Dar es Salaam. When Prof Ibrahim Lipumba announced his decision to quit politics ahead of the 2015 General Election, many would agree back then that it was the right thing to do for the revered economist-cum-politician.
He had differed with colleagues in his own party, Civic United Front (CUF), and the opposition in general over the Lowassa factor in the shaky Ukawa project.
He did what any ‘gentleman’ would do under the circumstances.
In resigning from the chairmanship position, Prof Lipumba cited his own personal ineffectiveness when he talked about “seeming to be a hindrance to progress” in his party, and admitted that although he had participated in the discussions that helped former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa to join Chadema, he still carried a “troubled conscience” because that decision had let in people who could not defend what Ukawa – the opposition coalition – stood for.
From some quarters though, Opposition supporters took his decision as the mark of duplicity and lack of seriousness because all the while Prof Lipumba had been perceived as a leading figure in the whole process of negotiation with Lowassa.
However, others saw the move by the professor as the culmination of long simmering tensions between him and his then more powerful secretary-general, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad.
Ironically, Lipumba’s resignation didn’t do CUF any harm in the October polls. The party went on to record its all-time best performance after grabbing 10 parliamentary seats in Tanzania Mainland.
Fast-forward June 13 2016, the ‘CCM-hand’ conspiracy theory was to resurface when the professor made a surprise somersault by announcing that he had decided to withdraw his resignation letter to assume the CUF chairmanship again.
To many, that sounded like not only an irrational move by the learned opposition politician, but also an impossible mission considering what his critics naively thought were the ‘obvious obstacles’.
But like a phoenix, he dramatically made his way back, much to the chagrin and shock of his rivals and a nation that had ruled him out – and this is all thanks to a clause in the opposition party’s constitution that the learned professor apparently jumped on to in his bid to breathe new life into his political life.
What followed over the next three years was a bitter tussle for the leadership of the troubled party.
The twists and turns came to a grinding halt on Monday when his rival – Mr Hamad – threw in the towel and decided to join the Zitto Kabwe led ACT-Wazalendo.
That was after the High Court ruled in Prof Lipumba’s favour on Monday in a case in which the Hamad camp was challenging his chairmanship.
In his ruling, High Court Judge Benhajj Masoud noted that Prof Lipumba remains the bona fide CUF chairman, and that Mr Hamad had no authority to challenge the decision of the Registrar of Political Parties to recognise the former’s chairmanship. The ruling served as the final whistle in the protracted leadership tussle pitting the two opposition heavyweights.
Reacting to his rival’s decision to join ACT-Wazalendo, Prof Lipumba had no kind words for his friend-turned foe. “We had kicked him out anyway,” he said.
He described the move as “opportunistic and adventurous” – interestingly because when Prof Lipumba launched his comeback bid in 2016, many pundits fell short of describing it as a leap that borders on the adventure.
One of the gross political miscalculations that might have cost his rivals is that of dismissing and undermining the learned professor’s somehow comic moves.
With hindsight, it was a well-orchestrated plan – and his rivals have nobody but themselves to blame for paving the way for the shock comeback of the man they thought was down and out. When he decided to withdraw his resignation, he knew, apparently, of the technicality advantage he had in the party’s constitution.
The CUF leadership, its elective national congress, did not meet to officially approve Prof Lipumba’s resignation until he resurfaced on June 8, 2016 to announce that he had withdrawn his first letter.
Interestingly, in a ruling that gave the professor a major boost in his bid for the CUF chairmanship, the Registrar of Political Parties, Judge Francis Mutungi, also cited the CUF constitution itself in confirming that the learned politician was still chairman of the party after he withdrew his resignation.
No legal restriction
Judge Mutungi said the CUF constitution is silent on whether or not a leader can cancel his or her resignation, therefore, Prof Lipumba had no legal restriction from withdrawing his first letter.
“The CUF leadership should blame itself for organising a national congress after receiving Prof Lipumba’s second letter and deliberating on a resignation letter, which was technically no longer existing,” reads part of the Registrar’s letter.
What followed after this was a series of desperate attempts at reversing the Registrar’s ruling. The High Court did the final straw in upholding the Registrar’s decision.
And now, only posterity will tell whether or not it will be cold out there for Mr Hamad.
Apparently, the professor has won this round. He’s simply picking up from where he left.