CCM at 47: A party unease with changes

CCM chairperson, President Samia Suluhu Hassan, cuts the ribbon to inaugurate women's entrepreneurship training centre in the Unguja North Region during a tour to visit and inspect party projects recently. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Magufuli was many things but a reformer. During his time, the issue of constitutional reform was effectively buried. He never shied away from reminding everyone that the issue was not part of CCM’s election manifesto.

Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) is celebrating 47 years since it was founded in 1977 with a theme focused on the current chairperson’s agenda and urging its members to participate in the coming local elections. The party celebrating this year is facing challenges of navigating the political terrain at a time of increased agitation for political changes. The past has some insights regarding how previous CCM chairpersons responded to moments of political changes.

There have been six CCM chairpersons so far, and some lived through more challenging political times than others.

The first chairperson in Mwalimu Julius Nyerere led the party for thirteen years, the longest time. Throughout that time, the country was a single-party state. He once cautioned his party against turning into a “vanguard party” instead should always be a “party of the masses.”

By the time he left office, calls for a return of multipartism were getting louder but the party had resisted and persevered. However, he was perceptive of the winds of change blowing throughout the country and would later urge his party to allow the return of multipartism. 

The second chairperson was the amiable Ali Hassan Mwinyi. He was in charge of the party at a time of momentous changes in the country and steered it through the return of multipartism. He was cautious and the changes were guarded in many ways. The political field was never the same for all political parties, with the ruling party enjoying much of the advantages that come with incumbency.

His adoption of market-led economic policies had far reaching consequences for his party which has continued to struggle with the influence of wealthy individuals as well as factionalism centred on the race for the presidency. This has remained a never ending nightmare for the party.

He was in charge of a party that fought successfully hard to keep independent candidates off the ballot papers.

The aloof and academic spoken Benjamin Mkapa was CCM’s third chairperson.

He oversaw a party at a time when it faced it most serious challenge to power in Zanzibar and refused to give way to a strong opposition challenge. During this time, the country’s constitution was amended to allow a presidential candidate to be declared the winner by a simple majority of the votes cast.

Under his watch CCM was continued to struggle with factionalism battles in the race to succeed him. The police were heavy-handed in dealing with opposition parties.

The ‘youthful’, ever-smiling Jakaya Kikwete came after Mkapa. He fought hard and emerged as the winner of a bruising party primaries. Factional battles derailed his agenda in office, and opposition parties managed to force the issue of constitutional reforms and corruption onto the political agenda.

CCM’s stalwarts hijacked the issue of constitutional reforms and eventually succeeded in buying more time for their party. A proposed constitution ended up being a product no one wanted. The status quo remained. Under his watch, opposition parties flourished despite the heavy hand of the state. He was more accommodating than his immediate predecessor was to his opponents. A half-hearted attempt was made to introduce legislation aimed at curbing the amount of money spent during elections. It did not work. Fundamental constitutional reforms remained elusive.

John Magufuli was the unconventional fourth CCM chairperson.

He was many things but a reformer. During his time, the issue of constitutional reform was effectively buried. He never shied away from reminding everyone that the issue was not part of CCM’s election manifesto. Some of the legislations which were introduced during his time, especially those dealing with political parties were seen by his detractors as turning back the clock.

Political rallies dried up and his unconventional time as CCM’s chairperson did not succeed in preventing money being a huge factor during party primaries.

Magufuli’s abrupt demise gave way to CCM’s sixth chairperson in Samia Suluhu Hassan. She opened up the process of constitutional and political reforms but the process has since ran into heavy political headwinds.

Undoubtedly, she has been one of the most tolerant CCM chairpersons to her detractors and challengers. However, the political reforms being introduced under her watch do not go far enough in addressing the issues opposition parties have said for decades do not give them a fair chance of fighting against CCM.

As CCM celebrates its forty seventh birthday, it has shown remarkable ability to take a page from the past in addressing political change.

Despite CCM’s secretary general claim that his party is never afraid of changes, in the multiparty era, time has shown it to be a party that is unease with political changes.