Abdulrahman Kinana was on April 1, 2022, elected by the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi’s (CCM) national congress to the position of the vice-chairperson of the party. Kinana’s return to the leadership ranks of the ruling party is noteworthy because of his political acumen, his capacity to mobilise and because of the political alliances, he represents.
The Harvard-trained political scientist is a top strategist and a savvy political operative with abundant political experience as an ideologue, a party functionary and an elected politician.
The role he played in rebuilding CCM in the past could explain why President Samia Suluhu Hassan seconded his name for the position of CCM vice-chairperson to CCM’s extraordinary national congress. President Samia was, obviously, looking for the right ‘handyman’ to help her steer back the party and reposition it for 2025.
Mr Kinana becomes CCM vice-chairperson at a time when the party is deeply divided due to self-inflicted wounds that left Kinana himself being among the victims. The party also suffers credibility issues for undermining the opposition and civil society, in effect, returning the country to a de facto one-party system.
When he was appointed secretary-general by former CCM national chairperson President Jakaya Kikwete in 2012 the party faced similar problems. Mega corruption scandals that were being unearthed almost on a monthly basis and unprecedented internal wrangling among opposed factions threatened to send the party to the annals of history.
CCM returned to power in 2010 with the lowest mandate ever. Its presidential candidate Jakaya Kikwete got 5.2 million votes (62.83 per cent of the total votes cast). But in effect, Mr Kikwete’s votes were 26.2 per cent of all registered voters.
By contrast in 2015 even as the CCM presidential candidate, Mr John Magufuli, got the lowest percentage of all cast votes, 58.46 per cent, he obtained 38.3 per cent of all registered voters. The issue in 2010 was unprecedented apathy among voters caused by rampant corruption and the failure of the government to deliver.
Kinana’s political genius
That CCM lived to tell the tale is partly due to Mr Kinana’s political genius. Working together with other CCM strategists they conceived a plan to resuscitate the party by cunningly distancing it from all the wrongs of its own government.
Mr Kinana and his lieutenants went around the whole country, travelling from hamlet to village, riding in rickshaws and bicycles, participating in manual labour development projects and taking their meals in makeshift village eateries.
Some of this was PR, of course, but the symbolism could not be missed, taking into consideration the fact that the filthy-rich government bureaucrats at all levels had lost touch with reality and were totally indifferent to the problems of the people.
In the political rallies they organized across the country they strongly spoke both against the rampant corruption and against the government’s failure to deliver.
They publicly called out cabinet ministers for their underperformance and urged them to resign so as not to continue tarnishing CCM’s image. His strategy worked and CCM was returned to power in the 2015 elections.
Mr Kinana succeeded in his role as party secretary-general because of his background as a strategist and an administrator with long experience in CCM’s intra-party politics. Also in 2012, CCM needed a firefighting tactician to help it survive the 2015 Opposition onslaught.
Now again the CCM chairperson has turned to the same man to rescue the situation. This time, however, his task to reshape CCM might get more complicated.
Healing the country
Despite its own internal issues CCM faces the threat of being swamped by the same undemocratic forces it deliberately unleashed. The task ahead for CCM leadership is, therefore, not only to rebuild the party but also to heal the country.
And this should be done by restoring the country’s democracy. It was super easy for the ruling party to thump the little democratic space between 2015 and 2020 but it is going to be tricky now to restore it due to CCM’s innate anti-multiparty democracy fears.
But there is no alternative. Unlike in 1992 when CCM got away with piecemeal democratic reforms, this time around restoring Tanzania’s democracy and healing the nation would require CCM to bring the long-delayed comprehensive reforms to their logical conclusion.
If they don’t they will sooner or later be forced to do that with probable ramifications to the party and to the unity of the nation.
To be able to accomplish all this, the Party of the Revolution needs a revolutionary and visionary leader, not a tactician. Whether Mr Kinana can transform himself to fulfil those roles remains to be seen.
But even if he does he could be hampered by the fact that the buck in CCM does not stop with him.
He doesn’t have the final say in CCM unless the ruling party initiates other far-reaching constitutional amendments to restructure its leadership organs to reduce the President’s hold on the party.
A victim of the witch-hunt
Another problem is that this time around Mr Kinana comes back to the party with political ‘baggage.’ As a victim of the witch-hunt that characterized both CCM intraparty and national politics in the 2015-2020 period he can’t comfortably claim to be beyond factional politics.
As a matter of fact, Mr Kinana is perceived to belong to the Kikwete-led faction, and it doesn’t matter whether this faction actually exists or not.
The promise Mr Kinana gave in his acceptance speech at the CCM national congress on April 1 to ensure justice and individual democratic rights prevail within the party might be hampered by factional infighting.
In the speech, Mr Kinana didn’t make even a single reference to forgiveness and burying the hatchet. If goes about settling scores, left, right and centre his return to CCM’s leadership might prove to be counterproductive.
Damas Kanyabwoya is a veteran journalist and a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam. He’s available at email@example.com. These are the writer’s own opinions and it does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.