Magufuli-fication and Kenya’s cranky flywheel

Kenyan politics demonstrates a disdain for institutions. What we have for parties are shrines for worshipping individuals


By Kenyatta Otieno

I have followed Tanzanian politics keenly since Freeman Mbowe caused waves as the presidential candidate for Chadema (Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo) in 2005. It looked like CCM had met a worthy opponent but Mbowe managed a paltry 5 per cent of the vote. What happened in the 2015 elections, first in the ruling CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi), then after the general election has brought out the best and worst of Tanzanian politics, but to the benefit of the country.

Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great” describes change in organisations as a process rather than an instant event. It is similar to the boring action of turning a flywheel over a long period. The secret is in increasing the speed of turning around the wheel, at first it is tedious but over time the momentum of the wheel will kick in favour of the organisation. The Magufuli phenomenon is not a happenstance, but a product of a not-so-perfect rotation of the CCM flywheel.

Tanzania, like Kenya, introduced multiparty democracy in the early nineties. Before that, CCM ruled as the only party and has won every election since. Everybody believed that 2015 was the year for CCM to suffer the Kanu fate of 2002, but they won against a strong candidate in their former member Edward Lowassa of Chadema under Ukawa, the Coalition for the People’s Constitution.

I am an ardent Nyerere admirer. I liked his cool, calm but firm demeanour which always distorts my lenses when I am looking at Tanzanian politics. Where Idi Amin could jeer at Kenya and Jomo Kenyatta could look the other way for some time, Nyerere did not take the Ugandan dictator’s nonsense with a pinch of salt. CCM leadership has never hesitated to invoke Nyerere’s spirit for political mileage despite going against what he stood for.

When CCM nominated Dr John Pombe Magufuli, something happened in Kenya. Our tribal based political groupings went into frenzy. Jubilee supporters bound by nationalistic lenses were pushed out of supporting the ruling CCM candidate by Cord supporters. Dr Magufuli happens to be a close friend of Cord leader Raila Odinga. Jubilee supporters had to settle on Edward Lowassa of Chadema just to counter Cord supporters.

My take was that Kenyans should leave Tanzanians alone because politically we are as different as Kilimanjaro is from Mt. Kenya. If Cord and ODM in particular had a strong and elaborate party structure like CCM, we would never hear of Raila Baba, Mwana and Roho – (Raila the father, son and spirit). If Jubilee and TNA for that matter was serious then they would make it easy for a Maasai like Lowassa to get the presidential nomination instead of party owner Uhuru Kenyatta getting a blank ticket.

Magufuli’s predecessor Lt. Col. (Rtd) Jakaya Kikwete had to make an official visit and address our Parliament to explain that the government of Tanzania would continue working with the government of Kenya after his exit. The Kenyan government was getting jittery over Magufuli’s link with Raila. Magufuli was a guest during ODM’s unveiling of Raila as their candidate in 2013, a matter which was later raised in the Tanzanian Parliament. To Kikwete, the party had picked Magufuli and he had to support him even though his preferred candidate was one Bernard Membe. If the same script had played out in Kenya, CCM would have disintegrated.

The run up to CCM’s choosing of Magufuli was full of intrigues like any political battle. Jakaya Kikwete is said to have stood his ground that Edward Lowassa would not get the ticket despite being the most popular. He preferred Bernard Membe, but first party delegates had to meet for a whole week in Dodoma for him to get his way. The battle was between Membe and Lowassa; no one was talking about Magufuli. Some people were pushing him as a possible running mate for whoever wins.

Lowassa, a wealthy Maasai from the Kilimanjaro area, on the other hand has harboured ambitions of becoming president since the days when Nyerere was still alive. It is rumoured that his desire to be president reached Nyerere and the old teacher asked him where he got his wealth. Kikwete is said to have promised to back Lowassa in a political deal they made earlier. When the time came to pay back, the former army officer issued a bouncing cheque.

Down Magufuli Road

As the delegates gathered in Dodoma, CCM’s central committee had nominated five presidential candidates out of a long list of aspirants where they claimed some aspirants (read Lowassa) had been rejected by the ethics committee on integrity grounds. They shortlisted January Makamba, Bernard Membe, Asha-Rose Migiro, John Magufuli and ambassador Saida Salum as the options for the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) 378 members to pick one.

Supporters of Lowassa, and they were a good number, were left in a crisis mode. They had to salvage something before the convention ended. Former president Benjamin Mkapa, sensing a falling out, consulted other party elders and they propped Magufuli as a compromise while the Kikwete camp stood with Membe. Lowassa supporters decided to cast their vote with Magufuli as pay back to Kikwete for tripping their horse. Lowassa and Kikwete lost in Dodoma but CCM won. The rest is history.

Edward Lowassa paused to absorb the shock then announced he was quitting politics. He made a turn around and joined Chadema. Both Magufuli and Lowassa attracted huge crowds everywhere they went. For once in the history of Tanzanian politics, people saw the possibility of an Opposition win. In the end Magufuli, garnered 58 per cent of the vote and Lowassa got 39. This was the best ever performance by an Opposition candidate.

Looking back, Benjamin Mkapa won the 2000 election with 71 per cent of votes cast. Jakaya Kikwete took it much higher with 80 per cent in 2005 but slumped to 62 pc five years later due to discontent over his performance and corruption in government. In brief, CCM the party with structures deep into the villages has been losing ground especially in urban centres to the Opposition. Travelling around Tanzania, you will see the green CCM flag next to Tanzanian flag in every village, with dedicated officials pushing the ruling party agenda.

The current Magufuli wave in Tanzania, based on his austerity measures, may just be what CCM needed to reassure Tanzanians that corrupt elites have not taken over the party. Chadema and the Civic United Front (CUF) have been steadily increasing their seats in parliament in every election, and Magufuli is what CCM needed. But is his course sustainable?

What would Kenya do?

First and foremost, Kenyans must put political parties above individuals. Plans to wind up all the parties in Jubilee Coalition and merge them into Jubilee Party are already at an advanced stage. This is a big mistake and a setback to our democratic gains. The merger has got nothing to do with ideology or even the good of the country but to consolidate votes going to the 2022 General Election, ostensibly for one William Ruto, or so he believes.

This is not the first time that the ruling party is asking other parties to close shop. Kanu swallowed Kadu just before independence – to unify the country, they claimed. The country set off on a more divided path because of greed than political parties. Then Kanu asked NDP to close shop and join it after the 1997 General Election. The result was that Raila bolted with a good chunk of Kanu into LDP just before the 2002 election. Kanu lost that year to NARC (LDP and NAK) and slowly slipped into a shell of its former self. It is URP’s turn to wind up and join TNA in Jubilee Party.

This clearly demonstrates our disdain for institutions. We sacrifice long term benefit for short term selfish goals. CCM, with its misgivings – the delegates in Dodoma were unhappy that the ethics committee was asked to vet candidates yet it is not in the party constitution – still has some ideals. They still went ahead and picked a candidate. CCM is not perfect, but with every election, the party and Tanzania are making clear steps towards a strong democratic culture.

The reason why someone like Magufuli could slip through the party system and turn around how Tanzanian government operates is because the wheels of CCM are turning. There are better leaders than Raila, Ruto and Uhuru in ODM, URP and TNA respectively but they will never come through the system because the party leader will stop the wheel if he realises the party is outgrowing his influence. What we get when URP closes shop to join JP just when it is gaining momentum is setback in building strong parties as major players in our democratic growth.

Freeman Mbowe has been an astute opposition leader since he entered Parliament on Chadema ticket before becoming the party chairman. He ran for president in 2005 and won 5pc of the vote. The party nominated its former Secretary General Dr Wilbrod Slaa to run in 2010 where he garnered 27 per cent of the vote. In 2015, the party accepted to adopt CCM defectors and nominated Edward Lowassa to run for president where he bagged 39 per cent of the vote. Mbowe is still party chairman; can such a thing happen in Kenya?

Joke is on us

Kenyans set the social media ablaze with #WhatWouldMagufuliDo, a hash tag that made fun of Magufuli’s austerity measures to save money for basic education and healthcare. Some of the posts were as hilarious as our creativity outside formal work can get, but the joke is on us. How can we convert the hash tags into magufulification proper?

We must bring to an end these shrines for worshipping individuals that we call political parties. We have political parties that if the leader leaves, the party dies a natural death. Our political leaders must begin to build political parties that will outlive them. Unless our parties walk the long meandering road of democracy over time, we will be stopping in the middle of a good run to go back to the starting point of our democracy journey with a new party at every election.

Such a scenario will recycle old faces and deny us good leadership. Magufuli’s win was not a fluke, it was a product of Tanzanians dedication to democratic ideals since adopting multiparty democracy and I can bet the bar has been set high. #WhatWillKenyansDo?



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