Will the real Opposition emerge under Magufuli’s presidency?

Zitto Kabwe is The Party Leader of ACT Wazalendo and MP for Kigoma Urban.

What you need to know:

  • He said: “..after you cut a snake’s head, it keeps lashing its tail. You may think it hasn’t died but it has.” This means he believes the recently announced countrywide protests by the leading opposition party, Chadema, are signs of a dying party.
  • He said: “Where are those parties? They are dead.”

When President Magufuli was addressing a political rally in Manyoni township, Singida Region on the 29th July 2016, he referred to opposition in Tanzania as a dying snake.

He said: “..after you cut a snake’s head, it keeps lashing its tail. You may think it hasn’t died but it has.” This means he believes the recently announced countrywide protests by the leading opposition party, Chadema, are signs of a dying party.

He said: “Where are those parties? They are dead.”

In the same rally, he dared Chadema to go to the streets and demonstrate. The president threatened in street Swahili “watakiona cha mtema kuni. Wasinijaribu. Sijaribiki meaning he isn’t testable and he will crash them heavily. Chadema announced a new operation called Ukuta, meaning an alliance against dictatorship.

The use of Swahili word ‘ Umoja ‘ which I translated here as an alliance is actually wrong since it was the decision of one party. Even parties under Ukawa are not part of Ukuta. How Chadema ended up picking the word Umoja is neither here nor there. President Magufuli may have interpreted it as a fall of Ukawa, thus the snake analogy.

Really threatening

The President is prone to threats. He enjoys it. In his coronation as the chairman of CCM, he raised eyebrows when he said had he been a CCM leader during CCM presidential primaries, he would have liquidated all CCM congress national executive members who were pro Edward Lowassa. The Commander in Chief of Armed Forces making such a remark is really threatening. If he can’t tolerate dissent within his own party what will he do to the opposition? The dead snake analogy leaves a lot to be desired.

For years, opposition activists and some political analysts have been predicting the end of CCM regime. In the last three General Elections, CCM popularity has dwindled from 80 per cent in the year 2005 to 61 per cent in 2010 and 58 per cent in 2015. The last election was a clear test of CCM ability to maintain power as many of its members left for opposition, including two Former Prime Ministers who are now in Chadema.

However, since election of Magufuli as President and eventually the head of CCM, the party seems to chart ways to survive. Will CCM survive? Will opposition thrive? These are the questions I try to put to the readers and political analysts who are seemingly muted.

CCM is an authoritarian party in all sense and purpose. It is a dominant single party with some ability to adapt. President Kikwete’s methods of adaptation were through opening up: allowing parliament to hold executive to account - he lost a prime minister following parliamentary work and reshuffled his cabinet thrice, strengthened National Audit Office and allowed free debate of CAG report of government accounts and did not hinder opposition parties to operate freely and organize. He faced criticism within CCM of being too liberal and later the opposition called him weak.

CCM’s guided nomination of Magufuli as its presidential candidate is one of the party’s Machiavellian tactics of survivability. President Magufuli in particular and CCM in general takes the opposite route of Kikwete. True colours of authoritarian dominant CCM are coming out.

Survival strategy

Authoritarian parties like CCM have two main goals. First is to hold onto power by eliminating real and perceived threats. Second is to generate popular support in order to achieve development goals (Dickson B J, 2016). Author Bruce Dickson in his book The Dictator’s Dilemma writes that, the above goals are achieved through survival strategy - legitimation, co-optation and repression.

President Magufuli legitimation process is through war on corruption, ambitious development agenda and straight talk to the population.

He has as well announced anti-corruption crackdown within CCM. Anti-corruption platform has been a platform of the opposition for more than a decade.

Vocal MPs used parliament to legitimise opposition politics by raising corruption scandals and hold the government to account.

This platform was lost, particularly by Chadema, during the 2015 elections and handsomely handed to the CCM candidate. Other parties like ACT Wazalendo had a clear agenda on anti-corruption but its voice wasn’t heard in the campaign dominated by two candidates, Magufuli and former CCM Prime Minister running with the support of an opposition alliance ticket called Ukawa. CCM candidate eventually won and runaway with the anti- corruption agenda. He owns it.

Tanzanians hated CCM because of, among other things, its inherently corrupt nature. They would start to fall in love with the new no non sense leader. The opposition’s loud cry against lack of due process appear elitist and does not resonate well with the common man on the streets.

President Magufuli has sugar coated the anti-corruption agenda with an ambitious development agenda. He also uses the language that wananchi understands. For the elites, the details are somewhat ambiguous. But Tanzanians swallow all.

Since November, President Magufuli hasn’t accomplished much in the direction that he expounds. All projects he has opened were started under Kikwete. He has laid no single foundation stone of his own initiative.

But citizens don’t care. He currently talks about new aircrafts for dying air Tanzania and the people cheer while less than five per cent of Tanzanians actually fly, but they feel good. He got it. He won the narrative. The opposition lost it.

CCM under Magufuli co-opt various groups. He is drying our universities with appointments. A highly placed academician from University of Dar Es Salaam was appointed to the lowly placed job as a District Commissioner. The colonial post is still there because it helps the regime to reward its cadres and use coercive force to repress opponents of the regime. Through this co-optation president Magufuli aims to win support from academia as most of them wait for appointments. Dissenting views are no longer coming and some academicians are shameless cheerleaders.

Danger zone

Magufuli has embraced CCM cadres who lost CCM primaries. With this action, he has kept most members of 11th parliament at danger zone. These people are being fed to be able to go back and contest against sitting members. Sitting members will now work to please the president so that he doesn’t cut them off in 2020.

In short, President Magufuli has created a shadow parliament of his own. He could be the political genius many people under estimate. He now not only has a carrot and stick for members of parliament but also a cat to threaten most of them. As a result we will witness the most boring parliament ever, haven’t we?

The avenue the president is carefully co-opting is media. He publicly praised one of the weekly paper in one of his addresses and banned another indefinitely. The media is currently likely doing self-censorship.

Completely unconstitutional

The new government’s open repression is to political parties. The President himself announced a ban of public rallies by political parties. The ban is completely unconstitutional and against political parties enabling legislation.

In his address at Manyoni, he clarified by allowing members of parliament to conduct rallies in their own constituencies while curving the whole nation to himself as President. It is a funny move exposing President’s arrogance of power. This move is an effort to channel only one point of views to the public - that’s of the President and his ruling party. He hopes to frustrate other parties to oblivion.

The president is so much against criticisms that two young people are charged with sedition due to posts in their Facebook pages. One is actually charged for comments he gave in a Whatsapp group and one of his friends reported him. Another young man was arrested because he ‘ insulted ‘ the president in the bus and fellow passengers reported him. It is very absurd that Tanzanians are back 30 years during single party era.

For sure, critical media will follow and be repressed. The state only awaits for one to cross a red line.

Under those circumstances many people have started to write off the opposition.

However these circumstances are necessary conditions for the rise of real opposition politics. Politics must now pave the way for issues based politics. Repression is conducive for likeminded opposition to work together. The liberal approach of President Kikwete created environment of envy amongst comrades and hence back stabbing.

President Magufuli is a house of cards. He purges people while he has no power base of his own. The one he is crafting around some academicians and CCM cadres who lost CCM primaries is incompetent in public service and clearly unable to articulate their bosses’ vision. CCM is still rotten to the core and its corruption is pervasive. Magufuli will have to purge the whole party to clean it. The party may not survive the operation.

Magufuli ruling coalition is non-existent. He starves the civil service who run the bureaucracy. For sure this will slow down his development agenda and in five years’ time he will have little to show for.

The real opposition will have to engage in providing critical analysis of the regime and offer alternative policy. Issues like budget management will be critical as signs are out there that fifth phase government will have more adverse audit opinion than any other before.

Out of budget expenditures are rampant and more threatening is the draw down of foreign reserve. It has never happened in the previous 20 years for Tanzanian foreign reserve to decline and it has happened even before Magufuli started to implement his budget.

$500m has been withdrawn from our foreign reserve between November 2015 and June 2016. The amount remaining is enough to serve the country only for 3.6 months. The best practice for developing countries is a reserve enough to cover at least six months.

Tax revenue is still at the levels of previous administration. High profile announcements of monthly revenues collection are no longer there because the taxman was collecting arrears and the government attacks ‘the chicken laying golden eggs’ i.e. Business community.

Businesses are closing down creating job losses and low production. Chances are growth will flat line and affect wealth creation. Already two top export earners - tourism and transit trade are down. The government is putting up a brave face because the opposition is not articulating these issues well.

These are the issues the opposition must bring up. Well articulated issues backed by expert evidences. Politics of raising doubtable scandals will no longer work but politics of solutions will bring down the regime.

Ideological bankruptcy

Magufuli’s repression must be fought vehemently. But if we don’t articulate issues affecting day to day lives of people, the repression will be supported by the same people. A coalition of like-minded people who have credentials to fight against corruption and articulate developmental politics must emerge and take up the ideological bankruptcy existing in the country now.

Looking backward to future will help us widen our horizon. Prof Abdulrahman Babu legitimised ASP Zanzibar revolution by pumping in ideology. The challenge we have currently is that that legitimation shall not be to Magufuli’s CCM but to the opposition so that multiparty developmental democratic system flourish in our country.

Manyoni talk of Nyerere ethics and anti-imperialism by Magufuli worries me more than the repression against political freedoms he undertakes now. Ideology will make him stronger and more legitimate. Lack of issues and business as usual weaken the opposition and discredit most of our moves like the declared Ukuta operation. Once our modus operandi changes and we start tackling issues and articulate them, the real opposition will emerge, stronger and ready to govern.

Zitto Kabwe is The Party Leader of ACT Wazalendo and MP for Kigoma Urban.