Tanzania goes to the polls this year to replace the retiring President Jakaya Kikwete with age playing a bigger role in the campaigns more than ever before.
Analysts say the young generation will most likely take political power in the elections.
January Makamba, the first member of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) to declare his interest in the top job, is 40, the minimum age required by the Constitution for one to be president. Others are Dr Hamis Kigwangala, 40, and Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Lazaro Nyalandu, 45.
Mr Makamba touts the age factor, saying the country needs a youthful leader strong enough to address modern challenges and bring in new ideas. But older men are also warming up to run.
These include former premiers Edward Lowassa, 61, and Frederick Sumaye, 64, as well as Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe, 61, and current Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, 66.
There are also experienced politicians, such as the Minister of State in the President’s Office (Relations and Co-ordination) Stephen Wasira, 69; Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, 66; East African Co-operation Minister Samuel Sitta, 72; Minister of State in the President’s Office (Special Assignment) Prof Mark Mwandosya, 65; Vice-President Dr Mohamed Gharib Bilal, 69; and President of Zanzibar Dr Ali Mohammed Shein, 66.
Mr Lowassa and Mr Membe are the most likely to fly the CCM flag. Neither of them has declared so far but it is a well known fact that they are building their campaigns.
Mr Lowassa is the king maker who brought President Kikwete to power, though insiders say CCM does not want him, while Mr Membe is favoured by the head of state.
In a surprise move, President Kikwete last year called upon Tanzanians to opt for a young person as his successor.
Addressing a rally during Mwalimu Nyerere Day celebrations last October, the leader said the youth were a catalyst for development and he would like to see his successor as a young person — at least as young as he was when he ran for presidency.
Fondly referred to as young man
When he ran in 2005, presidential candidate Kikwete was 55 and his campaigners fondly referred to him as a young man.
Mr Lowassa is a well-known presidential aspirant whose party had warned him against premature campaigning. He once mobilised urban bikers, popularly known as boda boda, and promised them motorcycle grants.
A few days later, it became a common scene in Dar es Salaam to see a motorbike with “Lowassa for President” flags, but that has slowly faded away.
Traditionally, the election is held on the last Sunday of October of the election year, campaigns having begun at the beginning of that August.
CCM punished culprits of premature campaigns last year by barring them from party politics for one year. The punishment has lapsed and the CCM executive committee will meet next month to assess the politicians’ performance.
Mr Lowassa, who resigned from the premiership in 2009 over his alleged role in a multibillion-shilling energy scandal involving an offshore company, was President Kikwete’s right-hand man during the latter’s presidential campaigns in 2000.
President Kikwete’s preference for a young leader seemed more of a blow to Mr Lowassa’s fortunes than an endorsement of youthful presidential hopefuls.
Although Mr Lowassa has spent a long time cultivating support for the top job, the grand corruption that has plagued the CCM government in recent days — and during Mr Lowassa’s tenure as PM — may lead the party to change tack in order to retain power. This may involve doing away with the Old Guard.
But does age make a leader? Prof Mwesiga Baregu sees this debate as essentially diversionary and potentially divisive for the ruling party.
“It has so far featured prominently in the succession struggles within CCM, mainly because of the preoccupation with clinging to power without a clear social purpose,” said Prof Baregu.
“It is also a reflection of the extent to which individualism has undermined Tanzania’s former visionary focus on collective socio-economic policy goals.”
But reading the trend, he believes that the nation will usher in a leader who is not older than 55.
The University of Bagamoyo lecturer says age is not such a big issue in the opposition bloc, mainly because the membership and the leadership are youthful already and the public desire for a youthful leader is prominent.
Dr Benson Bana of the University of Dar es Salaam sees no correlation between the youth factor and successful leadership. He says age has no power over performance in leadership though after 65 a human being’s action and reaction times, as well as decision making, decline significantly.
Generally, the political climate in Tanzania favours the opposition to take over should Dr Willibrod Slaa, 66, run on the ticket of the coalition of the “people’s constitution,” known as Ukawa, especially if the controversial constitution making process will be the main agenda, Dr Bana said.
Instructively, Prof Baregu was a member of the Constitutional Review Commission.
“My reading is that constitution-making is an unfinished business in the minds of most Tanzanians,” he said. “Recent developments, including the Tegeta escrow account scandal, will reinforce the demands for a transformative, people-driven constitution.
“Obviously, CCM would like to portray the constitution as a done deal, but the breakdown of consensus on the proposed constitution will no doubt haunt the party throughout the coming year.”
If the recent trend — whereby CCM lost most of its strongholds in civic elections — continues, the ruling party could lose most of its parliamentary seats but retain the presidency if it nominates a clean candidate who escapes the prejudices of age, partisanship and religion. Such a person should not be one of the veterans implicated in misconduct.
Prof Baregu believes that the outcome of the referendum for a new constitution, set for April, will definitely have an impact on the elections in general and the presidential election in particular.