Dar es Salaam. How would Kingunge Ngombale-Mwiru (‘Kingunge’) react to the decision by former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa to abandon the main political opposition Chadema and rejoin the ruling ‘Chama cha Mapinduzi’ (CCM)?
This was the question on people’s minds last week as they entered the debating hall of the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) to participate in a convention on the Life and Thoughts of Kingunge.
On March 1, 2019, Mr Lowassa returned to his earlier political party CCM, three years after he had defected to Chadema when CCM denied him the opportunity to contest for the Presidency on its ticket in the 2015 elections.
Prominent among the members who also abandoned CCM in solidarity with Lowassa was its veteran cadre, ‘Mzee Kingunge.’
CCM has lost its breath; it has nothing new, substantive, and should pave the way for a new generation, Kingunge reportedly said at a rally in Arusha on October 3, 2015.
During the Costech Convention – which was organised by the Nyerere Resource Centre (NRC), and was attended by people from different walks of life – no one had an answer to the question regarding the late Marxist thinker’s possible reaction to Lowassa’s latest ‘defection.’
An architect of historic stature
Kingunge was a leader in all the four earlier administrations, and had popular following among his compatriots.
He was deeply immersed in Marxist ideology and scientific socialism. He was so sagacious in these issues that CCM entrusted him with the drafting of policy documents, including the ‘Mwongozo wa Tanu’ (1971), and ‘Mwongozo wa CCM’ (1981).
The ‘Mkuki na Nyota Publishers Ltd’ managing director, Walter Bgoya, expresses disappointment with people who portray Kingunge as a poor Swahilian talented in verbosity.
This is a wrong perception, according to Bgoya who argues that Kingunge’s statements are always founded on deep understanding of history – and that he had the ability to explain the social systems behind historical events in a simple and comprehensible way.
“A Marxist to the core, (Kingunge) had a critical outlook of the world around him,” said Bgoya who was the chief guest at the Costech Convention, which also saw to the launching of a book detailing a conversation between Kingunge and the NCR director, Prof Issa Shivji.
As he recalls, Bgoya’s last conversation with Kingunge – whom he considers second only to Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (1922-1999) in upholding the socialist ideology – took place just before Kingunge abandoned CCM for a coalition of opposition parties in favour of a new Constitution, ‘Ukawa.’
When Bgoya inquired why he wanted to take such a drastic decision, Kingunge said he hates seeing people unjustly treated – and believed that CCM didn’t do justice to Lowassa by not allowing him to contest for the presidency.
This reply dismayed Bgoya.
“I reminded him that he was a high-echelon CCM member and [how come he] had never seen that happen in the party,” said Bgoya. “What was the real force behind such a decision – and to what extent did his commitment to revolutionary principles contribute in making it?”
Kingunge the confidante
Many consider Kingunge as one of the few internationalists who had ever lived in Tanzania – and looked at his motherland from an international perspective. No wonder this contributed to his thinking and the ability to bluntly speak his mind without fear of the consequences.
This made him the confidante of many people – including a notable former prime minister, Joseph Warioba, who told the Convention how Kingunge used to help him during his tenure as premier.
“Mzee Kingunge was among the very few people with whom I would seek an audience, sitting together with him and his close colleagues for hours of talks. This helped me a lot. I trusted them, as they would always say what they truly believed in.”
Some of the conversations took place at the home of the University of Dar es Salaam’s Prof Martha Qorro, lasting till dawn.
Product of liberation movements
This characteristic of speaking one’s mind is largely lacking in Tanzanian politics, according to Jenerali Ulimwengu, board chairman of the Raia Mwema newspaper, and an advocate of the High Court of Tanzania.
He described Kingunge as a product of various activist movements which were taking place simultaneously in various African, Asian and Latin American countries fighting for political liberation in earlier days.
During that time – from the 1960s to the 1980s – Dar es Salaam was considered the ‘Mecca’ for liberation movements whose leaders visited the nation’s capital city of the day on ‘political pilgrimage.’
According to Mr Ulimwengu, most ‘political leaders’ today are not worth that epithet!
“You never hear a politician say that: ‘on this particular issue, this is what I believe in’ – and another politician coming forward to contradict that, saying ‘I oppose you!’ This has been the vacuity in Tanzanian politics ever since,” he lamented.
Kingunge was different, Ulimwengu argued – if only because he did say what he agreed with, and what he didn’t!
Did Kingunge ‘return’ to CCM?
On January 6, 2018, President John Magufuli visited Kingunge at the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) in Dar es Salaam where he was receiving treatment for wounds inflicted upon him by his dogs at his residence.
As the Sisters of Fate would have it, the man succumbed to his injuries on February 2, 2018!
During that visit, Kingunge was heard telling President Magufuli that he (Kingunge) was not superior to the ruling party (CCM).
Many interpreted this to mean Kingunge had rejoined the CCM he abandoned about two years earlier.
That interpretation – true or false – remains unchallenged.
Indeed, when Kingunge’s brother-in-law, Prof Hamudi Majamba – an Associate Law Professor at the University of Dar es Salaam – confronted Kingunge on the issue before this death, Kingunge simply said that it is his custom to talk like a philosopher.
This, he explained, “forces people to think” – adding that, by his pithy statement, he meant that there are rules and procedures guiding the selection of an election candidate for all political positions. However, he still thought that these were abused in reaching the decision to deny Lowassa the opportunity to contest the Presidency in the 2015 elections.
“What they did then was not in line with the rules and procedures established [within CCM],” Prof Majamba said, quoting Mzee Kingunge. “So I decided to remove myself so that the party would continue to exist.”
A victim of his own fame
Bgoya described Mzee Kingunge as a victim of his own fame – and wonders what Tanzania would have been like had there been some fifty people with the education, bravery and experience matching that of the veteran ideologue, Kingunge.
According to Bgoya, Kingunge Ngombale-Mwiru (May 30, 1930-February 2, 2018) grew up amid tales of the Maji Maji War between Tanganyikans and German colonials (July 1905–July 1907). Apparently, this partly contributed to his attitude to the world.
“In his entire life, he remained a Marxist revolutionary, unshaken by the changing times,” said Bgoya.
“In the era of neo-liberal order and globalisation, it serves as a weapon for us to have people like Mzee Kingunge whom we can look up to for inspiration and motivation.”
‘Our’ Kingunge died before the writing of his biography had started. But Bgoya, a publisher, assured the Convention that the work of collecting his writings and completing the biography is under way.