Tanzania’s ex-PM is running for president with the party that once called him corrupt

Is this the change Tanzanians can believe in?
Is this the change Tanzanians can believe in?
Image: Reuters/Chip East
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Imagine this scenario. After losing the Democratic Party nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary Clinton refuses to concede defeat. She then calls a press conference and announces that she will defect to the Republicans and run for the presidency as their candidate instead. In response, the entire GOP establishment rallies behind her: John McCain, the Koch brothers, Mitt Romney, the Bush family, Newt Gingrich, you name it. All of them stand beside her and declare Clinton the future of their party.

The scenario seems unlikely, but in Tanzanian politics that is, essentially, what’s just happened.

Former prime minister Edward Lowassa, after losing Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s (CCM) nomination, became the most senior ruling party official to move to the country’s opposition. He will now pursue the presidency as the party’s standard bearer in the upcoming general election in October.

Lowassa was, up until a few weeks ago, the leading candidate to be CCM’s presidential nominee. An unstoppable juggernaut, one commentator declared of his candidacy. But things did not go to plan. His forced resignation in 2008 after being implicated in a corruption scandal, an allegation he denies, made senior party figures pause.

So at the nominating contest earlier this month, CCM went a different direction and selected John Magufuli, the works minister, as the party’s nominee. Lowassa did not take this well and reportedly complained bitterly to party leaders about the result. Nevertheless, the result stood.

And now, he has taken his talents elsewhere, doing something that he once said he would never countenance: To leave CCM.

But, as the saying goes, two months is a long time in politics. Lowassa has now joined forces with a party that once included him in the so-called “list of shame” that named him as one of the most corrupt figures in Tanzanian society.

But now, those same people are changing their tunes. ”We can’t go on with an old story that Lowassa is corrupt and yet we have no evidences that prove so,” Chadema national chairman Freeman Mbowe told the press.

Meanwhile, another senior party official, while acknowledging how polarizing Lowassa is due to his alleged corrupt past, admitted that their desire to win supersedes its anti-corruption principles. “In the present situation, we need to decide who is a bigger enemy to our country and its welfare, is it Lowassa, a corruption suspect or CCM and its system which facilitates corruption,” he said.

And for a party that claims to want to restore the governance values of revered first president Julius Nyerere, it seems odd that they will nominate a man whom the late president fought tooth and nail to keep from the presidency.

Winning is everything

It’s that age old adage: power trumps all and political principles be damned. “It is also true the party is weak in some areas and so by welcoming Lowassa we effectively bring these areas into our political arena,” the Chadema official said.

But CCM has ruled Tanzania since independence and the ruling party is once again likely to retain power. While the opposition has shown flashes of challenging this dominance, CCM has always been able to find a way to win.

The opposition is hoping that the former PM’s enormous personal wealth, which he is prepared to spend to realize his dream of becoming president, will make a difference this time. Additionally, five years ago, the opposition as a collective, won almost 40% of the vote. They are hoping that Lowassa’s popularity—a poll conducted in November last year had him leading the presidential field—can get them over the top. More importantly, they believe the war chest he brings will make the party even more competitive in parliamentary races than they were in 2010, when they won 24 seats.

The question is, with Lowassa at the helm, can Chadema argue that they are a party of change when their nominee has been in CCM politics for almost four decades? Well, on 25th of October, the voters will get a chance to have their say.