with special seats. The proposed new Constitution, which will replace the 1977 version, has set a target of 50:50 male-female Parliamentary representation.

Whether Dr. Magufuli’s accidental candidature will hurt the chances of CCM, which has produced all four presidents since Independence in 1961, remains to be seen. One thing is clear: for both the opposition UKAWA and the incumbent CCM, Mwalimu Nyerere’s political shadow almost always plays a role in deciding who the next Mwalimu of Tanzania shall be. 

Nyerere's Legacy and the Struggle for Change

For a long time, successive governments in Tanzania have, in part, managed their state’s relative weaknesses by actively seeking and building consensus among the governed ‘wanainchi’. The governed have conversely produced interpretations of Tanzania’s politics that diverge significantly from the official line of ‘Ujamaa’ (villagisation) oneness. In particular, they have evoked Nyerere as the embodiment of civic virtue in public office, in order to criticize the perceived lack of the same qualities in his successors. 

It is, as such, common place in Tanzania to hear proclamations to the effect of “Mwalimu alisema”, either in defense or as a precursor to an argument, whether in a pub or in the Houses of Parliament. The term ‘Mwalimu’ (Swahili for teacher) is often used in reference to Julius Nyerere, the country’s first president (1961 -1985) who died of Leukemia in a London hospital in 1999. He is often credited with having left a legacy of political tolerance and nationhood, in line with few other leaders of African independence. The legacy of Nyerere and his Ujamaa policies seemingly forged a vibrant and all-embracing Tanzanian identity. Both Benjamin Mkapa, President at the time of Nyerere’s death, and Mkapa’s successor Jakaya Kikwete, have explicitly invoked his heritage, the latter claiming to build his presidency on ‘Nyerere’s values’. Even the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (a candidate yet again in the 2016 elections, who began his career as a guerrilla fighter and has been in power since 1986), has often described Nyerere as ‘blessed with extraordinary wisdom and compassion for the oppressed’.

This year’s election has incited two competing uses for Nyerere’s positive imagein Tanzania. For Magufuli’s CCM, he is a patriarchal precursor validating the current government; while for Lowassa’s UKAWA, he is a paragon of public virtue highlighting the shortcomings of the outgoing Kikwete regime. A closer examination of the electioneering rhetoric around Nyerere shows that rather than being a mere holdover from a more communal past, both CCM and UKAWA have inserted him in the trending neo-liberal discourse, in efforts to accommodate international policy prescriptions with their emphasis on ‘good governance’. Magufuli and Lowassa’s implicit affirmation of Nyerere as a benign patriarchal figure is illustrative of Tanzania’s shifting political culture. 

Nevertheless, the two descriptions of Nyerere have potentially conflicting implications for this year’s elections. For CCM officialdom, the invocation of Nyerere as the champion of peace potentially legitimises governmental crackdowns on dissent. Its use by CCM may appear to be an obvious political ritual, merely affirming the party’s rarely challenged dominance as recently seen in Dodoma: the message is ‘Don’t rock the boat; do not squander Nyerere’s peaceful heritage’. 

Conversely, the notion of Nyerere as the champion of the downtrodden can also be used to legitimize dissent against perceived social injustices, allowing, as has been propagated by UKAWA in some rallies, non-elite citizens to invoke Nyerere against CCM grandees.

Changing the Political Culture:

That said, Tanzanian society is changing. If recent election campaign slogans are anything to go by, it won’t be a walk in the park for CCM, which has dominated the electoral landscape since the country first adopted a multi-party system in 1992. The heritage of peaceful societal relations that Nyerere bestowed on Tanzania – and of which the CCM claims to be the enduring guarantor – is slowly being challenged by a determined, freer, and more independent media. In the past, state-owned media outfits had a virtual monopoly on news reportage and political coverage for decades, which gave the ruling party a significant advantage at election time. The current new voices in the media arena certainly signify a major step towards promoting democratic practice – this in a country registering 7% GDP growth, which is set to grow to 7.2% and 7.5% in 2016 and 2017 respectively. 

According to the latest United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) economic report, oil and gas exploration activities continue to attract private capital to the country, and net inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) to Tanzania is expected to remain strong at about 6.7% of GDP this year. Optimism among the youth is slowly pushing on. Demographic figures show a youthful population eager to replace a conservative aging group; children below the age of 14 make up 44.6% of the total population, while those between 15 and 25 make up 19.5%. 29.5% is between 25 and 54 years old, but only 6% of Tanzania’s population is above 55 years. What this means is that although CCM, seen by the youth as an embodiment of Wazee’s ‘continuity’, still has a clear edge, the outcome of the next few weeks as the campaign trails continue will be crucial in deciding to what extent. 

Tanzania is still largely a one party-state within a multiparty political system. Politics is still dominated by the one party generation; most of them, like Lowassa himself, are in their sixties and beyond. Political leadership in both the ruling and opposition political parties is still in grip of the old guards, with the ‘ generation’ waiting on the periphery. The transition to multiparty democracy in Tanzania continues to be frustrated by several factors, including institutional weaknesses in practically all political parties, as manifested by the lack of party philosophy or ideology outside of Ujamaa, and the functioning of party structures and processes. As Jenerali Ulimwengu, a well-known Tanzanian political commentator, once pointed out, “in Tanzania, issues are not the issue; it is personalities. People gravitate around a personality, express loyalty and hope for reward after victory. Ideology and political principle are all alien”. This captures rather well why the moral wealth of Mwalimu Nyerere remains dominant, in a country struggling to find the next Mwalimu in either Lowassa or Magufuli. 

About The Author

Ronald Elly Wanda is the director of Grundtvig Africa House, Nairobi, Kenya.

This article was originally published at Pambazuka News on October 19, 2015 under creative commons licensePublication Details: Pambazuka News , ISSN 1753-6839  Fahamu2015-10-19, Issue 747

Image Attribute: Nyerere Statue in Dodoma / Source: Wikimedia Commons [Link]