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How Nyerere’s intellectual legacy influenced 2015 voting in Tanzania

By Alexander opicho | Oct 31st 2015 | 4 min read

The Western powers have always portrayed Tanzania as an African success story of democracy as contrasted to its politically fractious and raucous neighbourhoods; the likes of Kenya whose 2008 post-election violence left an indelible scar on its flesh of national building; or Uganda now having its young democracy getting by personal megalomania of President Museveni translated into an institution of life-presidency, South Sudan under York of tribal war, and more recently Burundi that have bloodshed due to deliberate injury  to  its democracy by the executive.

I mean all these countries have been rocked by conflicts and brutal injustices against human rights. More discouraging  still is the contrast with Rwanda, a close neighbour of Tanzania; her 1994  unprecedented genocide and human annihilation orgy fuelled by tribal sentimentality is still an open  wound  on the conscience  of  modern political civilization.

This in particular has to be a social benchmark for Tanzania, which concluded a charged general election on a recent date of 25th October 2015, a political exercise in which 24 million strong electorates had a challenging electoral duty to achieve a leader with the virtues of the late Julius Nyerere.

Happily and surprisingly enough, the outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete, is willing to leave office without any complications like the ones observed in Uganda and Rwanda. The world in general and Africa in particular is assured of this specific peaceful political change in Tanzania given the words of Kikwete that, ‘presidency is a stressful and thankless job. I am glad to be retiring’.

The battle was between Dr. John Pombe Magufuli, who had been the minister for Roads and Works until the elections. His name sounds poetic and amusing in English , when translated into English, Pombe means beer and Magufuli means padlocks hence a political jest that have been sending people to a mirth in Tanzania when  these two names are translated into English and combined to a single sentence as padlocks to alcohol. Magufuli was also just an accidental candidate in the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.

Magufuli contested against his former senior CCM colleague Edward Lowassa. Lowasa was a former Prime Minister in the Kikwete government until 2008. He was removed from this ministerial post following a series of corruption charges linked to the energy sector. This alleged scandals go as far back as during the Ali Hassan Mwinyi presidency in the late 80s. Then, Nyerere was still alive and he was personally disappointed with this news about Lowassa.

However, when you talk with Tanzanians, you again come face to face with another joke, they have a different concern with Lowasa, they say yeye ni mapengo, (he does not have his front teeth.) Thus the masses were substantially not comfortable with Tanzania have a mapengo President.

Contrastingly, Lowassa himself had a different position on why he did not succeed to vie for presidency through the CCM. He blamed Kikwete for reportedly favoring the Foreign Minister Bernard Membe as his successor. Kikwete had to monkey-wrench Lowasa’s political ambitions in order to thrust Membe into political prosperity.

Two days before the elections, Ronald Elly Wanda, wrote in the recent version of the Pambazuka news that, ‘it is this move that accidentally opened up the chance for Dr. John Pombe Magufuli, the Minister of Works and Roads, who holds a PhD in Chemistry from Dar Salaam University, to secure a nomination.’ And truly these political machinations by the executive must have been a factor in the political exaltation of Pombe Magufuli. This can be a fact in considering the truth that Magufuli was not known beyond the political class in Tanzania.


Against all odds, winning of Magufuli is an eye opener to the regional question of gender and politics. At most, the age-long concern for women empowerment. This is packaged in the political design where Magufuli chose a woman; Samia Hassan Suluhu, as a running mate and now the vice president. She has also been serving as the Member of Parliament from Makunduchi constituency and the minister for Union Affairs in the Deputy President’s Office. From governance perspective, this is deemed to be inclusive given women representation in the previous Parliament was 8% for elected Members of Parliament (MPs) and 50% for nominated MPs but 100% for MPs with special seats. Magufuli’s government comes in with a new dawn of gender mainstreaming and indiscriminate social inclusivity given the requirements in the proposed new Constitution that has set a target of 50:50 gender representations.

Both Magufuli and Lowasa are one and the same protégés of Nyerere’s intellectual legacy. One thing is evident from their political socialization in public, their leadership overtones and intellectual disposition; they both struggled to claim the umbra in the political shadow of Mwalimu Nyerere. Maybe this is not political leadership, but instead pressure from political followership. Given that the people of Tanzania in their capacity as voters always look for a leader who can carry forward the civic virtues of Mwalimu Nyerere.

In Africa, it is only Tanzania that is guided by the public lessons as taught by their founding father, Julius Nyerere. Such political cultures are evident in India in relation to Mahatma Gandhi, in China in relation to Kungu Fu tze or Mao Tze Tung and in Islam nations where one has to invoke the teachings of Prophet Muhammed before making a public decision. In fact, Tanzania’s history mocks her neighbours like Kenya and Uganda in terms of public ethics. Kenyans and Ugandans have nothing like virtues they can borrow from their founding fathers as a value necessary for national building. Why? because the concern for the oppressed was suppressed by rapacity for personal material success and tribal exclusion in most of the African countries , apart from Tanzania which achieved national unity through Ujamaa or villigization under the leadership of Julius Nyerere. A virtue that lingers and lurks in Tanzania’s political culture up to now.

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