Tanzania Election: Lowassa’s defeat debunks the Mujuru myth


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ZIMBABWE – The just-ended presidential elections in Tanzania which were won by John Magufuli, the candidate for the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), should serve as a rude awakening for former Zanu-PF Vice President Dr Joice Mujuru’s allies who are pushing her candidature in the presidential elections due in 2018. John Magufuli (58.46 percent) defeated former prime minister Edward Lowassa (39.97 percent) who left Chama Cha Mapinduzi last August and became the candidate for, Ukawa, a coalition of four opposition parties.

The dynamics and outcome of the just-ended presidential election in Tanzania debunk four myths which have been sponsored by Mujuru’s allies. These myths have been repeatedly played out by the private media and supported by opposition political analysts and commentators. The first myth is that Mujuru is in a position to defeat a candidate from Zanu-PF given that she has knowledge of her former party’s election strategies.

Mujuru is likely to garner substantial support from within Zanu-PF and she also has the capacity to counter zanu-PF’s power retention strategies given that her allies continue to occupy influential positions in strategic state institutions, we are told. The same was said of Edward Lowassa, who is a former prime minister of Tanzania and was once a close ally of outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete.

Earlier this year, Lowassa was the front runner in succeeding President Kikwete and his former position and power in both Chama Cha Mapinduzi and in government is comparable to that of Mujuru before her expulsion from Zanu-PF.

The reality of African politics which Mujuru’s allies should soon appreciate is that supporters of ruling parties and senior government technocrats benefit materially from their continued association with the party such that even if there are high profile defections or expulsions they are better off remaining within the core group than following old but weakened alliances. The second myth is that an opposition coalition led by Mujuru will wrestle power from zanu-PF.

The underlying logic is that Mujuru will bring to the coalition her liberation war credentials, a significant bloc of Zanu-PF supporters plus the support of her allies in strategic state institutions. This can then be combined with the popular support of opposition political parties and Zanu-PF would be finished!

The opposition coalition — Ukawa — led by Lowassa was touted as the biggest challenger to the 54 years of dominance by Chama Cha Mapinduzi on similar grounds. However, the defeat of the Ukawa coalition demonstrates that opposition coalitions can be successful in uniting elitist leaders with big statures and egos but they do not go as far as bringing grassroots support and reorganising it into formidable opposition voting blocs.

The failure by opposition coalitions such as Ukawa to broaden their support bases can partly be explained by the extent to which CCM’s organisational structures are entrenched in communities, particularly in rural areas. This is a legacy of Julius Nyerere’s village-led development programme ‘Ujamaa’ which ensured that the party penetrated the day to day lives of the rural populace.

The third myth is that Mujuru’s candidature will be hyped by a pliant media that will excite the public and draw sympathy towards her presidential bid.

These emotions will then be harvested as votes that will be sufficient for Mujuru to take over power from zanu-PF. Lowassa’s presidential bid attracted media attention that can only be surpassed by the media coverage of Julius Mwalimu Nyerere’s death. However, his defeat is a clear indication that excitement and sympathy will not last longer than the material gains which constituencies receive from Chama Cha Mapinduzi. Mujuru is going to face similar challenges because in as much as voters would be excited and sympathetic to her, they will still vote for their livelihoods which have been dependent on zanu-PF for a very long time.

In resettlement areas people will vote for their A1 and A2 farms, in peri-urban areas with housing cooperatives they will vote for their houses, in some urban areas they will vote for their market stalls and other economic opportunities linked to zanu-PF and in mining areas they will vote for their ‘mining claims’.

The fourth myth is that the 2018 presidential election will be an ‘empty seat election’ in the sense that if President Mugabe leaves office then zanu-PF will be fielding a candidate without the advantages of incumbency. This is the same argument which was put forward by Lowassa’s allies. They argued that Lowassa was going to compete against John Magufuli, who was not an ‘incumbent’ hence the presidential seat was empty and it could be snatched from Chama Cha Mapinduzi.

This argument has little traction because even though the party’s presidential candidate is not incumbent, the presidential seat remained within Chama Cha Mapinduzi and it enjoyed all the advantages of incumbency.

Up to today Tanzanians still vote for Julius Mwalimu Nyerere’s CCM the same way President Mugabe’s legacy will loom large over the 2018 elections. In the final analysis, Mujuru will be a contender for the presidency. However, she has to grapple with the challenges of trying to dislodge a party like Zanu-PF which is embedded in the day to day livelihoods of ordinary people.

She only stands a chance if she is able to mobilise the huge cohort of voters who are dependent on Zanu-PF redistributional networks which cut across party and state structures.

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