The political odyssey of Edward Lowassa: From Arusha's halls to national leadership

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Former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa and former President Jakaya Kikwete. Lowassa career as Prime Minister started from 2005 to 2008 under President Kikwete. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • As President Mkapa's rule ended, Lowassa had high expectations, unlike in 1995, when his friend Jakaya Kikwete unsuccessfully vied for the presidency.
  • The period from 2000 to 2005 was very critical for him. Being a cabinet minister, he traversed the width and length of the country for two missions.

Arusha. Edward Ngoyai Lowassa was no ordinary man; he was shrewd in networking, crafty in his deals, and skilled in reaching out to his supporters.

When he was at the lower end of his political ladder, he would struggle to get the visibility and attention of those at the top, who he believed mattered for his desired rise.

These could be the top brass of the country's leadership, technocrats in the government, or ordinary people in the streets and villages.

When he finally landed on fairly high leadership posts, he would mince no words that he was indeed at the top and fully in charge.

He believed he could deliver to the best of his skills and capability and was not afraid of taking risks as long as he achieved his goal.

For the general public, Edward, as he was fondly known to his friends, came to fame when he landed ministerial positions in the early 1990s.

It was at that time that his leadership skills were put to the test, as he issued directives on the spot when visiting project sites or institutions.

But for Arusha residents, his unique character was spotted way back in the late 1960s, when he joined Arusha Secondary School.

He is said to have been cunning and quick to adapt to changing situations during crises.

In those days when unrest was common in schools, he would mobilise students to agitate for their rights but toe the line if there were no grounds for strikes.

In arbitrating the crisis, he was quick to reach a compromise with the school administrators or fellow students, as long as his voice was heard.

His schoolmates at Arusha—there were few secondary schools in the country then—saw early on, the leadership potential of the ambitious student from Monduli.

They included Abdulrahman Kinana, Hamisi Kibola, Daniel Ole Njoolay, Mathew Ole Kisambu, Walter Maeda, and a host of others.

"He was born a leader. He liked carrying out his duties with diligence," said Mr Maeda, one of his schoolmates who interacted with him in later life.

However, the chair of the regional business chamber is quick to describe Mr Lowassa's character, which probably earned him friends and foes in equal measure.

"As our prefect, he tolerated no nonsense. He was straightforward and bold. We knew he would climb up in leadership positions,” he said.

For Mr Maeda and people who knew him in his early life, Lowassa had a soft side; he was a singer in the school choir and liked reading literature.

From Arusha, he joined Mirambo Secondary School for A-level studies and later went to the University of Dar es Salaam for a degree course in Fine and Performing Arts.

Perhaps his political career started in earnest when he was elected member of Parliament on the CCM Youth ticket during the 1985 elections.

He was no ordinary MP. He would fearlessly criticise the government bureaucrats for the way they were running their ministries or institutions.

In July 1986, for instance, he put to task the Foreign Affairs ministry for keeping some ambassadors in their overseas stations for too long.

He argued that some envoys had overstayed to the extent that some had turned into ‘sultans’ in their working stations.

He did not spare the Natural Resources and Tourism Ministry, which was to spearhead the recovery efforts after the liberalisation of the economy.

He regretted, during the tabling of the ministry's budget estimates, that Tanzania trailed countries such as Botswana in attracting tourists.

Between 1985 and 1990, Mr Lowassa was an MP and one of the ruling party's young Turks, the backbone of the feared Group of 55, which agitated for some political reforms.

His status in public service went a notch higher in 1989 when he was appointed the managing director of the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC).

He initiated some reforms there, including making the centre competitive regionally and internationally in convention tourism.

But his tenure at the AICC lasted for only one year, as a ministerial post awaited him in the Prime Minister's Office after the 1990 elections.

It was in December 1990 that he was appointed the minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office in charge of disaster management.

No sooner had the dust settled after landing the post than the country was hit by hailstorms, flooding homes, sweeping bridges, and destroying farms.

His boss was then, newly appointed Prime Minister, John Samuel Malecela, under the second-phase government of ex-President Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

For Mr Lowassa, this was another chance to put his arsenal in gear, overseeing the rescue efforts, distribution of relief food, and rehabilitation of affected structures.

The PMO ministerial post was not confined to disasters but covered other 'sensitive' areas for which he was tasked to defend the government.

That was when Zanzibar's application to join the International Islamic Organisation nearly split the Union.

After long debates within the government, the ruling party, the clergy, and scholars, it was time for the government to give its position on the matter.

The person to give a firm position on the highly divisive issue was none other than Edward Nguyai Lowassa, a fearless character.

That was in late 1992 or early 1993. The latter year, he landed in another key ministry: Lands, Housing, and Human Settlements Development.

One of his first assignments there was to make formal visits to two key institutions under the ministry. Ardhi Institute, now Ardhi University, and the National Housing Corporation (NHC), the oldest parastatal in the country's history.

He tasked the institute to streamline its training with job market demand and the NHC to partner with the private sector in housing projects.

In 1995, the government came up with the first-ever housing policy, and Mr Lowassa waited for that year's elections with higher hopes.

He cheered wildly in front of live TV cameras at the National Stadium as Benjamin Mkapa was sworn in to succeed President Mwinyi.

Alas! The gamble did not pay off! He was conspicuously missing from the list of cabinet ministers appointed by President Mkapa a few days later.

Despite striding high like a colossus in the country's political landscape, Mr Lowassa found himself in the murky waters of politics once again.

Of course, he was elected MP for Monduli constituency in Arusha region, but his ministerial status this time around eluded him.

He would focus on his Monduli constituency and would not be seen at high-profile events amid perceptions that his influence was waning.

But more troubles awaited him. Something strange happened in the middle of 1997 in his Monduli constituency and later in Arusha city.

Hell broke loose when residents of the district marched to Arusha city with placards, saying they did not want Mr Lowassa as their MP!

There are no concrete reasons as to why they denounced the MP they had elected.

But to the surprise of his opponents, only days after the march, Mr Lowassa was appointed minister of State in the Vice President's Office in charge of the environment.

He would lead the country's official delegation to COP 4—the UN Climate Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina—a year later (1998).

Now Mr Lowassa was in charge and charting his way to much higher positions or key ministries in the government.

A year or so later, President Mkapa appointed him to the Ministry of Water and Livestock. His influence kept rising within the government.

His boldness and no-nonsense character would once again prevail, as was the case during his school days.

In early 2004, he told off Egypt and, to some extent, Sudan over the controversy over the use of water from the Nile.

He said, much as some international protocols demand, Egypt and Sudan did not and should not have exclusive rights to the Nile River water.

He said upstream countries such as Tanzania had equal rights to use water from the Nile and its tributaries because they were protecting the water sources.

As President Mkapa's rule ended, Lowassa had high expectations, unlike in 1995, when his friend Jakaya Kikwete unsuccessfully vied for the presidency.

The period from 2000 to 2005 was very critical for him. Being a cabinet minister, he traversed the width and length of the country for two missions.

He was a cabinet minister and had to visit projects as well as institutions under his docket as well as attend meetings of the same.

Mr Lowassa would reveal later, through interactions with people, especially when upcountry, that he had been campaigning for the government that would succeed that of Mzee Mkapa.

He knew too well that his longtime friend from the 1970s, Mr Kikwete, would aspire for the presidency come 2005.

That means he (Lowassa) should not vie for the same post with his friend, as was the case in 1995 when both of them lost.

Although Mr Kikwete faced strong, heavyweights, including three ex-prime ministers, the national mood was there for a turn to the young Turks, and he won.

Mr Lowassa’s fall from grace following the Richmond scandal became the most unfortunate hurdle for his ambition to the highest office in the land.

Some analysts believe his resignation on February 8th, 2007 as Prime Minister over the scandal was not the right decision.

"That was the wrong gamble for Lowassa. He believed his resignation would clear his name for the CCM presidential candidacy in 2015, said Robert Kamakia, an NGO official in Arusha.

He said Lowassa didn't know that he had eight years remaining for the 2015 presidential contest, a period that was long for his influence in the government and the ruling party to wane.

It is guesswork to say in the affirmative that he could have succeeded in his presidential ambitions if he had stayed put as PM.

But there is no contention that the 69-year-old towering politician from Monduli has his deteriorating health to blame for his political woes.

Not many years after he stepped aside as PM, he had to shuttle between different hospitals abroad for treatment.

At one time, he spent months in Germany, leading to a lot of speculation about the status of his health as the 2015 polls neared.

But by 2014, he addressed the media at his Monduli home and insisted his 'dreams of hopes' were about to actualise given his improving health.

When the race finally opened for aspirants from the ruling party to run for president, he wasted no time and picked up the forms.

His first election 'campaign' for the presidency on a CCM ticket took place at the Sheikh Amri Abeid Stadium on May 30th, 2015.

Besides outlining long-held reasons for aspiring for the presidency at the largest attended rally in the stadium's 60-year history, Lowassa spilled the beans.

He revealed that for years before Kikwete won the presidency in 2005, he had been the chairman of his (Kikwete's) election campaign.

He said he had travelled to all corners of the country and met many people, canvassing support for JK, who won overwhelmingly in 2005.

Now, he pleaded, it was the turn of Mr Kikwete to support his bid for the 2015 presidency on the CCM ticket, using his powers as the incumbent and chairman of the ruling party.

Slightly over a month later, after his speech at the Arusha stadium, Mr Lowassa's name was deleted from the list of CCM presidential aspirants.

Two months after his May 30th, 2015 mammoth CCM rally in Arusha to announce his bid, he joined the opposition and emerged second after John Pombe Magufuli in the October 2015 presidential race results.