Tanzania election race takes a leaf from Senegal, Nigeria and Kenya; unexpectedly hots up

Coalition politics in Africa are rarely on ideology, but on the single mission of kicking out a dominant ruling party, or retaining power

THE country’s ruling party has dominated politics since modern Tanzania’s formation in 1964, but the fallout from the nomination for its presidential flag bearer has kicked up some dust, shaking up a race that was shaping up to be another coronation for the power holders.

Tanzania’s four main opposition parties chose ex-prime minister Edward Lowassa as a joint presidential candidate Tuesday, three months ahead of a general election scheduled for October 25.

The deep-pocketed Lowassa, 61, was the east African country’s prime minister between 2005 and 2008, when he resigned over corruption allegations, charges he denied.

He defected last week from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party to join the opposition Chadema party, reserving some choice words for his former camp.

Read: Season of u-turns in African politics: Jilted Tanzania ex-PM new opposition chief, rival jumps in bed with Nkurunziza

He will run for the top post for Chadema, as well as the Civic United Front (CUF), NCCR-Mageuzi and the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Lowassa had joined the race earlier this month to run as the CCM’s presidential candidate, where he was seen as a frontrunner among 42 candidates, but lost out to government minister John Magufuli.

Following his defeat, Lowassa claimed the ruling party was “infested with leaders who are dictators, undemocratic and surrounded with greedy power mongers.”

The four parties will also field joint candidates for parliamentary and council seats.

“Ours is the coalition of victory. We are out to take over from CCM,” Chadema national chairman Freeman Mbowe told a meeting of the party.

“Our party’s central committee nominated Lowassa to run for president last week, and the decision was endorsed by the national congress.”

President Jakaya Kikwete cannot stand again after serving the two term limit. Tanzania is one of the few countries in Africa where incumbents have not tried to remove term limits. Neighbouring Uganda scrapped them in 2005, and Rwanda is also making moves to do so.

But Lowassa’s nomination was at the expense of Chadema’s former presumed flagbearer, Willibrod Slaa, who was sent on “leave”, according to Tanzanian English language daily The Citizen.

Mbowe said Slaa had not backed Lowassa’s pick and with Chadema saying “no one is bigger than the party”, the paper reported, it suggests it was an acrimonious parting of ways.

Slaa has yet to speak on the rapid turn of events, and has skipped a number of Chadema events in the last few weeks, but he will have been aghast at how he has been cast aside for the new man, and a former CCM stalwart at that whom his party liked to portray as the epitome of corruption.

But it is in keeping with African opposition politics, where often desperate attempts to dislodge a dominant party leave the putative candidates on the sidelines, many who have nurtured their parties through lean times.

Many times, the new banner bearer is often a former ruling party member.

In 2002 the long reign of the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) came to an end after the opposition coalition dislodged Daniel arap Moi’s protégé, Uhuru Kenyatta.

The elevation of Kenyatta over other perceived frontrunners in Kanu saw a flurry of political realignments that led to the emergence of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), allowing Mwai Kibaki a landslide win against the party that had led for nearly four decades since the country’s independence.

Kibaki had been a former rank-and-file member of Kanu and once forecast the party would not be toppled for decades.

In Senegal, Macky Sall in 2008 founded his own party, which four years later saw him defeat incumbent Abdoulaye Wade in two rounds, after snagging the backing of the other opposition leaders.

A long-time member of the ruling PDS party, Sall had been Wade’s prime minister for three years to 2007, but the two fell out after it was perceived that the president was grooming his son to take over.

In Nigeria, president Muhammadu Buhari only came to power on the ticket of a coalition that dethroned the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in March.

Buhari, a former military ruler, tried his electoral luck three times before, but repeatedly came up empty.

But it was the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), an alliance of the three biggest opposition party, which saw him finally clinch the elusive presidency. The APC coalition, a conservative-leaning grouping, had only existed for two years, with its unitary goal being to better the PDP.

Notably, the losing ruling party candidates in Senegal, Nigeria and Kenya both conceded early, a rare event on the continent. But it would be difficult to foresee a CCM loss in Tanzania, the party is too entrenched and the country’s electoral commission doesn’t come anywhere to independent as in Nigeria or Ghana, but the new coalition arrayed against it will certainly have livened up the competition.

The reality also remains that Lowassa has been a ruling party insider for decades, and will only be batting from the other side for the purpose of dislodging CCM.

As such it would add credence to the observation that coalition politics in Africa are rarely on ideology, whether social or economic, but for the single-purpose of ascending to power.

In other countries such as Gabon, Burundi, Ethiopia, South Africa and Rwanda, the ruling party is a coalition behemoth that sucks up all the political oxygen, co-opting the major players to retain a strangle-hold on power.

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