Dar es Salaam. The ups and downs in the opposition coalition show no sign of coming to an end, and it appears to be Prof Ibrahim Lipumba’s turn in the spotlight this time around. The Civic United Front (CUF) boss, it seems, has left his supporters in the dark over claims that he is considering stepping down as the party’s national chairman.
The party headquarters in Dar es Salaam went silent yesterday after Prof Lipumba abruptly called off a press conference where he was expected to shed light on the matter.
Scores of apprehensive supporters invaded the offices in Buguruni demanding that Prof Lipumba addresses them through the media to clear the air over his fate. But he was locked up in a day-long meeting with a group of elders. It was not immediately clear what the agenda of the meeting was and there was no official word from Prof Lipumba himself or those close to him on what he wanted to speak about earlier.
CUF’s deputy secretary general, Ms Magdalena Sakaya, told reporters that Prof Lipumba postponed the press conference after members stormed his office and demanded an explanation over media reports that he had resigned.
“As you can see, our supporters are camped outside and the chairman is in a meeting with some of them and some leaders,” she told journalists who had waited for nearly two hours. “He has sent me here to apologise that he can’t hold the planned press conference today.”
Singing and dancing, some supporters who spoke to The Citizen said they were there following reports in a section of the media—mainly Uhuru which is owned by CCM—that Prof Lipumba had differed with his colleagues and stepped down.
“I was shocked by the reports and won’t leave here until I hear from Prof Lipumba himself,” said Mr Saidi Athuman, who had been at the party’s headquarters since early in the day.
Prof Lipumba would later attempt to calm the crowd with a two-minute address before returning to the meeting. His short response only fuelled further speculation, though.
After he emerged in the company of Sheikh Rajab Katimba, he said: “In 1995, I vied for the presidency when I wasn’t even CUF’s chairman and I have worked to build the party when I wasn’t even its party leader. It isn’t the work of the party leader to build the party. It is everyone’s responsibility.”
The developments in CUF suggest a new uncertainty over the party’s place in the opposition coalition popularly known as Ukawa, given that the member parties promise a united front against CCM in October.
It remains to be seen if, indeed, Prof Lipumba will quit as CUF leader, a move that would not only jeopardise CUF’s unity but also that of Ukawa, whose leaders are trying hard to galvanise their supporters to embrace unity as the surest way to unseat CCM.
CUF’s other partner in Ukawa, Chadema, is still licking its wounds, given that its long serving secretary general, Dr Willibrod Slaa, will not be part of its arsenal in the campaigns this year. Dr Slaa, according to Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe, is on a sabbatical leave after he objected to the decision to welcome aboard former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, who defected from CCM.
Mr Lowassa, who moved to the opposition after he failed to secure the CCM ticket for the presidency, has already been installed as Chadema’s presidential candidate. He vowed at his coronation that he would defeat his former party’s candidate, Dr John Magufuli.
Dr Slaa is said to have been unhappy about the move to endorse Mr Lowassa as Chadema’s presidential candidate and, by extension, the flagbearer of the opposition coalition for the Union presidency. He has since gone underground and has not spoken in public on his fate in Chadema and in the wider political scene.
Prof Lipumba’s position is puzzling, though. Until now, he had shown no sign of opposing Ukawa’s decision to embrace the former PM and, unlike Dr Slaa, participated actively in the initial stages of wooing Mr Lowassa. Why he would step down as CUF leader now is a matter of intense speculation.
Prof Lipumba was among Ukawa leaders who attended nearly all Chadema meetings and those held jointly with NCCR-Mageuzi and the National League for Democracy--the other Ukawa partners—to set the stage for the former PM’s move.
He was among Ukawa leaders who hosted a press conference to welcome Mr Lowassa to the opposition coalition and also addressed Chadema supporters during the unveiling of Mr Lowassa as Chadema’s newest and highly prized member. He was absent only on Tuesday, when Mr Lowassa and CUF Vice Chairman Juma Duni Haji were declared president and running mate respectively. CUF Secretary General Seif Shariff Hamad attended the meeting in Dar es Salaam and conveyed his party’s blessings for the joint ticket.
Interestingly, speculation that Prof Lipumba had resigned emerged a day before the Chadema National Convention meeting.
According to one of the top CUF officials, Mr Ismail Jussa, Prof Lipumba was still the party’s chairman as of yesterday because he had not handed in a resignation letter. Mr Jussa added: “That is just CCM propaganda. As the secretary general (Maalim Seif) said on Tuesday, Prof Lipumba hasn’t said otherwise.”
When asked why CUF cancelled yesterday’s press conference, Mr Jussa responded: “I don’t know even why the press conference was called, so I can’t tell you why it was cancelled.”
There were unconfirmed reports that Prof Lipumba had declined Mr Juma Duni Haji’s exit but Mr Hamad denied the reports on Tuesday.
Mr Haji crossed over to Chadema from CUF on Monday so he could be Mr Lowassa’s running mate. Election regulations require that both the presidential candidate and his/her running mate come from the same party.