This year’s Tanzanian elections were like no other – literally. UKAWA — the opposition coalition of CHADEMA, CUF, NCCR-Mageuzi, and the National League for Democracy (NLD) — got thumped by CCM, the reincarnation of TANU, the only party that’s ever ruled Tanzania. CCM’s presidential candidate, John Pombe Magufuli, the chemical engineer-turned-politician, knocked out CHADEMA’s Edward Lowassa, the former PM and long-time CCM stalwart. Mr Lowassa defected from CCM in July — in the eleventh hour in pique — when party elders denied him nomination. Mr Lowassa would put up a spirited fight against Dr Magufuli only to go down in flames. But not before putting a scare in CCM, the political juggernaut. I never doubted Mr Lowassa would be crushed. Final score — 58 per cent to 40 per cent.
I have six unarguable reasons Mr Lowassa became CCM’s roadkill. First — and Kenya is instructive here — last-minute defectors don’t fare well against established ruling parties in Africa. If you doubt me, ask Democratic Party’s Mwai Kibaki who left KANU in a huff in 1991 only to be decimated by President Daniel arap Moi with his fellow oppositionists when the tribe — plus KANU’s anti-democratic tactics and personal egos — splintered them. Mr Lowassa was more CCM than almost any Tanzanian alive. Then — three months before the elections — he became a turncoat. He may have had good reasons for bolting, but the tag of sellout proved too costly. The opposite side knew too much about him and used it against him.
Second, Mr Lowassa was depicted as a crude opportunist who was too Machiavellian. The attacks didn’t just come from CCM alone. Upon his defection, Mr Lowassa provoked immediate anger and opprobrium from the opposition. Leading UKAWA politicos quit in disgust arguing — correctly — that Mr Lowassa had usurped their rightful place. A Johnny-come-lately to the opposition, Mr Lowassa sought to reap where he hadn’t planted. CCM seized on this rivulet and turned it into a river of discontent among some opposition followers. This partly explains why UKAWA never gelled. Many asked why Mr Lowassa, who was attacking the opposition last week, could be its darling the next.
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Third, Mr Lowassa should have known what was about to hit him. CCM had rejected him twice before — in 1995 when Benjamin Mkapa was chosen and 2005 when Jakaya Kikwete was picked. He and President Kikwete became inseparable because he was an able campaigner for the latter. The street says he was given the PM’s position and promised that he would succeed President Kikwete in 2015. But then he was mired in a corruption scandal, and resigned as PM with a cloud over his head. He never recovered, and CCM had clearly decided he would never see Ikulu (State House) except as a visitor. Rumours that he was buying CCM delegates to steal the nomination didn’t help.
Fourth, apart from South Africa’s ANC, CCM is the only other “independence party” that still boasts of mass following. It’s true this election showed CCM can be beaten, but no one should be in a hurry to write its obituary. Foremost CCM party elders — Mr Mkapa being the most prominent — enjoy a level of public support and mass appeal that make their word unimpeachable. Mr Mkapa’s stature in Tanzania is becoming Nyerere-esque. Mr Lowassa simply didn’t have any legitimate and revered political icons on his side. Voters took a hard look and decided to go with the proven side. What’s more, the opposition — though under UKAWA — was fragmented. A house divided can’t stand up to a behemoth like CCM.
Fifth, Africa’s opposition parties should learn to bridge the rural-urban divide. UKAWA fell victim to this all-too-familiar trap. Oppositionists tend to draw their support in urban centres. In Mr Lowassa’s case, he drew massive crowds in Dar es Salaam and other cities. Traditionally, ruling parties reap most votes in rural areas. Tanzania was no exception to this rule. Methinks the euphoria of seas of crowds in Dar got into Mr Lowassa’s head and convinced him he was going to win. He should have known better because he is the one who wrote the playbook which clinched President Kikwete’s victory. But the opposition will have a deep bench in parliament. From there, it can strengthen Tanzania’s democracy.
Lastly, election observers faulted the state for favouring CCM and for inadequate transparency. Clearly, the Zanzibari election was botched. These problems must be fixed with a new constitution. Corruption has become a serious problem. Too many citizens don’t see the benefits of GDP growth and the new-found mineral wealth. There are far too many fat-cats and corrupt officials sucking at the titties of CMM and the state. CCM won’t win the next election if it can’t fix these serious problems. The state must become transparent and answerable to the legislature. Magufuli is a proven doer. He must deliver pronto.