Dar es Salaam. The publicly exchange of barbs between leaders of the country’s two opposition parties--Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo--have cast a shadow over the prospects of the most touted coalition ahead of the 2020 General Election.
Tension is ripe between members and followers of the two parties following the controversial step taken by ACT-Wazalendo to criticise Chadema for its decision to accept government invitation to attend this year’s Independence Day celebrations, an invitation the former had declined.
ACT-Wazalendo argued that there was no independence to celebrate in an environment where people are denied their basic freedoms as well as organisations such as political parties and civil societies deprived of their constitutional rights to freely operate in the country.
The disagreement between the parties was further intensified by the decision by Chadema to appeal to the government to open doors for national reconciliation, a call made by party’s chairman Freeman Mbowe during the Independence Day fete, a step, ACT-Wazalendo considered a betrayal of the opposition’s cause.
According to ACT-Wazalendo, any effort to seek reconciliation now is a “flop,” considering how the balance of power between the Opposition and the government has been skewed. They think that any such move entered is most likely to benefit the ruling CCM because there is where the power is leaning.
An expression of love, solidarity
But Chadema thinks otherwise though. Speaking in his remarks during the 58th independence celebrations, Mr Mbowe said: “I have attended this year’s ceremony out of the necessity to show that the country needs reconciliation, love and solidarity. I pray to God that doors are opened for love and harmony, challenge each other and give space to democracy and allow love and prosperity to flourish.”
It was neither shocking nor surprising to see people giving mixed reactions to Mr Mbowe’s statement given what some analysts and opposition politicians explain as diminishing civic space and undermining people’s freedoms and fundamental rights, claims the government has repeatedly termed as unfounded.
While some commended it, others criticised the move, with some accusing Chadema with “Stockholm Syndrome,” in the words of legal and political commentator Fatma Karume.
Of the latter include the criticism from ACT-Wazalendo party leader Zitto Kabwe, a man who has been for quite sometimes now touting the idea of forming a United Democratic Front (DeFront) to remove CCM from power.
“The politics of Tanganyika need to be radicalised,” argued Mr Kabwe, who likened, what he called Mr Mbowe’s compromise, to that of former Mozambican revolutionary Samora Machel of entering into agreement with apartheid South Africa – the Nkomati Accord – amidst criticism from his fellow African leaders whose results were disastrous to the independence cause for black South Africans.
“Just imagine the hundreds of thousands of our candidates were locked out in the local government elections and a thousand more we asked to withdraw. [How would they feel] seeing us, their leaders, paraded to seek reconciliation from the chairman of CCM [President Magufuli],” said Mr Kabwe in a Twitter post.
‘Calm down a little bit’
The reaction from Chadema was likewise swift and bold. Although Mr Mbowe has so far said nothing in response to Mr Kabwe’s criticism, this does not mean however that Chadema’s members and followers have brushed this criticism off. Arusha Urban MP (Chadema), and the newly-elected party chairperson for Arusha Region Mr Godbless Lema advised Mr Kabwe in a tweet to “calm down a little bit” .
Mr Yericko Nyerere, author and Chadema activist, advised Mr Kabwe to stop what he called “provocation,” telling ACT-Wazalendo party to “forget to ride on the back of petty coalition,” calling for each party – Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo – to follow their own independent path and “meet in 2020.”
This development has led people like Dr Paul Luisulie, a political analyst from the University of Dodoma, to suspect that there won’t be any Opposition coalition, given the public brawling of the two parties that stand a greater chance to lead the alliance.
“Personally, I do not have any hope for the coalition. First, because the parties failed to unite in the local government elections, something that would convince people that more cooperation is possible and coming. But, secondly, this war of words now between Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo,” said Dr Luisulie.
With the rise of mistrust between the parties, adds the political scientist, “the fate of coalition remains as contested as ever. It is important that the parties find what brings them together and capitalise on that if they are really committed to forming a coalition.”
Coalition is the way
Both ACT-Wazalendo and Chadema told The Citizen in separate interviews that the disagreement does not in any way affect the prospect for a coalition that would confront the ruling CCM in 2020 general election.
“Yes, I do. The coalition is the way to go. Disagreements are part of democracy,” responded Mr Kabwe to a question if he still has any hope for a coalition for the 2020 polls. “The disagreement is not on fundamental issues [but] different of opinion [on whether or not to participate] in Uhuru Day celebration.”
Chadema secretary-general Dr Vincent Mashinji told The Citizen that people should not be worried about the prospect of the coalition, reiterating Mr Kabwe’s point that what happened was not a disagreement on fundamental issues but rather an approach on how to do things.
“And this is something to be expected given the difference in the parties’ ideological differences. It is a usual phenomenon between the parties whose approaches to dealing with various issues differ fundamentally,” he said.
Prof Gaudence Mpangala of the Ruaha Catholic University (Rucu) hopes that the disagreement between the parties does not grow to the extent of preventing them from uniting and take on CCM in the coming general election.
“In the coming days, the leaders from the respective political parties must engage with each other and see how they can resolve issues that make the prospect for coalition unlikely,” he told The Citizen on Friday.
“Only coalition can make them the serious contender in the coming general elections and the more they quarrel among themselves the more people grow suspicious of them and distance from their cause,” adds Prof Mpangala.
“They need to face the people while they are united, not divided, and only then the people will see them committed to not only improve their lot but also improve the country’s democratic mechanisms.”