A New Dawn for an Old Party? Post-election Tanzania

Photo: GCIS South AfricaPhoto: GCIS South Africa

Despite a lack of change in the ruling party in Tanzania’s recent election, does the election of new blood in the top spot signify the possibility for far greater change than if the opposition had emerged victorious?

Just two months into his tenure as President of Tanzania, John Magufuli has begun to implement some of the changes he promised on the campaign trail. Hitting the ground running with a stripped-back inauguration ceremony costing a mere $10,000, as opposed to previous $350,000 affairs, Magufuli clearly seeks to demonstrate his thrifty approach to politics. Yet the President is still tarnished with the label of his party, a party that has overseen disappointingly limited growth since independence, for an African country with significant potential.

Since the nation’s independence in 1961, Tanzania has been ruled by Chama cha Mapinduzi, the CCM, or earlier forms of the same party. Originally an African socialist party, now neoliberal, the party emerged in its current form in 1977 under the leadership of the iconic Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the CCM continued with the African socialist policies introduced by the 1967 Arusha Declaration, Tanzania’s most significant contribution of political theory to African socialism. The Declaration implemented the nationalisation of Tanzania’s banks and industrial enterprise, and introduced the concept of Ujamaa, a collective farming program in which those living in rural areas were relocated to specified self sufficient Ujamma villages, in order to facilitate communal farming. The nation’s economy was entirely restructured into a socialist framework, and a one-party state established under the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), a CCM predecessor.

Despite its socialist leanings, the Declaration was well received by the West due to its committal to self-reliance – Nyerere spoke of his nations’ reluctance to depend on western aid and his desire for agricultural self-sufficiency, factors approved of by the West. However, these goals of self-reliance were never achieved by Tanzania, and the nation struggled to prosper in the fragile economic climate of the later 1970s. Despite the failures of his most prominent policy, Nyerere’s legacy remains omnipresent in Tanzanian politics. His socialist experiment stands out as a beacon of hope for many Africans, signifying hopes that the continent can still find a route to the new society spoken of by post-independence nationalists. Nyerere’s modest personal wealth and lifestyle stood out in marked contrast with the famed extravagance of many other African leaders, and his strong air of anti-corruption has resulted in his legacy taking on a mythical quality.

The nation has seen economic growth averaging at 7% per annum over the past decade, gaining Tanzania the label of one of the fastest developing economies in the world. Yet poverty is still endemic, and the nation remains 151st out of 188 in the 2015 Human Development Index rankings. One of the reasons for the failure of wealth to trickle down to the majority is corruption, which spread to all sectors of government activity in the 1970s, and developed further in the 1980s, according to the 1996 Warioba Report. The conclusion of the Commission associated with this report stated that the spread of corruption was not due to an absence of appropriate policies, institutions, and procedures, but rather the non-observance of regulations and the ineffectual nature of the established institutions – in short, the people of government rather than the institutions of government themselves have led to rampant corruption.

Despite more recent leaders of the party being implicated in corrupt practices, the revered qualities of Nyerere continue to provide the CCM with legitimacy to this day. The inextricable links between the CCM and the independence of Tanzania allow the party to draw upon ideas of national identity in order to gain support. The mere fact that the party has been in power (in one form or another) for almost fifty-five years has resulted in the CCM having significant experience mobilising grassroots structures in rural areas. These factors suggest clear advantages for the party before the opposition is even considered. Yet the selection of presidential candidate by the CCM could have put this advantage in jeopardy. Edward Lowassa, the former prime minister and close confidante of former president Jakayla Kikwete, was passed over for nomination in lieu of the less high profile Minister for Works, John Magufuli. Lowassa cut an influential and well-connected figure in the CCM, and his elimination from the presidential nominee selection process was followed by a wave of defections from the party by MPs. Considering Lowassa’s close associations with the upper echelons of the CCM, the fact that he was not chosen as the party’s presidential candidate is telling of a desire in Tanzanian politics for a return to the founding principles of the nation, and of Nyerere. Lowassa was accused of corrupt practices throughout his tenure as a member of parliament, escalating in the Richmond Energy deal scandal in 2008 that forced his resignation as prime minister. Richmond had been contracted to provide 100 megawatts of electricity a day during a period of drought, and this did not fully materialise, despite the government paying the company over US$100,000 a day for their services. Lowassa was not formally prosecuted for involvement in this corruption scandal, and his reputation lay partially intact. Further set backs to his presidential campaign for the CCM came in 2014, when a year-long ban from the party was imposed on the former prime minister after he was accused of starting his presidential campaign unconstitutionally early. However, by May 2015, Lowassa officially launched his campaign, only to face defeat at the hands of Magufuli in July 2015.

Nicknamed ‘The Bulldozer’ for his emphasis on road construction as Minister for Works (2000-2005 and 2010-2015), Magufuli was, and remains a very different figure in Tanzanian politics. His modest wealth, despite overseeing such vast infrastructure projects, cements his association with anti-corruption, adding to his reputation as a sound, if at times demanding, technocrat. Prior to his selection as the party’s presidential candidate, Magufuli had a low profile and no political affiliation within the CCM, and has not been involved in a political scandal. As a result, after Lowassa’s exclusion from the presidential race by CCM’s Security and Ethics Committee, Magufuli gained the nomination for the ruling party. Following his defeat, Lowassa resigned from the party and was quick to denounce the CCM as being “infested with leaders who are dictators, undemocratic and surrounded with greedy power mongers”. He was selected almost immediately as the presidential candidate for the opposition coalition Ukawa without an internal vote. That this move to the opposition from Lowassa was considered remotely legitimate or acceptable demonstrates the force of personality in Tanzanian politics. Ukawa’s claim to be the party for change was surprisingly little undermined by Lowassa’s joining, despite his close ties to senior members of the CCM, and the fact that Lowassa forced the coalition to compromise on many of its more progressive policies. The effect of Lowassa’s entrance into Ukawa threatened the internal political stability of the coalition, yet did wonders for the mainstream popularity of the opposition. The presence of a recognised figure at the helm of the opposition gave Ukawa credibility, despite the circumstances in which they came by this leader.

This presence of such a high-profile political figure in the opposition, the high proportion of young voters, and uncertainty over levels of turn out placed doubt over whether the CCM would emerge victorious after the election. Of those registered for the 2015 election, over 60% on the electoral role were under 35, and almost 80% under 45, the particular significance of this being that the young tend to have less of a historic connection to Nyerere and the CCM’s involvement with liberation, hence are more inclined towards the rhetoric of change provided by the opposition. Lowassa’s strongest showing was among young, urban males, with rural areas remaining loyal to the CCM. Despite the fact that the urban vote often signifies the progressive vote, this was not necessarily the case in Tanzania’s recent election. The opposition had greater links to current corrupt practices due to its choice of presidential candidate. The opportunity for a two party race was in effect hijacked by a farce of personal ambitions and political vendettas.

Following the announcement of Magufuli’s victory in the election, many signs pointed towards further barriers to significant change. Violence and allegations of corruption in Zanzibar led to an annulment of the vote on the islands (which had seen Ukawa take the lead) and Lowassa initially refused to concede defeat. Yet the last seven weeks have told a promising story for Magufuli and Tanzania. His choice of a relatively unknown junior minister to take the position of Prime Minister surprised commentators and the public alike, and the suspension of a number of top ranking officials, implicated in financial irregularities, demonstrates his desire to make a stance against corruption.

From his very first day in office, Magufuli has been seen to be taking action against fraudulent behaviour. Making a surprise visit to the finance ministry the day after his inauguration, Magulfuli found the majority of workers had not reported to work, and an unplanned visit to Tanzania’s largest public hospital resulted in the President finding patients on the floor, complaining of not seeing a doctor for days. As a result, immediate savings policies have been implemented, from minor actions such as cancelling government Christmas cards, to the introduction of a ban on requests for foreign travel for ministers and government officials. Echoing the sentiment of Nyerere, of simplicity and efficiency, Dar es Salaam-based political analyst Charles Kitima described Magufuli’s initial Presidential speech as “simple, direct and down to earth, and touching the common citizen directly”. His thrifty nature has even sparked a Twitter storm in Africa with the hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo, playfully mocking the President’s cost saving measures. Commentators in East Africa have already made comparisons between Magufuli and Rwanda’s President Kagame, who has led Rwanda through 20 years of development that have received international praise. Whilst Kagame’s record regarding civil liberties is less than stellar, his effective use of aid payments in comparison to other African nations have lead to Western support. Rwanda may not be a unblemished example of national development, but the country has been praised by the World Bank, and is on track to meet most of the Millennium Development Goals by the end of the year, achievements that would be welcomed in Tanzania.

The choice of a figure from outside the classic political elite, independent of factional divides, demonstrates a strong chance for a positive change in the political and economic prospects of Tanzania. Lowassa’s close association with past administrations, and links to serious corruption scandals tarnished the opposition’s prospect of offering true change. Is the change desired by the youthful electorate more likely to come through a change in attitude of the President rather than a change in the actual party? Well of course time will only tell. The importance of ‘big man’ politics was demonstrated when Lowassa was selected as Ukawa’s presidential nominee, and the subsequent boost his presence gave the opposition coalition. Despite Lowassa being a representation of the old guard of CCM politics until mid-2015, the months and weeks before the election saw him painted as the opportunity for change. Lowassa’s change of mask removed Ukawa’s opportunity to offer a genuine change for the Tanzanian people. Nonetheless change is afoot – through a president who seems to be breaking the mould and doing things very differently, returning to his party’s roots and distancing himself from the excesses of his recent predecessors.