Dar es Salaam. Newly-installed CCM secretary general, Dr Bashiru Ally stirred the hornet’s nest by publicly summoning to his office former high-flying Foreign Affairs minister Bernard Membe.
The move by Dr Bashiru, an academician plucked from the University of Dar es Salaam to head the ruling party’s secretariat, came as a political bombshell to many people.
A reported retort by Membe to the summons, via twitter, in which he questioned Dr Bashiru’s grasp of the party’s internal rules, added a twist to what has now metamorphosed into a full-fledged political war on social media.
Membe was reported to have questioned why it was him and not those who had made the allegations for which he was being blamed.
The exchange between the two, according to political analysts, exposes fissures in CCM and perhaps brings to the fore underground infighting between factions that can be traced back to the 2015 General Election. It also suggest the rival camps may be out to size out or outwit each other.
In his summons, Mr Bashiru insinuated that he wanted to speak to Membe about a reported plot to challenge President John Magufuli in the 2020 General Election. “I want him to come and tell me about what I have heard about him running a campaign to undermine the President,” said Dr Bashiru while addressing CCM members in Geita on Friday.
The SG’s public link of Membe to the plot against Magufuli bespoke of the simmering disquiet in the party, portraying a level of desperation of a team that may be unsettled or not fully in command.
The attack on Membe is also interesting because the former long serving Mtama MP and spy operative has kept a studious silence after losing the CCM race for presidency to Dr Magufuli in 2015. He has largely spent his time outside the country on private business.
Membe’s next course of action, even as he welcomed the summons, will be of keen interest to political pundits. So far, other than the allegations, he has said nothing to suggest he would be challenging President Magufuli for the CCM ticket in 2020. CCM has an unwritten tradition that the sitting president is allowed a run for the second term, the reason why Dr Bashiru’s claims are not only interesting but a telltale sign of what may be expected as CCM heads towards the 2019 local government elections, and ultimately the General Election, a year later.
Several analysts view the Bashiru-Membe tiff as either a normal intra-party struggle or an outright power grab scenario.
Some have interpreted it as a sign of a “high-level of insecurity and frustration within CCM,” in the words of Dr Aikande Kwayu, an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Wisconsin.
This “insecurity and paranoia” is vivid in certain circles of the ruling party, Dr Kwayu believes. She even related it to the now common dichotomy of the ruling party involving “new CCM” associated with President Magufuli, the party’s national chairman and the “old CCM”—the establishment-- where Mr Membe seems to be part of.
“But the threats have been counterproductive,” thinks Dr Kwayu. “This is because, if anything, I think [Dr Ally] has provided Membe with a platform or space to gain political mileage.”
A senior lecturer at the Ruaha University College, Prof Gaudence Mpangala says Dr Bashiru was not a mere noisemaker but one playing a key role as that of “a frontline commando during a warfare.”
He is convinced that Dr Bashiru had the support of the top party leadership. “The purpose is clear, the President wouldn’t like to see anyone with the intention of challenging his second term succeed.”
Prof Mpangala thinks that President Magufuli is worried about the fracture currently manifesting in his party. “He has to put in front people who will defend his aspiration,” Prof Mpangala offers.
Dr Bashiru’s public reprimand of Mr Membe comes amidst the showering of praise on former PM Edward Lowassa from unlikely quarters -- by President Magufuli and Dr Bashiru.
Prof Mpangala says the Lowassa praise is part of the bigger plot to weaken the opposition further. “It is very possible that they are luring him into changing course and go back to CCM. He’s definitely perceived as threat to Magufuli if he chooses to stand for the presidency in 2020.”
It will also serve their interests well because Mr Lowassa and Membe are political rivals, who accuse each other of having played a part in their respective failure to win CCM backing for presidency in 2015.
A political analyst from the University of Dodoma, Dr Paul Luisulie considers the latest CCM tiff a sign that it will not brook any divisions. He, however, warns of possible dangers of stifling dissent.
“Sabotage is the major consequence of divisions. You’ll have people within the party who don’t share its vision and who will even leak out some secrets to opponents.”
Dr Ezavel Lwaitama, a Josia Kibira University College lecturer, says that he doesn’t buy into the idea that Dr Bashiru was specifically targeting his message on Mr Membe. If that would have been the case, he argues, he could have simply whispered it to him.
Dr Lwaitama a declared opposition supporter, Dr Bashiru was merely warning all others with intent of opposing Magufuli.
“Personally I see it as a good thing worth to be emulated by the opposition parties.” He said the SG knew that without unity CCM may lose in 2020.
“Bashiru is building his party more than destroying it,” says Dr Lwaitama. “[CCM] is afraid of democracy, so it has chosen to waste our time.”