President John Magufuli is closing his first full year in office with sweeping reforms to the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, much the same way he has shaken up Tanzania since his election in October last year.
At the national level, the president has prioritised the fight against corruption, strengthening the economy through revenue collection and putting in place austerity measures, and investment in infrastructure development.
In CCM, the changes introduced by the president will lock members of parliament out of one the party’s powerful bodies, the National Executive Council (NEC). This move is believed to be aimed at consolidating power and returning the party to the ideals of its founding chairman Dr Julius Nyerere.
The reforms, which also include reducing the number of members of the party’s top decision making organs, the central committee and the NEC, have drawn mixed reactions from party insiders, with some seeing it as an opportunity to change the status quo and others expressing fears that President Magufuli could be making the changes simply to ensure his nomination as the party’s presidential candidate for the second term in 2020.
The number of NEC members was reduced by half from 388 to 158 while the Central Committee will comprise 24 members, down from 34.
Some members have described the decision to abolish party branches at the 10 cells level as a huge political misstep that could weaken the party’s important constituencies at the grassroots.
Political analysts told The EastAfrican in ranging interviews that the decision to bar MPs from vying for positions in the NEC would create rebellion against President Magufuli since it was unprecedented for the MPs to have no platforms to do politics at the regional and national levels.
Part of the reforms entailed introducing new faces, such as the party’s deputy secretary general, Col Ngemela Lubinga, who was President Magufuli’s political advisor and long time confidant, and who became publicity secretary for international affairs. Col Lubinga was until early this month the chief spokesperson for the Tanzania People Defence Forces (TPDF).
This decision has also attracted criticism as officers serving in the military are expected to be neutral. However, Col Lubinga says he joined the party before the re-introduction of multipartyism, when it was mandatory to have a CCM membership card. On re-introduction of multi-partyism in 1992, the military confiscated the membership cards from the officers and kept them until after their retirement.
The changes were made ahead of the party’s internal elections which are expected to start in February and end in November in 2017.
However, President Magufuli told members during his maiden NEC meeting as CCM chairman in July that party members should embrace the changes, saying they were aimed at putting the party in the hands of ordinary people but not a few powerful as it is the case. He further said that he wanted to create a strong party that was capable of supervising the government but warned that he would focus on dealing with rampant corruption within the party.
“Corruption is a big problem, especially during the party’s internal elections but I won’t have mercy for those who use money to secure positions within the party,” President Magufuli said.
However, President Magufuli has appointed unprecedented number of serving soldiers to serve in political positions such as regional and district commissioners which have traditionally been awarded to the party cadres.
Prof Kitila Mkumbo, a senior lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam and a political commentator told The EastAfrican that removing MPs from NEC was unprecedented and equalled banning CCM MPs from taking party in politics, a move that would make the president consolidate power of the government, parliament and the party.
“The decision will create rebellion within the party since the MPs will not have platforms to do politics. Also, denying CCM MPs such platforms means the opposition will use it to attack the president,” said Prof Kitila.
Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation executive director, Joseph Butiku lauded the changes, saying they would help restore the ideals of CCM.
“The changes are widely expected and would restore the people’s confidence in the party and the government,” Mr Butiku said.
President Magufuli outlined his priority for reforming the party when he took over the chairmanship, saying that he will ensure the party becomes self-dependent rather than depend on business people to finance its activities.
He also promised to ensure young people were attracted to joining the party. He has committed to fighting corruption in internal elections and making the party deliver to the people.