Tanzania may well need change, but the incumbent party in the upcoming elections looks more likely to bring in that change than the opposition.
In debates about democracies in Africa, the victory of an opposition party in elections is often seen as a great indicator of progress. This makes sense up to a point in that it suggests a degree of political openness. But getting overly preoccupied with the idea of the incumbent losing can lead us to ignore the quality of leadership across competing parties.
On 25 October, the people of Tanzania will elect a new president, and as usual in elections, many candidates are presenting themselves as bold reformers and the harbingers of “˜change’. However, this election is not a referendum on whether the country needs change for the sake of change, but a referendum on “quality of leadership” and a choice between different potential presidents and their ability to lead. The new president will face major challenges both at home and abroad, where Tanzania’s role as a stabilising actor in Great Lakes region will be tested with the crisis in Burundi and a political transition in the DRC.
Simply put, Tanzanians are faced with two key questions. Which qualities of political leadership are most important for Tanzania to succeed? And which candidate has those qualities?
Inside the race to the presidency
The two main political parties in Tanzania’s presidential battle are the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) on the one hand, and the opposition CHADEMA – which is part of the opposition alliance Ukawa – on the other. Both of these parties have undergone some significant changes over the past few months, some for better, some for worse.
At the heart of these shifts has been each party’s choice of presidential candidate. During CCM’s nomination process, the ruling party knew that if it failed to make the right decision, it could be held captive by powerful factions, vested interests and influential foreign actors. Aware of the importance of the decision, CCM’s leadership used its veto power as a “custodian of national interest” in an attempt to rebalance the political playing field and end uncertainty caused by dangerous competing political factions. This process ended with the selection of Dr John Pombe Magufuli as its candidate.
Part of this selection saw former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, who was linked to a struggle between reformists and vested interests within CCM, depart the ruling party. Lowassa had long been a party stalwart, but reformists were willing to upset some elements within the party if it meant they could get back into public’s good books regarding issues such as a corruption.
Lowassa’s history has been tainted by serious allegations. Firstly, he was relieved of his duties as a land minister under President Ali Mwinyi because of accusations of graft. And after he bounced back to become prime minister under President Jakaya Kikwete, he didn’t last long again as he was implicated in a high-level energy scandal. Lowassa is seen by many as an icon of corruption in Tanzania, and as a former US Ambassador put it in a leaked cable in 2008, “Lowassa’s corrupt activities have been an open secret throughout Tanzania for many years”.
On the other side of the political divide, CHADEMA had long portrayed itself as an alternative to CCM and in the past was credited for its ethical political stances and anti-corruption platform. However, the party under the broader Ukawa alliance had an eventful nomination process too, and in an unexpected twist of fate, arguably squandered its best opportunity to offer Tanzanians quality leadership when it decided to appoint Lowassa, who had by now defected from CCM, as its own presidential candidate.
Tanzania’s Buhari moment?
While political analysts stress how this could be Tanzania’s closest ever election, the reality is that a huge swing would be needed to unseat the ruling CCM. Two recent opinion polls show that some two-thirds of Tanzanians are planning to vote for CCM’s Magufuli. The opposition coalition led by CHADEMA has offered the electorate with old wine in new bottles. And by choosing Lowassa, the opposition has lost more than it has gained. Lowassa and Ukawa have had to drop an anti-corruption platform.
The election in Tanzania stands in stark contrast to Nigeria’s historic election in March in which the electorate was frustrated with President Goodluck Jonathan but saw his electoral rival Muhammadu Buhari as capable of solving the nation’s security crisis and of tackling corruption. Buhari’s campaign focused heavily on graft and, unlike Lowassa, he was able to make his case because he had a strong anti-corruption record. Similarly, when Mwai Kibaki ran as the candidate of a united opposition group in Kenya in 2002, he was only able to defeat ruling party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta with a campaign centred on anti-corruption because his reputation was relatively unsullied.
Unlike these victorious opposition candidates, Lowassa represents for many Tanzanians the very ills that the country wants to see addressed. This is evidenced by a group with vested interests still allegedly pouring money into his campaign with the assurance that these are investments will yield great fortunes. Moreover, Tanzanian national unity must be preserved as is an issue of national security and unfortunately Lowassa is seen to be a divisive figure with a ‘divide and rule’ mentality, locally known as “stand up and be counted”.
Tanzania may well need change, but, perhaps paradoxically, it seems that voting for the incumbent CCM – Africa’s longest-ruling party – is more likely to usher in that change than the opposition.
Emmanuel Tayari is a geopolitical analyst and an editor for The Continent Observer. You can follow him on twitter at @mtanzania.
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