Tanzania – The ruling CCM party unites (for now) around a presidential nominee

Africa’s longest reigning ruling party has dodged a bullet. Sunday 12 July, Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) nominated its presidential flag bearer after a bruising campaign threatened to split the party. John Magufuli, current Minister of Works, will carry the CCM banner in the October general elections, and very likely become next president of Tanzania. Widely characterized as a ‘hardworking’ individual unburdened by factional allegiances, Magufuli’s nomination led observers both inside and out of CCM to praise the party for finding a unifying candidate. The current celebratory mood should not, however, blind us to the significance of the nomination process itself. The factional rifts, unprecedented expense and accusations of violating party rules that characterized the campaigns point to internal party dynamics that are both weakening CCM and exacerbating Tanzania’s endemic corruption.

In brief – Tanzania’s political economy of corruption

Over the last ten years, Tanzania has weathered an unprecedented number of high profile (and highly costly) scandals linked to the misappropriation of public funds. These corruption cases include a 2006 decision to award a lucrative emergency power supply tender to a shell company, fraudulent payments worth $131m made by the Bank of Tanzania to 22 local companies, and the most recent controversy over funds diverted to top government officials out of an escrow account set up by the state-owned electric supply company.

Analysts link this increase in corruption cases to growing factional competition within the ruling party. This factionalism both fuels grand corruption and makes it more difficult to check.  As Cooksey (2011) argues, ‘within the ruling party, the use of rent-seeking of all types to advance the interests of groups of rentiers intent on taking control of the party has heightened pressures to loot the public purse and natural resource.’ Gray (2015) meanwhile highlights how the balance of power between these party factions undermines CCM’s ability to control rent-seeking activities. Despite the party’s strong formal political institutions and appearance of centralized authority, ‘neither the president nor any one particular faction could enforce its particular agenda within the ruling party.’ These interest groups remain ‘weak vis-à-vis each other,’ unable to police or channel their competitors’ rent-seeking ambitions.

Predictably, CCM inability to manage rampant corruption is hurting the party politically. Each new scandal provides fresh ammunition to an emboldened opposition while frustration is also spreading within the party itself. Efforts to reassert the authority of ‘the party’ over corrupt elements in its midst have, as already implied, largely failed, leading to an internal dissonance that does little to bolster CCM’s credibility in the eyes of the public.

The presidency – the ultimate political prize

CCM’s factional competition—and its consequences—are most pronounced when it comes to winning the party’s presidential nomination. With this year’s presidential nomination, factional tensions reached new heights; their roots, however, lie in a long history of nomination struggles.

Already in 1995, the presidential succession within CCM was marred by controversy.  In order to win the party ticket, candidates had to make it over a number of hurdles in a process that has changed little to date. First, they had to collect endorsements from a set number of party rank-and-file. After submitting their nomination forms to the party head quarters, contestants then had to get the stamp of approval from the party’s ethics committee. In a third step, the Central Committee, composed of roughly 40 top party leaders, had to select five names from the pool of eligible contenders. The National Executive Committee (NEC) was then tasked with selecting three names from the five, which were finally forwarded the National Congress, the supreme decision-making body.

In 1995, two young CCM politicians, Edward Lowassa and Jakaya Kikwete, threw their hats into the ring. When Lowassa’s name was cut by the central committee, he aligned behind Kikwete, who eventually won the largest share of votes in the National Congress. Former president Julius Nyerere, the highly respected ‘father of the nation,’ intervened however, declaring Kikwete too young, and calling on the runner up, Benjamin Mkapa to take the nomination.

Lowassa and Kikwete were not deterred. After serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs under Mkapa, Kikwete returned to try his luck in 2005, again with the backing of fellow MP and long-time Minister Lowassa. The two are reported to have made a tacit agreement that in ten years time, Kikwete would support Lowassa’s presidential bid. They ran an aggressive nomination campaign. With the help of Rostam Aziz, a wealthy Tanzanian ‘oligarch,’ they marshaled funds to help gather a large number of endorsements, far exceeding the party’s minimum requirement. The CCM ethics committee was tasked with compiling dossiers on all contestants, which led to a recommendation that Kikwete be eliminated early due to excessive campaign spending. President Mkapa, however, shelved the dossiers, maintaining that there was ‘no Mr. Clean’ so no need to single out any particular contender. Other prominent CCM leaders meanwhile argued that there would be public unrest if Kikwete were eliminated given his widespread popularity. Kikwete eventually won the nomination, but the disregard for party procedure, the widespread use of money to climb to the top, and the harsh criticism directed by some party members against Kikwete’s fellow contestants meant CCM was left divided.

The party appeared to reunite at the start of Kikwete’s first term, basking in his 80% vote share garnered in the 2005 presidential elections. This honeymoon proved short lived. In 2007, the so-called Richmond scandal surfaced. The subsequent investigations were aggressively pursued by Parliament under the leadership of Speaker Samuel Sitta. They culminated in a committee report which included a recommendation that Lowassa, whom Kikwete had appointed Prime Minister, should relinquish his premiership. When a majority of CCM MPs supported the committee’s position, some motivated out of principle and others out of a desire to distance themselves from corruption, Lowassa had little choice but to resign. He did so defensively, alleging that the Richmond investigations had been nothing more than a witch hunt.

There were no subsequent prosecutions, but the fallout from Richmond led to the emergence of two loose factions, the ‘anti-corruption crusaders’, including a number of MPs with Speaker Sitta as their unofficial leader and the Lowassa camp, which included notably Rostam Aziz and the then CCM Secretary General, Yusuf Makamba. Beyond the seemingly altruistic aims of the Sitta camp, many observers alleged that Sitta had anterior motives. They noted how the then Speaker had also helped campaign for Kikwete in 2005 and had been frustrated in his hopes to accede to the premiership, subsequently resolving to use his parliamentary position to pursue Lowassa. For his part, Kikwete endeavoured to distance himself from both camps, but the fallout with Lowassa was profound as the President had done little to defend his Prime Minister in the heat of the Richmond scandal. Lowassa quickly set to work building up ties with local party structures, notably through the CCM youth wing, seemingly in preparation for a future presidential bid.

The tensions between these two camps led to a series of clashes within the party. In 2009, a NEC meeting failed to oust Sitta as Speaker of Parliament after many argued he was working against party interests. After appearing on the verge of challenging Kikwete for the presidency in 2010, Lowassa as well as Rostam Aziz—who faced fresh corruption allegations—lost their NEC positions in April 2011. Sitta, meanwhile, regained his. The Sitta camp was also credited with removing Yusuf Makamba, a Lowassa sympathizer, as Party Secretary General. Makamba was first replaced by Mukama, alleged to be a tacit Lowassa supporter, and later by the reform-minded Abdulrahman Kinana. Kinana along with the party Ideology and Publicity Secretary, Nape Nnauye, have positioned the party secretariat firmly behind the anti-corruption campaign. In particular, Kinana launched a national tour to revive the party’s ties with its base. He used his regional visits to preach an anti-corruption gospel and to reassure CCM members of the party’s good intentions. He has also warned the national leadership of the dangers for CCM electorally if it does not clean up its image.

Nevertheless, the Lowassa faction’s strength did not wane, despite his struggles with the party leadership. Throughout Kikwete’s second term, Lowassa and his supporters continued to build their network, notably among regional and local party leaders. All signs pointed towards another battle ahead, this time over the 2015 CCM presidential nomination.

The 2015 nomination campaigns

This year’s presidential nomination process has been billed as a struggle of ‘the party’ versus the individual. Could CCM stick to its institutional principles and procedures or would it be overrun by the maneuvering of opportunistic factions?

An unprecedented 42 presidential hopefuls entered the race, circling the country to collect endorsements. Lowassa had by far the most expensive and elaborate campaign. He launched his bid in late May at a rally, which attracted thousands. He went on to collect 850,000 endorsements from party members, far exceeding the 450 required in the party rules. Samuel Sitta also entered the race, although his was not a strong campaign. A greater threat to Lowassa’s ambitions was Bernard Membe, Minister of Foreign Affairs and rumored to be Kikwete’s favorite (also his brother).

While many within the party described the large number of contenders as an indication of CCM’s internal party democracy, others pointed to what appeared to be strategic efforts by some to act as spoilers, crowding the race to make it more difficult for a few heavyweights to dominate. Party members were also disturbed by the at times vicious attacks contestants levied against each other, in the process laying bare the party’s internal divisions. The anti-corruption message remained a common theme for those positioned against Lowassa. The latter, meanwhile, systematically distanced himself from corruption allegations while also seemingly trying to make a virtue out of wealth, claiming he hated poverty and there was nothing wrong with being rich. With this message, he hit back against the Ujamaa (socialist) heritage of the Nyerere era CCM, which many of his detractors argue the party should try to reclaim.

Lowassa was by no means the only candidate running a controversial—and expensive—campaign. Six presidential hopefuls, including Lowassa and Membe, were previously sanctioned by the party for early campaigning. Party leaders also issued repeated warning about money spent getting endorsements breaching electoral rules. One very rough estimate of the amount spent on endorsements alone (whether directly or indirectly) resulted in a disturbingly high figure: $10m.

As the party neared the next phase of the nomination process, the meetings of top party organs, tensions started to rise still further. Rumors quickly spread that the ethics committee had cut Lowassa’s name. The Central Committee then delayed considerably in announcing the five shortlisted names, which fuelled concerns about behind the scenes wrangling. When the Committee finally did announce the list, Lowassa’s name was conspicuously absent although Membe made the cut. Three Committee members took the unprecedented step of denouncing the committee’s decision, claiming it went against party procedure. Lowassa supporters—many of whom had been bussed to Dodoma, seat of the CCM head quarters—began protesting in the streets, which quickly led to the police cordoning off parts of the city.

The tension continued as the National Executive Committee convened. After delegates began singing a Lowassa campaign song, a dazed Kikwete broke with protocol, interjecting, ‘This has never happened before.’ A number of delegates continued to push for Lowassa’s name to be added to the list, an effort overcome only after interventions from elder statesmen, including former presidents Mkapa and Mwinyi. Lowassa supporters reportedly did effectively mobilize, however, in ensuring Membe’s name did not make it through to the next round, thereby exacting collateral damage on the rival faction. One additional event casting a shadow over the whole affair involved the seizure by police of suitcases containing TSh700m (over $300K) allegedly meant to bribe delegates.

Out of this fractious process, three candidates, John Magufuli, Asharose Migoro and Amina Salum Ali made it through to the Naitonal Congress, which handed Magufuli a resounding victory with 87% of the vote.

Unity restored?

As noted above, the reaction to Magufuli’s nomination was celebratory. The message throughout the next day’s press was that CCM had indeed managed to overcome the factions and reassert ‘the party’ and its principles. Magufuli had conducted his campaign ‘quietly’ with little if any media attention. He had collected the required 450 endorsements, no more. He had a long history of serving as a minister under both Mkapa and Kikwete and for the most part avoided entanglement in any major corruption scandal. All of these factors prompted even disillusioned CCM members, nostalgic for a by-gone era of less commercial politics, to praise the party’s decision.

An editorial in the leading Swahili paper Mwananchi (The Citizen) was nevertheless more circumspect, warning, ‘The task ahead for the party is even greater than that which has just ended… This party has not yet healed the wounds and cracks that resulted from the struggle between the candidates and their factions.’ While CCM escaped with a seemingly good candidate, this was in some ways by default as factions cancelled each other out. The nomination process made it very clear just how pervasive this factional politics is, and the extent to which it is enmeshed in CCM’s largely failed efforts to control corruption and the monetized political competition it engenders. However good Magufuli may be as a candidate, the nomination of no one individual can transform the situation.

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