Arusha. For Kenya, the main trading partner with Tanzania, there are two presidential candidates who appear to matter most in Sunday’s historic polls among a list of eight who are in the race.
These are Mr Edward Ngoyai Lowassa, 62, the no-nonsense former prime minister and long serving cabinet minister who is aspiring for the presidency on the ticket of Ukawa, a coalition of four opposition parties, and Dr John Pombe Magufuli, 58, the flag bearer for the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
There are six other candidates from opposition parties which declined to join the Ukawa coalition but the writing has been on the wall for months now that either Mr Lowassa or Dr Magufuli is set to become the fifth president of the United Republic of Tanzania.
Mr Lowassa, an outspoken lawmaker from Monduli in Arusha Region for the past 20 years, has drawn multitudes of crowds across the vast Tanzania since the election campaigns began over two months as has been his close competitor Dr Magufuli from Chato District in northwest Tanzania.
But the former PM could be a surprising factor to this year’s polls in Tanzania, the fifth since the restoration of multi-party politics in 1992. Since the 1980s, though, he has been an influential figure and later leader in various ranks of the ruling CCM, the country’s independence party.
His arch-rivals in the inner circle of the political party, which has dominated Tanzanian politics for over five decades, may have miscalculated when they deleted his name from the list of 38 aspirants who vied for nominations for the presidential race on the party’s ticket.
The former prime minister (2005-2008), who was forced to resign because of a corruption scandal over the emergency power supply deal that went sour, had been expected to be one of the potential candidates to fly CCM’s flag in the presidential race this year.
That was not to be on July 11 in Dodoma during the party’s congress. Apparently, this led to grumblings among some senior officials within the ruling party over the way the nominations were conducted. Subsequently, CCM was rocked by major defections, some of which were not expected. A while later, Mr Lowassa himself crossed over to the opposition.
The towering, grey-haired politician, attracted even bigger crowds than he did when he was still in the ruling party only a few months ago as he traversed the country campaigning.
Mr Lowassa is no stranger to Kenyans. As a minister for Livestock Development, and even prior to that, he convinced the government to allow the traditional livestock herders in northern Tanzania to sell their livestock directly to markets in Kenya.
This would allow the herders to maximize earnings from their animals as well as purchase necessary veterinary drugs and agricultural inputs from the neighbouring country. His Monduli , Longido and Ngorongoro constituencies in Arusha Region share a long border with Kenya.
But Mr Lowassa is not one to take for granted and does not fear the troubled waters in the world of politics. As the minister for Water (2000 to 2005), he told the Egyptian government point blank that they have no exclusive rights over the Nile River water than upstream states like Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
He later initiated a multi-million dollar water supply project from Lake Victoria to the drought-prone Shinyanga, Geita and Mwanza regions northwest of Tanzania. Ever since, Egypt, has softened its hardline stance on exclusive rights over the Nile Basin waters, specifically Lake Victoria.
During his campaign meetings, the former PM has reiterated his past calls that he would like to see trade within East Africa, especially between Tanzania and Kenya, enhanced to a higher level. He promised during his recent visit to the Namanga border town that he would remove all bottlenecks which hinder economic cooperation between the two states once elected president.
He would react harshly when Tanzania’s interests are violated and would not risk putting diplomacy aside in order to save the face of the country.
Even after he was forced out of the cabinet in February 2008, he continued to be the chairman of the powerful Defence and Security Committee of the recently-disbanded Parliament.
At one time during the height of the spat between Tanzania and Malawi over Lake Nyasa, he was explicit on the country’s security concerns.
Dr Magufuli is no push-over in Tanzanian politics. He has been in the cabinet since 2000 and prior to that (1995) a deputy minister. For most of those years, he has been in charge of the Infrastructure docket, specifically the road sector.
The former chemistry teacher-turned-politician is also a no-nonsense leader and that may account for his successful steering of the vast country out of the poor roads of the 1980s and 1990s to some of the best transport networks in the region.
Unlike Mr Lowassa, he has not been a member of the inner circle of the ruling CCM but has attracted the attention of the Tanzanians for the way he would deal with contractors involved in shoddy construction projects.
A few years ago, he ordered a 6-km dual-carriage road in Dar es Salaam which had been completed by a Chinese company to be re-done because of the poor workmanship in the first phase.
The infrastructure docket has influenced him so much that his critics have claimed his campaign meetings have hinged excessively on the roads sector than other key basic needs of the people such as medical services, education, water supply and food.
It was during his long tenure in the Works docket that Dr Magufuli, who hails from the southwestern shores of Lake Victoria, came face to face with veteran Kenyan politician Raila Odinga who was once the minister responsible for Roads in the neighbouring country.
The two may have rubbed shoulders during events coordinated by the East African Community (EAC) because under the Community there is the East African Road Project (EARP) aimed to link the entire region with paved roads. But this had been more likely during bilateral talks between the two countries.
There had been apprehension in Nairobi’s diplomatic circles that if elected Tanzania’s president, Dr Magufuli would work closely with the Cord leader, and immediate former PM for Kenya, than the Jubilee government of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
But outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete, during his recent state visit to Kenya, downplayed this saying the friendship between Mr Odinga and the CCM presidential candidate was personal and that Tanzania would continue with the normal government-to-government relations with Jubilee now in charge in Nairobi.
The concerns in Kenya also brought to light assertions that Tanzanians have generally supported Mr Odinga in his struggles for presidency since the 1990s, given the relations of his socialist-leaning father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga with Tanzanian leaders since the 1960s and even before.
Kikwete, himself, cultivated a close relationship with Mr Kalonzo Musyoka when both of them were ministers for Foreign Affairs in their respective countries. The docket for both countries was also responsible for EAC Affairs before a directive for each partner state to establish a ministry responsible for EAC.
Recently, Mr Musyoka released his helicopter to be used in the CCM campaign meetings in Tanzania. Unfortunately, it crashed on October 14th during a flight from Dar es Salaam to Njombe Region on the shores of Lake Nyasa, killing outgoing MP Deo Filikunjombe who was seeking re-election and three other people. It was one of the several choppers hired from Nairobi and South Africa by competing politicians to traverse the huge territory that is Tanzania, whose size is almost twice that of Kenya.
The helicopter business has particularly boomed this season following the popularization of the transport mode in the 2010 elections by Chadema. CCM, facing a daunting task to defend its turf this election cycle, has plunged into the field and used its financial muscle to bring in more than five choppers for its campaigns, most of them hired from Nairobi.