When it comes to matters of (criminal) law, CHADEMA is the equivalent of a think tank. The party has achieved a level of legal competence that most state attorneys are struggling to match.
However, CHADEMA seems, at times, to be misusing its legal arsenal by throwing it at nearly every notable problem, regardless of its nature. The weakness of this approach is that it puts unnecessary pressure on limited resources, and diverts attention from other more important issues.
Take, for instance, the issue of 19 female Members of Parliament that the party expelled soon after the 2020 general election. The nature of the problem is (strictly) political, in that the ruling party wanted to ensure some semblance of (concocted) diversity in the National Assembly, after blatantly disqualifying too many opposition candidates.
It seems the ruling party found a section of committed allies in former CHADEMA MPs that had ‘lost’ the election (and thus large campaign funds), and who were deeply uncertain about their future.
After all, there was a chatter about the potential removal of term limits – meaning the late President John Pombe Magufuli could continue beyond 2025. Who knew he wouldn’t even serve out his second term?
That two speakers of the National Assembly have sought to protect the expelled MPs, in spite of them having lost an intra-party appeal, and under a different President – who has described reconciliation as her priority – is clear evidence of there being a consensus within the CCM-led government that protecting the MP’s is necessary. And, it is not hard to understand why.
CCM has been consistent in defending the credibility of the 2020 election. Allowing the MPs to lose their seats would have two main implications: Firstly, it would undermine the party’s ability to engineer similar manoeuvres in future (as it would not be trusted to protect collaborators), and secondly, such a move would allay any doubts that CCM ran roughshod over its opponents in the general election.
For CHADEMA, the inability to discipline its members has existential implications. No wonder the party has gone to the point of challenging its former members’ mandate in court.
Unfortunately, court processes tend to be long and cyclical, meaning the ‘party-less’ MPs could end up dragging the process until the end of the current parliament in 2025. This is where I think a key and missed lesson from Mbowe’s terrorism case comes into play.
CHADEMA used Mbowe’s trial to undermine the credibility of the case, and reveal the tenuous nature of the allegations. However, in spite of superior performance, the case ended through a political intervention from higher up, as embodied by the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP’s) decision to drop the charges.
Does CHADEMA anticipate the same ending for the 19 MPs’ case?
Mbowe’s case was quite high profile and attracted a great deal of both negative publicity for the government, and (unwanted) diplomatic pressure. The 19 MPs’ case is significant (as explained earlier) but lacks the same profile.
It is in the interest of the government to let it drag on forever, partly because CHADEMA seems so concerned, and thus distracted, by the case.
CHADEMA sees the court of law as its comfort zone. But not every case is worth fighting in court.
As far as the 19 MPs’ case is concerned, the party has already made its case. Since there is no clear avenue for victory in court, a wise decision would be to concentrate on the bigger picture – party programmes, and political dialogue – and seek to resolve the case through a political mechanism.
Otherwise, the party risks wasting vital lawyers’ time, and resources, on a dead-end case.
Dastan Kweka is a development professional, analyst and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @KwekaKweka. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo Initiative. Would you like to publish in this space? Contact our editors at email@example.com for further inquiries.