As the race to succeed Kikwete hots up, Lowassa is the man to watch

Saturday February 22 2014

President Jakaya Kikwete greeting supporters as he arrives for a CCM party meeting in November 2012. Photo/FILE

President Jakaya Kikwete greeting supporters as he arrives for a CCM party meeting in November 2012. Photo/FILE 

By JENERALI ULIMWENGU

The race to succeed Jakaya Kikwete as president of the Republic of Tanzania is truly on, notwithstanding the ruling party’s attempts to stop the campaigns saying they are premature.

Various aspirants have, in a variety of ways, shown the desire to seek nomination by Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), believing that such a nomination would be a sure ticket to State House.

As the ruling party structures have been frowning on any early campaigns, such individuals as have indicated their intent to contest, have done so by passing the word around among confidants and potential supporters. Still, quite a number of them have become sufficiently exposed to be summoned by the party structures to answer questions related to the “premature” campaigns.

At the party headquarters in Dodoma last week, a committee of top officials chaired by vice chairman Philip Mangula held a series of meetings during which it took two former prime ministers and a couple of ministers and former ministers to task over allegations of “illegal” campaigning.

Most of those who appeared before Mr Mangula’s committee said little of substance to the press when they came out, only stating that this was a normal activity done to build party strength ahead of next year’s election.

It was Foreign Minister Bernard Membe who briefed the media at length on what transpired during his interrogation, saying, according to one headline, “They really grilled us,” before revealing what he had said to the committee with a view to bettering the way internal campaigns are handled.

Mr Membe was of the opinion that the party names its candidate much earlier than it has done previously so as to save it from splintering. He also cautioned against those intending to be elected by “buying leadership,” alluding to the long known fact that a lot of money is changing hands to influence party decisions at nomination time.

Within CCM, electoral corruption and vote buying has been publicly decried but openly practised. Indeed, it has been a point of contention since a few years ago, when it was given the euphemistic label of takrima (hospitality) and enshrined in law. After a public outcry, the law was amended but the practice kept escalating.

The current party leadership is seen as impotent to stop the practice since most of those in positions of power came in through the same route.

In the end, it was announced from party headquarters that the censured aspirants were put under strictures not to engage in campaign activities for a period of 12 months during which they would be monitored. That restriction will end next February and this may mean there is no real damage done to their campaigns, since matters are expected to hot up beginning April/May next year.

One of the strongest challengers in the field is Edward Lowassa, a former prime minister under Kikwete who resigned over a scandal regarding a power-plant procurement back in 2007. He is seen as the aspirant with the most resources and supporters and foot soldiers who go about their task with near missionary zeal.

“There is no stopping Edward,” said one such supporter. “We have the whole party behind him. There is no stopping him.”

Mr Lowassa was also the man who headed Kikwete’s extremely successful presidential campaign back in 2005, when Kikwete won in excess of 80 per cent of the vote. The web spun by Mr Lowassa and his backers, known as mtandao, is still in place, the techniques have been tested and there has been little change in critical personnel. When the network is reactivated, it will almost certainly deliver, many observers believe.

In the strange world of African politics, which is also Tanzanian, 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 has meant that the politicking has descended into cabals led by the aspirants and their close supporters. The squabbling within the party has taken the form of name-calling and attribution of dishonourable motives to opponents.

Mr Lowassa seems to have gathered many supporters who have stuck with him through his troubled career. In 1995, he was among the more than 15 CCM aspirants for the presidency but he was stopped in his tracks by then retired president Julius Nyerere, who found him to have enriched himself rather too fast.

Mr Lowassa was eliminated by Nyerere’s fiat and that contest within the party was eventually won by Benjamin Mkapa (over Kikwete), who also won the election.

It remains to be seen whether the power-plant scandal will be resuscitated to haunt Mr Lowassa’s campaign or whether he will use this campaign to reiterate what he has said in party caucuses — that whatever he had done he had done with the full knowledge of Kikwete and with his approval and/or instructions.

A young journalist has suggested that the success of the Lowassa campaign could spell trouble for Kikwete because the former will take the opportunity to present his side of the story concerning the scandal, and that will not look good for Kikwete, who is blamed by Lowassa’s friends for having done their man in back in 2007.

It may not matter whom among the aspirants Kikwete supports. It is well known that in 1985, as he was retiring, Julius Nyerere wanted to be succeeded by Salim Ahmed Salim, then prime minister.

A Zanzibar faction frustrated that move and Ali Hassan Mwinyi got the job. In 1995 Mwinyi did not want Mkapa but Mkapa is whom he got.

In 2005, Mkapa had not wanted Kikwete but Mr Lowassa’s mtandao delivered a Kikwete victory after Mkapa was persuaded to flout in-party voting procedures.

Mr Membe’s name is often mentioned as Kikwete’s favourite because he has been a friend and confidant. However, he is seen as hard to sell to the electorate and he does not seem to have amassed any impressive arsenal in terms of money and people. He remains one of the bitterest critics of Mr Lowassa.

As all this is going on, the other parties, those in opposition, will once again try to unseat CCM, however slim the chances. Those chances could get an unexpected boost should CCM continuing shooting itself in the foot and washing its dirty linen in public.