Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Friday, 29 November 2013

Letter from Butiama: CCM at thirty

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. Publication date: 4th February 2007.

The political landscape has changed since then, but I believe that some of the points I raised in 2007 could still be valid today in light of the leadership battles that have recently surfaced in one of the opposition political parties. 
Tomorrow Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the ruling party turns thirty.

In those thirty years Tanzania has changed considerably. The most significant of the changes is the fact that when the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) merged with Zanzibar’s Afro Shirazi Party (ASP) to form CCM in 1977, Tanzania was a one-party state.

Today, CCM shares the political platform with several other political parties after Tanzania adopted a pluralist political system in 1992.

That after we adopted a multiparty system CCM has won three general elections suggests that it is doing something that the opposition parties cannot.

CCM members will say that their victories are a measure of the strength of their party, and the articulation of their policies to the electorate, which finds meaning with the voters. They will also say that it is a measure of the weakness of the opposition.

CCM’s results could also be explained by an event from the past. Only 20 percent of CCM members told the Nyalali Commission, which was mandated by President Mwinyi to collect the views of Tanzanians on their preferred political system, that they want a pluralist political system. CCM decided that it was significant enough to warrant adoption of a multiparty system, given the fact 56 percent of those who preferred a singly party system had some reservations about CCM’s performance.

Although skeptics always maintain that CCM’s views are not representative of the wider views of other non-CCM Tanzanians, election results seem to suggest that CCM member’s views are decisive.

I suspect that the 80 percent against and the 20 percent for pluralism ratio from the Nyalali Commission findings remains constant. Those views remain in the subconscious of voters; when they are dissatisfied with CCM they shift allegiance to the opposition, but when CCM seems to live up to their expectations, they shift back to CCM, showing their true colours – green, yellow, and black.

There is phenomenon in the soft drinks market that suggests that when a new soft drink is introduced in a market, consumers temporarily switch to the new drink, and after the novelty wears off they return to their usual drink.

I have no intention of belittling the opposition parties, but I believe that the same analogy applies to Tanzania’s political landscape. I recall the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding the first multi-party elections in 1995. It looked like CCM would loose.

CCM mounted a counter campaign that included recalling to active duty some retired cadres, including Mwalimu Nyerere, and succeeded in winning the Mainland presidential elections by more than 60 percent of the vote. It also won 214 parliamentary seats compared to the opposition’s 55.

The opposition parties have never recovered from the gains registered in that first election in 1995. The leadership in the opposition parties spent a great deal of their time squabbling between themselves, the voters went back to the party they had been used to since 1977 and the voter’s political choice was limited.

The Mainland presidential elections results in 2005 saw CCM emerge the winner, capturing over 80 percent of the vote. The opposition seats in parliament were reduced to 43.

Even if the influence of Takrima, campaign hospitality, is taken into consideration, with CCM candidates usually taking the larger blame for throwing the more lavish parties, the results, in my view should not have been different. In fact, if it is generally accepted that Takrima was widely used in the recent elections then it is fair to say that it was a multi-party phenomenon. CCM candidates did not have a monopoly in their generosity to voters.

Winning elections is one thing, and probably the easier part. Transforming that victory to improving the lives of the voter is the difficult part.

In some African countries where political parties that won independence have been removed from power through the ballot box, those countries have gone through periods of turbulent politics, with the new governments, formed out of coalitions of differing political groups, turning on each other and turning the task of governing to one of infighting and of betraying the trust of their electorate.

To wish that such political turbulence should not unfold in Tanzania is to wish CCM should rule forever. It’s not an easy choice.

It would be radical to suggest, particularly in this newspaper, that it is in our national interest that the organizational and leadership capacities of opposition parties should be strengthened. But I believe it is wise to try out this suggestion.

Such a provision would be an insurance policy for the majority of Tanzania’s voters that should they decide to do away with the usual and try the new that the change will not spring up unpleasant surprises.

The only problem is how to stem the one-way traffic flow of opposition party converts to Chama cha Mapinduzi.

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