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CHADEMA is Facing a Strategic Impasse, It Needs to Find a Way to Escape It

The party has, after three decades of impressive growth, encountered a strategic impasse. Breaking it needs to be a priority.

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CHADEMA’s recent decision to skip a dialogue convened by the Registrar of Political Parties Judge (Retired) Francis Mutungi has reignited an acrimonious debate about the veracity of the party’s strategy.

A similar debate ensued earlier in the year when an anonymous whistleblower – alias Kigogo (‘a big man’) – advised the party to invest in its capacity to employ violence, in response to a relentless crackdown by the political establishment. Party cadres rejected the advice, for it was deemed irrelevant and dangerous.

The current debate about political strategy stems from a disagreement between CHADEMA and ACT-Wazalendo, over the merits of taking part in a dialogue process launched by President Samia Suluhu Hassan on December 15.

About two months prior to the inaugural three days meeting, CHADEMA issued a statement through its Deputy Secretary-General (Tanzania Mainland) Benson Kigaila and outlined conditions for the party’s participation. Such conditions included the release of cadres facing ‘political’ cases, the lifting of a ban on political activities, and a dialogue process that ensured President Samia was at the centre.

There has been a suggestion that senior leaders from the two parties had, most likely in the early days, sought to coordinate and impose similar conditions for participation. However, ACT-Wazalendo appears to have revisited its position in the intervening period between October and December, choosing instead to participate, without any prior conditions.

For ACT-Wazalendo, participation was necessary as a ‘first step’ towards a greater understanding, while for CHADEMA, participation would amount to endorsing a cosmetic process, one that is barely likely to lead to fundamental change.

Limited strategic options

What makes CHADEMA’s technique (of intermittent ‘non-engagement’) worthy of reflection is the fact that it is not, in an actual sense, an effective element of the party’s strategy. The ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, and its government, has repeatedly found a way to plough ahead, whenever the opposition boycotts any political process – be it a local government election as it happened in 2019, or a by-election.

The CCM-led government has continued to organise, and claim victory in nearly all by-elections that have taken place after the 2020 general elections, regardless of CHADEMA’s (and a few other opposition party’s) refusals to take part in any of them.

There is no evidence to suggest that any previous boycotts, on their own, have had sufficient delegitimizing effect. However, there is an indication that the government feels pressure when a boycott is coupled with a strong grassroots mobilisation. This explains why authorities have been keen to maintain a ban on political activities, after a brief (possibly unintended) relaxation when President Samia was assuming power.

While there has been a concerted effort to sustain grassroots organisation and movement, with a particular focus on recruitment and establishment of both physical and institutional structures, the entire endeavour remains low-key. For this reason, it lacks a broad inspirational effect that would be associated with a full-scale, unconstrained mobilisation.

CHADEMA has, since 2016, been unable to organise a sizeable physical protest, or rally, with the exception of 2020 campaign activities. This has mainly been the case because of a hostile political environment, and the absence of a culture of direct action.

The latter point means that calls for protests have either been ignored or attracted very few people. As an alternative, the party has increasingly relied on social media, a site that the government has tried but struggled to police.

Nevertheless, social media remains limited. While Internet use is growing fast (about 28M as of September 2021), social media usage remains comparatively lower and urban-based. To penetrate CCM’s rural bastion, in-person, grassroots mobilization is essential but restrictions on political activities remain a big obstacle.

Social media seems to be useful as a tool of enlightenment and organisation, but without a guaranteed space in which rallies and physical protests can take place, its effect on difficult policy matters remains marginal. Take, for instance, the issue of the New Constitution.

The government has easily been able to mobilize a compromise around a ‘minimum amendments’ agenda, without having to negotiate with the largest opposition party in the country. This is simply possible because CHADEMA has a lot of nuisance power, but the party’s disruptive capabilities have long been contained.

In spite of numerous excesses, the ruling CCM has been able to consistently produce governments that are variably authoritarian but notably committed to development.

This distinguishing feature, coupled with a sworn determination to maintain peace and stability, is a reality that the international community is, at least, aware of, and takes into consideration in its dealings with Tanzania. CCM’s relative ‘progressive’ nature has the effect of undercutting the amount of support that the opposition can draw from the International community.

The anarchic nature of the international system, coupled with great variability of its members’ interests, and the ruling party’s pragmatism leave the opposition with very limited room for leverage.

To understand how difficult it is for the international community machinery to move, one needs to recall its inability to organise an effective response towards a sharp deterioration of the human rights situation in the country sometime between 2016 and 2018.

Strategic impasse

After assessing a range of limitations that CHADEMA is grappling with, I have come to the conclusion that the party has encountered a strategic impasse; defined as a unique and intractable political dynamic characterised by a very limited set of feasible and palatable strategic options.

While the ruling party has a sufficient ‘legitimacy reserve’ to exploit instruments of coercive power for the purpose of constraining the activities and effectiveness of its opponents, CHADEMA lacks the means to organise a compelling resistance. That is, a kind of resistance that would compel the ruling party to make concessions that would allow the party to maintain its growth trajectory.

For about three decades, CHADEMA grew in structure, leadership, funding and reputation, without having to deal with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. During this period, the party’s right to organise, mobilise and sensitise (just like that of other parties) was challenged but not outrightly, and fairly consistently denied.

The turning point came in 2015, with the ascent of President John Magufuli. His assault on the opposition forced CHADEMA into an unfavourable ‘balance of power,’ one that the institution has not been able to break out of.

CHADEMA has been forced into a stalemate and needs to find a way to escape it. Few people would argue, or agree that the party is growing, or even sustaining its past gains. This is not the institution’s fault.

The dramatic rise and enigmatic departure of President Magufuli is a historical tragedy – one that the country has not yet been able to fully comprehend. However, the party’s ability to maintain its gains or record further growth remains a necessary benchmark for assessing the veracity of the institution’s strategy.

Time is of the essence

Students of history will remember that the Soviet Union collapsed after being forced into a cold war stalemate. Soviet rulers made the mistake of allowing the impasse to drag on for far too long, a journey that decimated a broad range of the country’s strategic advantages. CHADEMA is, understandably, not a country, but the party needs to break out of the strategic impasse in which it is stuck – or risk a gradual descent.

A starting point should be weighing the available options, carefully and critically. If sufficient mobilisation to upset the status quo is not feasible at the moment (which seems to be the case), strategic engagement might be a way to go, especially when certain meaningful opportunities, such as the recent dialogue, appear.

A tactical and informed engagement could enable the party to restock and register progress while biding its time. By staying out of such a process, CHADEMA is relinquishing its leadership role, and creating a vacuum – one that will definitely be filled by other overzealous actors.

President Samia’s government is gathering a lot of goodwill abroad and will use it to strengthen the administration’s position. She has taken over a system that was shaped by Magufuli in ways that will take years to understand. But one thing is quite clear – that the new President is different in temperament, and orientation.

Samia’s nine months in office have already set the government on a path to recovery, though the depth and nature of it all can be contested. The challenge for CHADEMA leaders is to implement shifts that will enable the party to match the government’s recovery tempo. A key concern, however, is that militants within the party may not allow these sorts of strategic shifts to take place.

CHADEMA’s current position can be compared to where Uganda’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) was between 2006 and 2016. FDC’s growing influence within this period encountered violent resistance from President Museveni’s militarised regime and struggled to devise a strategy that would retain the enthusiasm associated with the movement.

Bobi Wine’s rapid rise from 2018, and his negative effect on FDC’s urban strongholds, in the form of undercutting the ‘veteran’ party’s influence, shows what can happen if a dominant opposition party struggles to resolve a strategic impasse (on time). CHADEMA will, if it fails to resolve the impasse on time, most likely lose to small but longsighted parties such as ACT-Wazalendo.

Dastan Kweka is a PhD student in Political Science at the University of Dar es Salaam. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @KwekaKweka. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further inquiries.

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