Dispatches From Africa

Change They Can’t Believe In

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Julian Fisher writes from Dar es Salaam:

As I write, it appears that Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM – Party of the Revolution) is about to demonstrate once again a truth that Africa’s post-independence ruling parties seem to grasp instinctively and opposition parties forget too readily: that it’s older and rural voters that win elections, not excitable, noisy, urban youths.

It remains too early (as of the morning of 28th October) to call the election decisively, but the direction of travel is clear. With 113 of 264 constituencies declared, CCM candidate John Pombe Magufuli has opened up a lead in the hundreds of thousands and CCM maintains a comfortable majority of Bunge seats. The more optimistic CCM campaigners, claiming to have seen all constituency returns – verified and unverified – are suggesting a final tally for their man of 65%, which would be an improvement on CCM ‘s position in 2010. Instinct tells me this is overly optimistic and that the final outcome will have Magufuli enjoying support in the mid-50s. Even so, opposition strategists are conceding privately that the gap is now unbridgeable for their candidate, former prime minister Edward Lowassa. Inevitably, this dawning awareness has been accompanied by claims of electoral manipulation, most particularly on the islands of Zanzibar (on which matter I will write separately). So far, so predictable.

In truth, the fashionable international media narrative about this election representing a genuine threat to CCM’s hegemony was never very convincing. Mainly because of the characters of the two leading candidates.

The CCM surprised almost every observer when it elected the little known Magufuli as its presidential candidate. But the party has form in choosing unexpected candidates and this one was particularly smart. While previously low profile, Magufuli is respected by many ordinary Tanzanians as hard-working and untainted by corruption. His campaign slogan of ‘hapa kazi tu’ (roughly translated as ‘here, just work’) played well to his reputational strength. As a result of his election, long-serving CCM member and the party’s prime minister until 2008, Lowassa, defected to the opposition Chama Cha Democrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA – Party of Democracy and Development). He was almost immediately anointed as Chadema’s presidential candidate – a surprising move for a party that wears democracy on its sleeve, and one which led to the resignations of senior party figures, including the man who had expected to win the nomination, former candidate Wilbrod Slaa. Not a promising start.

Furthermore, Lowassa’s resignation as prime minister in 2008 came amid corruption allegations relating to energy contracts. While he has not been convicted of any wrong-doing, Lowassa has never quite managed to shake off the negative connotations of the so-called Richmond affair. Given that a commitment to anti-corruption was previously Chadema’s strongest opposition suit, Lowassa was a puzzling choice of candidate and one that I believe it will come heartily to regret. Having kicked the campaigning ladder from beneath itself, Chadema and its partners in the UKAWA coalition (Umoja ya Katiba ya Wananchi -Union for a People’s Constitution) were forced to rely on their man’s star-quality and, in particular, his somewhat surprising youth appeal (Lowassa is 62). It seems likely to prove too narrow a strategy.

True, Edward Lowassa can pack out a stadium, command media attention and elicit yelps of appreciation from youths desperate for change and economic opportunity. But the popular slogan for change ‘Miaka 54 inatosha’ (’54 years – of CCM – is enough’) lacked broader resonance since Lowassa had been part of CCM for 38 of those years. And, while Lowassa was whipping up the crowds, Magufuli was quietly living up to his reputation, by working hard. He travelled the country extensively, largely by road in the early stages of the campaign, visiting village after village and engaging with voters one-to-one, displaying a humility that talks to the hard-working, predominantly peaceful and quietly optimistic people of rural Tanzania.

It is a strategy that looks set to have paid dividends for CCM and Magufuli and, I dare say, for the country as a whole. Magufuli looks like he will grow into a solid, positive force for change in Tanzania: ironic, as the opposition sought to portray him as the status quo, establishment candidate. Wiser heads saw through this and may well have prevailed. The younger, impatient heads will get another chance in 2020, but many of them will have grown up by then.

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