Elections and Democracy in Tanzania: in Search of the Mwalimu Moral Factor

January 13, 2024
8 mins read

Elections and Democracy in Tanzania: in Search of the Mwalimu Moral FactorBy Ronald Elly Wanda

Wednesday, October
14, 2015.

 Tanzania is
often portrayed as an African success story of state and nation-building,
surrounded by nervy neighbours like Kenya where the 2008 post-election violence
left an indelible scar. And we have Uganda, South Sudan, and more recently
Pierre Nkuruzinza’s Burundi, all of which have been ridden by conflicts and
grave human rights violations. Worst still when compared to Rwanda, its
immediate neighbour on the north west, whose 1994 genocidal orgy remains a scar
on the world’s conscience and an acute reminder of how low humanity can get. This
is particularly noteworthy for Tanzania which has a highly charged general
election slated for  October 25, 2015,
when the country’s 24 million electorate is expected to bless their next ‘Mwalimu’
with votes for a five year mandate. Jakaya Kikwete, the country’s popular president
since 2005 is set to retire in November, having served his two five year terms.
“It is a stressful and thankless job. I am glad to be retiring… “Kikwete said of
the presidency recently.

The candidates

As such, this year’s presidential election will primarily pit
Dr. John Pombe Magufuli, the current minister for Roads and Works, the so
called accidental candidate of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party against
his former senior CCM colleague Edward Lowassa, a former Prime Minister in the
Kikwete government, until his sacking in 2008 following a series of corruptions
charges linked to the energy sector which is estimated to have more than 53.2
trillion cubic feet of gas reserves off the country’s southern coast. Mr
Lowassa’s scandals go as far back as the Ali Hassan Mwinyi presidency in the
late 80s, where he was relieved of his duties as a lands minister because of
allegations of corruption – a scandal that reportedly infuriated Tanzania’s
highly respected ‘founding father’ Mwalimu Julius Kabarage Nyerere.

Mr Edward Lowassa recently jumped ship from CCM and joined Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA), the biggest opposition
party in Tanzania, that has since (through a
coalition formed with three other smaller parties – UKAWA) pronounced him its
presidential heir. This followed Lowassa’s accusations that his one time
friend, President Jakaya Kikwete and other CCM moguls deliberately mismanaged the
CCM’s 2015 primaries process with the sole motive of locking out his
candidature. According to Lowassa, Kikwete reportedly favoured Foreign Minister
Bernard Membe to succeed him. However, in order to secure Membe’s nomination,
Kikwete had to derail Edward Lowassa’s nomination. Lowassa, then an
ambitious and determined CCM stalwart,
had amassed significant support in the Central Committee
and the National Executive Committee – the two bodies responsible for
selecting the presidential candidate. To keep Lowassa off the ticket,
Kikwete’s allies reportedly manipulated the work of CCM’s Ethics and
Security Committee, which is responsible for reviewing, vetting and
forwarding all candidates to the National Executive Committee. Instead of
passing on the names of all 38 potential candidates, the Ethics Committee is
understood to have held a highly irregular session and agreed to forward
only five names, deleting Lowassa and putting together a shortlist that favoured
Mr. Membe.

machination that produced the accidental candidate

It is this move that accidentally opened up the chance for John
Pombe Magufuli, the Minister of Works and Roads, who holds a PhD in Chemistry
from Dar Salaam University, to secure the nomination. Dr. Magufuli is
little known in the wider Tanzanian polity, he is said to be a close friend of
the country’s former president Benjamin Mkapa, who gave him a chance to serve as
his Infrastructure Minister when he first entered parliament in 1995.
Magufuli’s friends have pointed out that, he has a reputation for being
serious, honest and hardworking. He secured 2104 votes out of 2416 total vote
count, beating by a wide margin his two women finalists Ambassador Amina Salum
Ali and Dr Asha-Rose Migiro who got 253 and 59 votes respectively. Perhaps as a
consolation gesture or sweetener to Tanzania’s massive female constituency,
Magufuli has since chosen Samia Hassan Suluhu, the Member of Parliament from
Makunduchi constituency who has also been serving as a minister for Union
Affairs in the Deputy President’s Office, as his running-mate. Women’s representation in the current Parliament is
8% for elected Members of Parliament (MPs), 50% for nominated MPs and 100% for
MPs with special seats. The proposed new Constitution to replace the 1977 one has
set a target of 50:50 representation between men and women.

Whether Dr. Magufuli’s accidental candidature will hurt
the chances of CCM, which has produced
all four presidents since Independence in 1961, remains to be seen. One
thing clear, for both the Opposition UKAWA and the incumbent CCM, Mwalimu
Nyerere’s political shadow almost always plays a role in deciding who the next
Mwalimu of Tanzania shall be.

legacy – and the struggle for change

For a long time, successive governments in Tanzania have managed their state’s relative weaknesses
partly by actively seeking and building consensus among the governed ‘wanainchi’.
The governed, have conversely produced interpretations of Tanzania’s politics that diverge
significantly from the official Ujamaa oneness. In particular, they have evoked Nyerere as
the embodiment of civic virtue in public office to criticize the
perceived lack of the same qualities in his successors.

It is, as such, common
place in Tanzania to hear proclamations to the effect of “Mwalimu alisema”,
either in defense or as a precursor to an argument whether in a pub or in the House
of Parliament. The term ‘Mwalimu’ (Swahili for teacher) is often used in
reference to Julius Nyerere, the country’s first president (1961 -1985) who
died of Leukemia in a London hospital in 1999. He is often credited with having
left a legacy of political tolerance and nationhood in line with few other
African independence leaders. The legacy of Nyerere through his Ujamaa (villagisation) policies
seemingly forged a vibrant and all-embracing Tanzanian identity. Both Benjamin Mkapa, President at the time of his death, and
Mkapa’s successor Jakaya Kikwete have explicitly invoked his heritage,
the latter claiming to build his presidency on ‘Nyerere’s values’. Even the Ugandan President
Yoweri Museveni (a candidate yet again in the 2016 elections, who began his
career as a guerrilla fighter and has been in power since 1986), has often described
Nyerere as ‘blessed with extraordinary wisdom and compassion for the

This year’s election has
invited two competing uses of the positive image of Nyerere in Tanzania. For
Magufuli’s CCM, he is a patriarchal precursor validating the current
government, while for Lowassa’s UKAWA; he is a paragon of public virtue
highlighting the shortcomings of the outgoing Kikwete regime.  A closer examination of the electioneering rhetoric
around Nyerere, shows that rather than being a mere holdover from a more
communal past, both CCM and UKAWA  have inserted
him in the trending neo-liberal discourse in efforts to accommodate
international policy prescriptions with their emphasis on ‘good governance’. Magufuli and Lowassa’s implicit
affirmation of Nyerere as a benign patriarchal figure is illustrative of
Tanzania’s shifting political culture.

Nevertheless, the two
descriptions of Nyerere have, at the same time, potentially conflicting implications for
this year’s elections. For CCM’s officialdom, the invocation of Nyerere as the champion of peace
serves as a potential legitimisation for crackdowns on dissent. Its use by CCM
may appear an obvious political ritual, merely affirming the party’s rarely challenged
dominance as recently seen in Dodoma: the message is ‘Don’t rock the boat; do not
squander Nyerere’s peaceful heritage’. Conversely, the notion of Nyerere the champion of the
downtrodden can also be used to legitimize dissent against perceived social
injustice, allowing non-elite citizens to invoke Nyerere against CCM grandees
as has been propagated by UKAWA in some rallies.

A changing political

That said, Tanzanian
society is changing. If recent election campaign slogans are anything to go by,
it won’t be a walk in the park for CCM, which has dominated the electoral
landscape since the country first adopted multi-partism in 1992. The heritage of peaceful societal relations that Nyerere
bestowed on Tanzania – and of which the CCM claims to be the enduring guarantor – is slowly being
challenged by a determined freer and independent media. In the past, state-owned media outfits had a virtual monopoly of news reportage and
political coverage for decades that gave the ruling party a significant
advantage at election times. The current different voices in the media arena certainly
signify a major step towards promoting democratic practice in a country
registering 7% GDP growth that is set to grow to 7.2 % and 7.5% in 2016 and
2017 respectively.

According to a latest
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) economic report, oil and gas exploration activities continue to
attract private capital in the country, and net inflow of foreign direct
investment (FDI) to Tanzania is expected to remain strong at about 6.7% of gross
domestic product (GDP) this year. Optimism among the youth is slowly waging on. Demographic figures show a youthful population eager to
replace a conservative aging group, children below the age of 14 make up 44.6%
of the total population while those between 15 and 25 make up 19.5% , 29.5%  is between 
25 and 54, only 6% of Tanzania’s population is above 55 years.  What this means is that although CCM, seen as
an embodiment of Wazee’s ‘continuity’ by the youth, still has a
clear edge, the next few weeks as the campaign trails continue will be
crucial  in deciding to what extent the
outcome will be.  Tanzania is still largely a one party-state within a multiparty
political system. Politics is still dominated by the one party generation most
of them like Lowassa himself are in their sixties and beyond. Political
leadership in both the ruling and opposition political parties is still in grip
of the old guards with the ‘dot.com generation’ waiting in the periphery. The
transition to multiparty democracy in Tanzania continues to be frustrated by
several factors including institutional weaknesses in practically all political
parties as manifested by the lack of party philosophy or ideology outside of
Ujamaa, and the functioning of party structures and processes. As Jenerali
Ulimwengu, a well-known Tanzanian political commentator once pointed out, “in
Tanzania, issues are not the issue; it is personalities. People gravitate
around a personality, express loyalty and hope for reward after victory.
Ideology and political principle are all alien”. This captures rather well, why
the moral wealth of Mwalimu Nyerere remains dominant in a country struggling to
find the next Mwalimu in either Lowassa or Magufuli.  

Ronald Elly Wanda is the director
of Grundtvig Africa House, Nairobi, Kenya.

Elections and Democracy in Tanzania: in Search of the Mwalimu Moral Factor

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