Fierce attacks on government: Is this Lipumba’s new game plan?

Cuf chairman Prof Ibrahim Lipumba during a recent press conference. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

The Cuf leader who has been viewed as dearest of those in power has unimaginably attacked them allegedly for suppressing democracy.

Dar es Salaam. The latest remarks by CUF national chairman Ibrahim Lipumba have left some observers of Tanzania’s political development pondering if the economics professor has launched a strategy to regain his lost ground after almost four years of tumult within the once leading opposition party which in some way is said to have discredited his persona.

Prof Lipumba has so far held two press conferences in which he decried, in strong words, the manner with which authorities have organised the upcoming local government elections, using the events to comment on numerous national issues.

He has made hard-hitting remarks against the government, accusing it of undermining democracy and making the lives of ordinary citizens miserable.

In a way that has set the sceptics’ tongues wagging. The CUF presidential candidate in the 2005 elections, who only a few months ago was seen in good terms with the government and its institutions, like the Office of Registrar of Political Party during a tug of war between him and former CUF Secretary General Seif Sharif Hamad, have gone as far as taking on President John Magufuli himself in an unimaginable way.

“Those of us who were old enough to take part in the independence movement of this country know that never in its entire history as a nation Tanzania has experienced a more thuggish election than this [civic elections],” Prof Lipumba recently said during a press conference at the party’s headquarters.

“What has happened is the abuse of power and the misappropriation of the public fund to benefit a single political party [the ruling CCM]. This is nothing but corruption. Those who perpetuate it cannot claim any moral authority to say they fight it in other areas,” he added.

He went as far as calling for a thorough investigation of the government, saying that the mishandling of the civic elections is just a tip of an iceberg of systematic corruption that has gripped the Magufuli administration.

He said: “If you use corrupt means to ensure your candidates skip competition in an election, it is clear that you will do the same in other areas [like] in the purchasing of the aeroplanes and other public spendings.”

In a subsequent press conference, Prof Lipumba said the “foolishly” locking out of CUF’s and other opposition parties’ candidates from the civic elections was a strategy by the government to undermine democracy.

He said: “It appears that there is a special operation [to kill political competition] and without any doubt – and I haven’t heard President [Magufuli] commenting on the issue – but it looks like during that meeting between him and the Ward Executive Directors (WEOs) this special operation was devised. It is easy to believe that is the case telling from the rudeness of the local authorities towards the directives issued by [local government] minister [Selemani Jaffo] as well as their treatment of the complaints by the opposition candidates.”

Pulling out of the local elections

The announcement itself that CUF was boycotting the elections struck many as extraordinary given the party’s recent history of taking part in the by-elections which were marred with several irregularities and boycotted by other opposition parties.

Beyond its participation in these controversial elections, CUF has also enjoyed relative freedom to perform its activities comparing to other opposition political parties in recent times, a claim the party denies by saying it has been through the same ordeal that the opposition has been subjected to in this country, according to its spokesperson Mr Abdul Kambaya.

Nevertheless, it is in public domain that CUF has been allowed to hold rallies when others were forbidden. The Lipumba’s faction in once beleaguered CUF was even provided with a subsidy by the Registrar amidst a conflict with its Hamad’s counterpart, Mr Lipumba and his United Democratic Party (UDP) national chairman counterpart Mr John Cheyo are the few opposition politicians who have been invited to attend – and even to speak at – State House functions. All these cast a heavy doubt over Mr Lipumba’s – and his party’s – commitment as opposition party able enough to hold the government to account.

Retired history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam Prof Abdul Sharif says that it is not surprising that CUF is taking its current course because it is convinced that is the only way through which it can gain back its former members and followers. “But [CUF] knows that the people are not going to support a politician whom they think acts as a puppet of the government or the ruling party.

To get them, CUF had to take a strong stance against the government,” says Prof Sharif.

The former director of the Peace Memorial Museum, the national museum of Zanzibar, says that the disintegration within CUF was a result of the government machinations which at the time of its instigation served the best interest of the ruling party.

Having accomplished what it wanted, he says, the ruling party saw no reasons to keep supporting Lipumba.

He mentions the decision by the Registrar of Political Parties, Mr Francis Mutungi to give Mr Lipumba’s faction subsidy despite his earlier announcement that the subsidy will not be released until the conflict was finished as one of the factors that made him think the State was involved in the conflict.

“It looks like he has been abandoned and he’s craving to regain credibility. There is that image that he is a puppet of the government and is determined to save his face as a true opposition politician,” says Prof Sharif. “Having his own candidates thrown out of the civic elections, he saw it meaningless to remain silent because that will prevent him to accomplish his initiative to build his party.”

Mr Kambaya, however, dismisses the views that Prof Lipumba and his faction within CUF were used to further the interests of the ruling party and the government as childish, saying that the conflict was strictly constitutional which the government had nothing to do with. He says: “From the way you know Prof Lipumba, do you think he is that hungry that he can allow himself to be used by the government or the ruling party to further their partisan interest? That is very childish.”

Building the party

The party building point raised by Prof Sharif is interesting because it is exactly what Prof Lipumba insinuated as the reasons behind his latest rebuke of the ways the Magufuli’s administration runs the country’s affairs.

In one occasion, Prof Lipumba told his party members and followers that now is not the time to give up, promising to take bold steps to strengthen the party even now that the task seems quite demanding.

He said: “When you build the party and make it stronger it helps to get your demands worked on. All party leaders will be taking part in a countrywide programme to build the party. We will face the people and explain to them the real political and economic situation that the country is going through.”

Dr Paul Luisulie, a political analyst from the University of Dodoma, says the latest developments indicate that Prof Lipumba has started to see things realistically. Contrary to Prof Sharif’s views that Prof Lipumba is acting the way he does after having been “abandoned,” Dr Luisulie thinks that the move was to be expected now that the conflict is over within CUF.

“No longer is the struggle between Lipumba and Hamad but rather between CUF and the ruling CCM. CUF has realised that if it continues with its earlier approach of being friendly to the government it will lose support and thus dies out. They had to choose enemy, which in itself is not an unusual thing in politics,” said Dr Luisulie. Mr Kambaya told The Citizen that being critical of the government is not a new phenomenon, calling it a deep-rooted practice in the culture of the party since its founding. Speaking on the people’s positive reaction of the latest remarks of Prof Lipumba, Mr Kambaya said: “I think it’s just a matter of understanding. If you have been paying attention, you will see that a massive vitriolic propaganda has been directed at Prof [Lipumba] which, unfortunately, some people have believed it and their thinking does not go beyond that.”He said the party is currently continuing with the party’s General Council meetings and some resolutions will be made after it concludes. “After the meeting, we will do as our chairperson has said, that we will, as a part of the strategy to build our party, go to the people and expose the weaknesses in the way the government has been running the country’s affairs. What happened was just the beginning.”