Tanzania – As corruption spreads under President Kikwete, Parliament quietly gains strength

The past year has been a politically tumultuous one for Tanzania. Controversy over a new draft constitution, uncertainty over coming elections, media censorship, and police violence were only a few of the issues to crowd headlines. Yet as one observer noted recently, ‘nothing galvanized public opinion and aroused such passion’ like the disappearance of $122m out of an escrow account held by the Tanzanian central bank.

The Tegeta escrow scandal, as it is known, came to a head late last year when the Tanzanian parliament—or Bunge—passed a resolution calling on President Kikwete to remove four high ranking officials from his government. This call led to a cabinet reshuffle last month in which Kikwete sacked his Minister for Land while leaving the Minister for Energy and Minerals to resign.

As temperatures cool, commentators are now beginning to put this latest cabinet makeover into context. An analysis published by The Citizen last week notes that Kikwete has made seven cabinet reshuffles during his nine years in office, which together led to the removal of 60 ministers. Prior to the Tegeta saga, the most notorious incident involved Kikwete’s former Prime Minister Lowassa, a man who was also the kingmaker credited with manoeuvring Kikwete into office. Lowassa was forced to resign in 2008 over the Richmond scandal. Crucially, the Citizen reports that all high profile reshuffles under Kikwete were in response to pressure from parliament over corruption.

Various explanations have been fronted to explain the increased frequency of cabinet reshuffles under Kikwete. These point to, among other things, the political engagement of a more youthful, media savvy populace as well as the tenacity of anti-corruption crusaders like Zitto Kabwe, current chairman of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC). But if we take a step back, two important—and related—trends emerge. First, there is the increasing factionalism and competitive patronage within the ruling CCM party. Second, the steady institutionalization of the long-marginalized Bunge.

On CCM factionalism

The Chama Cha Mapinduzi party controlled Tanzanian politics throughout the one-party state period and has remained hegemonic since the first multiparty elections in 1995. As some analysts argue,[1] these elections were the first experience of ‘candidate centred politics’ in which aspirants’ strengths—both financial and strategic—were critical to the final election outcome. The new pressures resulted in greater competition both between and within parties—especially CCM—and the steady commercialization of politics.

While former president Nyerere—affectionately nicknamed Mwalimu or Teacher—still presided over national politics, internal CCM divisions remained contained. In particular, they did not greatly affect presidential nominations. This fragile stability crumbled, though, during the 2005 elections when money and networks pitted various CCM factions, and their preferred nominees, against each other. The fallout from this bruising competition reverberated throughout Kikwete’s first term in office, notably with the Richmond scandal.

Commenting on this new dynamic, a 2014 ODI report describes the ‘current political settlement ’in Tanzania as ‘an unstable alliance of public and private interest groups practicing competitive patronage around the ruling party and president.’ As such, the report argues that CCM ‘is likely to invest major resources in staying in power by buying support through a combination of natural resource plunder, tax exemptions for key supporters and the conduct of non-competitive tenders.’

While a majority still predict that CCM will have little trouble winning the presidential and legislative elections later this year, it is clear that such victories are coming at an ever higher cost. Political and financial improprieties perpetrated during elections now leave sitting governments with a messy trail of corruption scandals to contend with.

On a Bunge ‘with teeth’

There is no immediately obvious reason why CCM factionalism should go hand in hand with an increasingly assertive—and institutionally empowered—parliament. Yet that is the trend.

For much of the post-Independence period, the Tanzanian Bunge was viewed as weak, even by regional standards. While MPs in neighbouring Kenya would occasionally join together in criticizing the executive, the Bunge remained a neglected backwater. For ambitious individuals, it was a career dead-end—or at best a stepping stone—in a state dominated by government and party bureaucracies.

In the 1990s, two things began to change. First, parliament started to attract attention—particularly among businessmen—as a strategic way to access prized politico-economic networks. At the same time, the anticipation of a multiparty transition led a large cross-section of MPs to show more political independence, notably by pushing for constitutional amendments to strengthen legislative powers.[2]

This early parliamentary spring nevertheless did not yield immediate, lasting results. The two parliamentary sessions following the 1995 and 2000 elections remained muted. After 2005, though, CCM and opposition MPs in the 9th Parliament joined hands in pushing for an ambitious institutional reform programme. This included changes to the standing orders, such as enhanced committee oversight powers and new powers to table private members bills. While observers were initially sceptical, this momentum carried over into the 10th parliament, which again reviewed committee structures. The latest wave of reform led to the introduction of the Kabwe-headed Public Accounts Committee, now a hero of the Tegeta scandal saga.

Analysts have linked the earlier period of legislative assertiveness to a temporary decline in CCM party unity ahead of the 1995 transition. A similar story may well apply to the post-2005 House, this time roused not by the prospect of an imminent political transition but rather by the growing number of disgruntled CCM MPs, frustrated by internal party factionalism and further energized by their activist colleagues in the opposition. While the prospects for cross-party coalitions and parliamentary assertiveness do not extend to all issue-areas, there is a shared intolerance where corruption is concerned.

But does a strong parliament make a difference, really?

The combination of competitive patronage in CCM and a more assertive parliament certainly helps explain the sharp increase in cabinet reshuffles under President Kikwete. It is rather less certain whether the Bunge’s policing efforts are having much of an effect on the overall trajectory of Tanzanian politics. Where corruption is concerned, impunity is still the norm. Lowassa has bounced back from his Richmond shame and is now a leading candidate to become CCM presidential nominee for the 2015 elections. Meanwhile, after Pof. Muhongo resigned last month as Minister of Energy and Minerals, Kikwete quickly appointed him an ambassador.

But even with these apparent setbacks—which by no means constitute a full review of parliament’s impact—it seems likely that the Bunge’s actions may yet have a significant ripple effect. At the very least, it has helped draw public attention to issues of corruption. Ahead of elections, there is growing speculation about what this attention might yield in terms of growing opposition support. While many cannot imagine an end to CCM’s over 50 year stay in power—or be sure of what that might mean for Tanzania—recent events are fuelling a growing wave of speculation.

Posted by Michaela Collord

[1] The below is in part informed by a discussion paper delivered by Hon. Ezekiel Maige, Member of Parliament from 2005 to date.

[2] See, for instance: Killian, Bernadeta. “Comparing Performances: The 1990-1995 Single-Party Parliament and the 1995-200 Multi-Party Parliament.” People’s Representatives: Theory and Practice of Parliamentary Democracy in Tanzania. Eds. Mukandala, R.S., S.S. Mushi and C. Rubagumya. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers Ltd, 2004. 183-200. Print.

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