L1050697Alasdair Nicholson reports from Tanzania, where the prospects of transformational elections after the defection of Edward Lowassa from governing party to standing for president for the Movement for Change has excited a lot of people in that part of East Africa.

Elections in Tanzania this month could bring democratic regime change to this East African country where the ruling party have been in power since Independence from Britain in 1962, when Julius Nyerere became president. Now Nyerere’s successor Jakaya Kikwete, the outgoing president, could see his own anticipated successor Dr John Magafuli lose to the 62 year old former prime minister, Edward Lowassa, who controversially switched from the governing CCM (revolutionary) party to the opposition coalition led by Chadema (party of democracy and development) to become their presidential hopeful for the elections on 25th October this year.

If this happens, it will not only bring to an end one of the longest consecutive ruling governments in Africa, excepting perhaps that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, it would be seen by many as a victory for hope over apathy, particularly by younger voters in a country where they form over 30% of the general population. It would, ironically, be a peaceful democratic revolution which could sweep the revolutionary party away, just as Labour were swept away in Scotland at the recent Westminster elections. It would represent a remarkable turn around since 2010, when CCM won nearly 63% of the presidential vote and Chadema only 26.3%. So, what has changed to propel Chadema, which campaigns on the slogan of “power to the people”, to the point where they could seize the presidency and challenge for control in the state parliament?

If this happens, it will not only bring to an end one of the longest consecutive ruling governments in Africa, excepting perhaps that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, it would be seen by many as a victory for hope over apathy, particularly by younger voters in a country where they form over 30% of the general population. It would, ironically, be a peaceful democratic revolution which could sweep the revolutionary party away, just as Labour were swept away in Scotland at the recent Westminster elections.

In a country of 51 million people with a large territory and around 130 tribal groups it would be simplistic to attribute this to one factor alone. Longevity of any political party or government is subject to cyclical change and eventually all governments disappoint or fall under the hubris of their own making. While Nyerere was both respected and revered, old loyalties erode over time and many younger voters who have their own social networks no longer rely on mainstream media for their sole information. Like many other sections of the community they are concerned about health care, about access to education, about employment and about corruption at high and low levels. In rural communities, transport, water and sanitation remain chronic problems. Many villagers rely on subsistence agriculture or what they can earn day by day, while in the public sector wages are low and morale often poor. Two-thirds of the population live in poverty. These underlying factors which constrain opportunity and starve human potential are there waiting for the right leadership to harness them and for Edward Lowassa the time may be ripe to benefit from that.

His main rival may therefore have the disadvantage of incumbency rather than the usual advantage, due to an accumulation of voter disappointment and the perception that it’s time for change, a perception which Chadema is likely to gain electorally from. Going by the large crowds of many thousands which Lowassa has attracted to old-fashioned public rallies across the country, this appears to be the case and, despite his supporters being tear-gassed as happened in the Arusha region in August, he has continued to build momentum. The silver-haired former premier’s move to become presidential candidate was cheered by villagers where I stayed and the defection of other CCM members, including the former Minister for Home Affairs Lawrence Masha, amongst others, adds to that impression.

Lowers is not free from criticism, including his authoritarian style of premiership between 2005 and 2008. More serious, however, is the allegation of corruption in 2008, involving the Texan company Richmond Development of Houston, which led to his resignation. This points to weak spots in his candidacy but so far appear not to have traction. Perhaps because corruption has been so endemic his political rivals do not appear credible in raising this issue and some of those concerns have been dismissed as propaganda by Lowassa supporters. Hasty decision-making or not, his decision to switch may be the tipping point for Chadema. In part it reminds me of the words of the great Montrose, who wrote, “Unless he fears his fate too much or his deserts are small, to put it not unto the touch to win or lose it all”. Like Montrose, Lowassa is putting it unto the touch and that takes a brave politician as well as a brave general.

 

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