Dar es Salaam. So, where is Dr Willibrod Slaa? This is the question that has been top on the minds of political pundits since the news of the defection of former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa to Chadema on Monday.
Dr Slaa, one of the leading lights in the main opposition party, has skipped two crucial back-to-back meetings to welcome Mr Lowassa to Chadema.
The Chadema secretary-general did not appear at meetings on Monday when top leaders of the opposition coalition Ukawa formally opened its doors to the former PM and also on Tuesday evening, when Mr Lowassa went public with his move to Chadema despite his central party position.
The last time Dr Slaa was seen in public was in leaked photos showing members of his party’s Central Committee meeting with Mr Lowassa on Sunday night at Bahari Beach Hotel in Dar es Salaam. His mobile phone has been switched off since.
Matters got more complicated yesterday with the absence of Dr Slaa as the party officials announced that Mr Lowassa would be collecting Chadema nomination forms for the presidency at a pulicised event today.
His absence has set tongues wagging, with growing speculation as to whether he agreed with his counterparts on the monumental political decision to embrace Mr Lowassa as one of their own despite the huge ideological differences between them in over 20 years of multi-party politics.
That the secretary general of the main opposition party was missing during such a high profile function remains the subject of much speculation, with rival groups on social media taunting each other over the no-show.
The public will be keenly watching today to see if Dr Slaa will join the celebrations to present Mr Lowassa with the nomination form that will set him free to run for the presidency on a Chadema ticket and, by extension, the Ukawa bus.
Mr Lowassa is looking to rev up his interest in running for the top office after his CCM attempt came undone early, leading to his defection in protest at the treatment he received in the ruling party.
He is expected to occupy what many believed would be Dr Slaa’s ticket for the taking. He ran for the presidency on a Chadema ticket in 2010 and came second to President Jakaya Kikwete with 27 per cent of the vote. His campaign was irnocially built around fighting corruption for which Mr Lowassa received a fare blame from the opposition.
The same could be said of his mainland deputy secretary general, Mr John Mnyika, who has also not graced the party functions lately. The two officials have also gone quiet on social media and several of “their” Twitter and Facebook accounts are believed to be fake.
However, Chadema officials are downplaying Dr Slaa’s no-show.
They told The Citizen yesterday that their secretary general was engaged with party affairs elswhere.
The party’s deputy secretary general for Zanzibar, Mr Salum Mwalimu, told The Citizen the media were trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Said Mr Mwalimu: “I don’t know why people are even asking this question. This is election season. We are very busy and we can’t all be in one place all the time. Dr Slaa is very much with the party and he is working on other pressing matters.” Dr Slaa was not the only one missing at the Lowassa ceremony on Tuesday. Outgoing Opposition Chief Whip Tundu Lissu and outgoing Ubungo MP John Mnyika were also absent.
“Some even said Mr Lissu had ditched Chadema but he is here with us today,” said Mr Mwalimu. According to Mr Lissu, only the few individuals in Chadema who did not recognise Mr Lowassa’s potential would quit--and he is not one of them.
“Lowassa is going to be our presidential contender,” he said. “This will become apparent tomorrow (today), when he picks up the forms.”