ACT-Wazalendo prepares for next elections without Zitto at the helm

Saturday March 09 2024

ACT-Wazalendo supporters at a rally in Zanzibar during the last general election. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Tanzania’s second-biggest opposition party, Alliance for Change and Transparency, better known by its acronym ACT-Wazalendo, this week set itself up for what could be a make-or-break elections season by electing leaders to lead campaigns in Zanzibar and the Mainland.

Dorothy Semu was elevated from party vice-chairperson for Tanzania Mainland to succeed long-time incumbent Zitto Kabwe in the topmost position of Party Leader while Othman Masoud, who was vice-chair in Zanzibar, took over as party chairman.

Ismail Jussa and Isihaka Mchinjita became the new party vice-chairpersons for Zanzibar and Tanzania Mainland respectively.

The internal party polls signalled a fresh push by ACT-Wazalendo to cement its standing as a formidable political force in the archipelago, which is its stronghold, and reinvent itself in the Mainland where the 10-year-old party has lost much of its shine in recent years.

It faces its first test in nationwide local government elections scheduled for October to be followed by next year’s presidential and parliamentary polls on both sides of the Union.

Read: Constitutional review now political game in Tanzania


The road ahead is expected to be especially tough for Ms Semu,49, who, while overseeing party affairs overall, will primarily be tasked with spearheading ACT-Wazalendo’s efforts to regain clout in the Mainland, where it has become increasingly overshadowed by Chadema as an effective voice of political opposition against the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi.

The 17-year civil service veteran, who quit in the early 2020s to become a full-time politician, initially with CCM, soundly defeated the only other candidate for Party Leader, Mbarala Maharagande, by securing almost two-thirds (65.7 percent) of the vote.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan of CCM is the only other woman Party Leader in Tanzania’s 18 registered political parties.

But Ms Semu has her work cut out to fill the vacuum left by Zitto, one of the party’s founders in 2014, who has been party leader all along but was obliged to step down after completing two terms in line with the party’s own constitutional requirements.

A seasoned politician, who cut his teeth in Chadema, Mr Kabwe played a key role in building ACT-Wazalendo from a fledgling party to one currently enjoying large following and membership numbers than other political parties in Tanzania, save for Chadema and CCM.

One of his main credits as party leader was to orchestrate the defection of Zanzibar’s most illustrious opposition heavyweight, Seif Sharif Hamad, from the Civic United Front in 2018, which instantly made ACT-Wazalendo a big political force in the Isles, alongside CCM, and significantly lifted its status on the Mainland.

Read: Samia outsmarts Tanzania opposition

But his past few years as party leader were clouded by widespread perceptions of a party slowly abandoning opposition demands for a new constitution as a matter of urgency in favour of fence-sitting as Chadema continued to lock horns with CCM over the Katiba issue.

Now aged 48, Mr Kabwe is expected to maintain an influential presence within the party, probably as a leadership consultant. But he has dismissed speculation that he may mount a presidential challenge against Samia in 2025, saying he wants to focus on regaining the Kigoma constituency seat that he lost in the 2020 general election.

The 2020 polls were tainted by claims of irregularities that badly hurt the opposition as a whole, and Mr Kabwe says his priority is to regnite an effective opposition presence in the National Assembly. If he succeeds in this, it could still be the platform for a potential run for the presidency in 2030, when he will still be relatively young, at 54.

The election of Mr Othman as party chairman is more closely linked to ACT-Wazalendo’s immediate aspirations to win the Zanzibar presidency in 2025.

The 61-year-old former attorney-general of Zanzibar currently holds the position of first vice-president in the archipelago’s coalition government with the CCM and has long been touted as the party’s most likely candidate to run against incumbent president Hussein Mwinyi of CCM.

It is a contest which, given Zanzibar’s volatile election history, has the potential to produce more sparks than that on the Mainland.