On 12th July 2015, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) announced that its candidate for Tanzania’s presidential election will be the Minister of Works John Pombe (alcohol in KiSwahili) Magufuli. This decision surprised many observers as Magufuli beat a number of CCM heavyweights to the party’s nomination. Nonetheless, it appears that his selection has been largely welcomed by not only the party but also the wider country.
The initial list of candidates for the CCM nomination was 38 names long and the two who were considered the frontrunners were former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa (2005-2008) and the current Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Membe. These two were joined by a number of other possible contenders including: Vice President Mohamed Bilal; Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda; Deputy Minister of Communication, Science and Technology January Makamba; and Makongoro Nyerere, son of Tanzania’s founding president Julius Nyerere. Interestingly, Magufuli was not considered a contender until the list was whittled down by the party’s Central Committee to only five names on 10th July 2015. Nevertheless, even within these five names, which were reduced to three by the party’s National Executive Committee on 11th July 2015, Magufuli was up against Membe and Makamba. When the final three – Magufuli, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Asha-Rose Migiro and African Union Ambassador to Washington Amina Salum Ali – were eventually put to the CCM’s National Congress, Magufuli won an overwhelming victory with 87 percent of the vote.
In the process of creating the candidate shortlist it appeared that the CCM might have been heading towards a divisive period in its relatively stable history. The campaign had already created tension between the Lowassa and Membe camps and after the announcement of the first shortlist, the Lowassa camp reacted strongly. Supporters of Lowassa were highly critical of the Central Committee’s and particularly the current president’s – Jakaya Kikwete’s – decision to not include Lowassa in the shortlist. This is primarily because Lowassa supported Kikwete’s bid for the presidency in 2005. His supporters claimed that this move would damage the party as Lowassa was the most popular candidate. One of Lowassa’s supporters in the Central Committee, Emmanuel Nchimbi, was reported as stating that “we disassociate ourselves from this decision”. There were also rumours that Lowassa’s supporters were keen for him to break with the CCM and run against the party’s candidate in October. Nonetheless, although Lowassa is an influential member of the CCM and has a solid support base, he is a divisive figure within the party and has a questionable reputation. In 2008, Lowassa was forced to resign as prime minister after a select committee accused his office of foul play in relation to a contract involving the state-owned electricity company TANESCO and Richmond Development Company. Since then, Lowassa’s name has been tarnished by corruption allegations, a fact that he was acutely aware of when he launched his campaign stating that “we cannot build a modern economy without curbing corruption”.
After the removal of Lowassa from the race, Membe should have been the frontrunner. However, his nomination would have increased the likelihood of internal divisions with Lowassa’s supporters, which would have been taken advantage of by the opposition. Thus, it appears that the CCM needed a unity candidate and they found this in Magufuli. This was reflected in his definitive victory at the party’s National Congress and further supported by the minimal amount of spoiled ballots. Unlike Membe or Lowassa, Magufuli did not lead or belong to a camp within the CCM, which meant that his nomination would not deepen or create divisions in the party. Instead, he is able to garner widespread support, even from his rivals, as shown by Migiro and Ali’s pledge of support for him following his victory. Thus, his selection helps to ensure the unity of the CCM and in turn its continued domination of Tanzanian politics.
Furthermore, the selection of Magufuli is a sign from the CCM that it wishes to change its image. If Lowassa was chosen to be the party’s candidate, its message of fighting corruption would have been perceived as mere lip service, both nationally and amongst the international community. As corruption remains a major problem in Tanzania, with it ranked as the 56th most corrupt nation in the world on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2014, it was important that the party’s candidate was perceived as serious about fighting corruption. Unlike Lowassa, Magufuli has not been tainted by corruption allegations. Rather, he has been packaged as a man of action, who will deal with the problem head on. Kikwete reportedly described him as “a no nonsense man” and said that “we hope he will help the country to conquer poverty, fight graft and indiscipline”. The CCM National Chairman also described him as “a very aggressive candidate”, alluding to his position concerning corruption. Moreover, Magufuli has similarly spoke on the matter stating that “to all irresponsible leaders, thieves and corrupt officials; please be informed that I will deal with you in a very polite way”. It seems that Magufuli’s image has struck a chord with the wider population, who see him as the type of tough and committed leader that Tanzania needs. Although he is far from a break with the past – Magufuli has been a member of the CCM since 1977, a CCM MP since 1995 and a cabinet Minister since 2000 – he is a sign of the CCM’s changing image. This was also demonstrated by two of the final three candidates being female and Magufuli’s decision to select the CCM’s first female running mate, Samia Suluhu Hassan.
Although the CCM are almost guaranteed a victory in October’s election whoever they chose to represent them, it seems that Magufuli is likely to ensure this and possibly even increase the party’s majority. Despite a number of opposition parties’ commitment to fielding a joint candidate, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to challenge the CCM, especially under the leadership of Magufuli. He appears to have popular support and after winning his party’s nomination, the presidency is almost within reach. The question is whether he will represent a change for the CCM once he is power, particularly in relation to the fight against corruption. Magufuli has asked the Tanzanian people to “Trust me” and said that “I am not going to let you down…trust me I will not fail you”. The Tanzanian people will chose whether they trust him on 25th October 2015, and later see if that trust is well placed.