Tanzania – What Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s new Secretary General means for the party

Last week, President John Magufuli accepted the resignation of CCM’s Secretary General, Abdulrahman Kinana, and chose a replacement, Dr Bashiru Ally. Dr Bashiru, as he is known, was then endorsed by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).

At first glance, this may look like an unremarkable transition from one top party bureaucrat to another. More than a change of guard, though, Bashiru’s appointment is part of Magufuli’s ongoing effort to transform Tanzania’s long-time ruling party. The aim is to limit factional contestation and restore CCM’s bureaucratic strength, which had eroded under previous presidents. Both objectives, if achieved, will further consolidate Magufuli’s control.

On Kinana, the one-time reformer

Abdulrahman Kinana, a well-known politician and ex-military man, took over as CCM Secretary General (SG) in 2012 when the party had reached a new low. The previous Secretary, Wilson Mukama, lasted barely a year in office after his plans to tackle corruption in the party exacerbated an already fraught situation. Kinana then inherited the job of restoring calm amongst CCM’s warring factions and confidence amongst its neglected, rank-and-file activists.

He took to the job with gusto. While his demands that ineffective and corrupt ministers be held to account remained controversial, his nation-wide tour—a direct throw-back to a campaign undertaken by former President Nyerere in the late 1980s—was seen as a success. Images of Kinana marching through fields dressed in CCM’s trade-mark green and with a hoe slung over his shoulder sent a powerful message: here was a party ready to reconnect with its roots.

It is hard to know from this media spectacle, though, how much change actually occurred. There is reason to believe that it did not go very deep. Certainly, the large-scale defections ahead of the 2015 elections—from the thwarted presidential hopeful, Edward Lowassa, down to regional and district party officials and activists—underscore the continued strength of factional competition within CCM. Magufuli, as the successful CCM presidential nominee, then ran a highly personalised campaign with scant reference to the ruling party itself.

Whatever the success or not of Kinana’s efforts, they were quickly superseded. When Magufuli won the election—albeit by an historically low margin—and took over the CCM Chairmanship from former President Jakaya Kikwete, he made plain his ambition to pursue a more thoroughgoing party reform agenda. The idea was to eliminate corruption and factional competition and to ensure CCM’s financial autonomy and bureaucratic strength. Admittedly, this stated aim was not that different from what came before. Indeed, Kikwete articulated a similar agenda in his final speech as Party Chairman.[1] But Magufuli soon showed that he intended to follow through in a more aggressive way.

Kinana, the erstwhile lead reformer, seemed less keen to take part in this new project. He attempted to resign as Secretary General in 2016 when Magufuli became Chairman. Magufuli, however, refused to accept his resignation. Kinana then adopted an uncharacteristically low profile, particularly when contrasted with his earlier showmanship. Come March 2017, when sweeping reforms were introduced to CCM’s constitution, Kinana was eclipsed by the young and highly energetic CCM Publicity Secretary, Humphrey Polepole. He then failed to attend a party NEC meeting in October, and ahead of a CCM National Congress in December, he again asked to resign. Magufuli again refused.

Kinana’s frustrations continued. He was reportedly unhappy with the way a committee set up following the December Congress and tasked with reviewing CCM’s assets had conducted investigations without involving him. He also took issue with how the CCM Central Committee (CC), in a break with party procedure and tradition, skipped the primary stage and instead directly nominated parliamentary candidates for two by-elections in January 2018. The CC’s decision was all the more controversial as it picked two outsider candidates who previously served as opposition MPs before defecting to CCM.

Given Kinana’s attitude, it came as no surprise when last week he again asked to resign, this time with Magufuli’s blessing. Having seemingly retreated into the background, Kinana handed over to someone with a very different profile and proven track record, i.e. someone more likely to actively pursue party reforms as laid out by Magufuli.

An unlikely replacement?

As rumours spread that Kinana was about to resign, several names of possible replacements began to circulate. These included Mwingulu Nchemba, former Deputy Secretary General and current Cabinet Minister, and Mizengo Pinda, former Prime Minister. Both Nchemba and Pinda previously contested against Magufuli for the 2015 CCM presidential nomination.

Contrary to these rumours, though, the SG job did not go to a high-profile politician or a long-serving party official. Rather, in what has become a trend with Magufuli’s appointments, the President picked a university academic with weak ties to the ruling party. Indeed, Dr. Ally Bashiru felt compelled in his first days in office to insist that he was, in fact, a CCM member. Although lack of experience in the party might normally be seen as a problem, in Magufuli’s CCM it is an advantage. The President himself was never a party official before assuming the role of Chairman and, as noted, has shown a preference for bringing new people in with him.

Aside limited experience in the party, though, Bashiru has something more positive counting in his favour. He was first put to the test after Magufuli appointed him chair of the above-mentioned committee charged with investigating CCM’s assets. While CCM owns various properties across the country, and should earn a steady revenue as a result, accountability is weak and many assets have been effectively privatised. The committee’s investigation was thus a first step towards recentralising control over the party’s considerable wealth, which could then strengthen its financial autonomy and bureaucratic organisation. Having led the investigation, Bashiru will now be in charge of the next step, namely overseeing the implementation of the committee’s recommendations.

He has shown every indication that he will be a reliable servant to his party chairman during what promises to be a contentious process—even if not openly so. He has already renounced views expressed in the past that go against the CCM line, notably regarding the need for a new national constitution. He has also insisted that he will not participate in “the politics of rallies” (siasa za jukwaani), leaving that to the party Chairman and elected politicians. He will instead, he insists, stick to the low-profile role befitting a public servant or bureaucrat.

By all accounts, Magufuli has found a pair of safe hands to go ahead with the reform effort, a person with no political stature, no connections, and a seemingly strong commitment to following the President’s lead.

Whither CCM?

With Bashiru as Secretary General, the undivided loyalty of the of CCM’s bureaucracy to the party Chairman appears assured, at least within the national secretariat. Should Bashiru then oversee the successful implementation of his committee’s recommendations, CCM may also benefit from additional revenues.

From Magufuli’s perspective, these are both highly desirable outcomes, particularly as Tanzania heads into another campaign season.  The local elections are due next year with parliamentary and presidential polls following in 2020. Given what recently happened with nominations for parliamentary by-elections, it is likely Magufuli will try to exert greater control over candidate selection than was previously the norm—at least in recent decades. He will also have to secure his own re-nomination as CCM’s presidential candidate. It is difficult to imagine how he could lose out, particularly as he was just endorsed with 100 percent of the vote at CCM’s party Congress last year. There are undoubtedly those within CCM who would like to see Magufuli ousted, but they face a serious coordination challenge, particularly when all the levers of power within the party are being taken out of their hands.

However, while Magufuli is unlikely to face outright opposition, either from within his own party or from a much-weakened official opposition, there is still one challenge he may struggle to overcome. His crack-down on factional politics, his introduction of outsiders to run day-to-day party operations and his efforts to curb the use of money in political campaigns could make mobilising for the next election and getting voters to the polls considerably more difficult. Indeed, internal party competition, opportunities to participate and advance through party ranks, and higher campaign spending are all linked to better mobilisation and turnout.

Again, neither Magufuli nor CCM are likely to lose in 2020. Far from it. But it may be worth remembering the lessons CCM—then the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU)—learned from an earlier round of elections. In 1960 and 1962, TANU won resounding victories, but with very low voter turnout. Consequently, these results suggested a “deceptive” form of dominance.[2] The report of Nyerere’s Presidential Commission (1965) noted, “By a paradox, the more support the people have given to TANU as a party, the more they have reduced their participation in the process of government.”[3]

At the time, the party opted to address what it saw as a serious problem by pursuing a new organisational strategy—including more popular participation, at least initially.[4] But if we are now headed for a similar paradox, a similarly “deceptive” dominance, it remains to be seen how the party leadership will address it, if indeed it feels the need to.


[1] Jakaya Kikwete, “Hotuba ya Mhe. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, Mwenyekiti wa Chama Cha Mapinduzi, Wakati wa Mkutano Mkuu wa CCM”, Dodoma, 23 July 2016.

[2] Henry Bienen (1974), Tanzania: Party transformation and Economic Development, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 58.

[3] Cited in William Tordoff (1966), “The general election in Tanzania”, Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 4:1, 47-64.

[4] From the 1960s, there were repeated—and often contradictory—efforts to reform TANU. These changes followed something of a pendulum swing, moving between more participation and more control. Bismarck Mwansasu (1979), “The changing role of the Tanganyika African National Union”, in Towards Socialism in Tanzania, ed. Bismarck Mwansasu and Cranford Pratt, Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House, 169-192.

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