Dar es Salaam. Speculation over possible cracks forming in the opposition CHADEMA party has been gaining steam lately, with some observers pointing to a possible strife between the party’s national chairperson Freeman Mbowe and his deputy for Tanzania Mainland Tundu Lissu.
Talks of likely fissures building up in Tanzania’s main opposition party started to attract the attention of observers as late as March 2022 when authorities dropped their terrorism charges against Mbowe in a manner that left observers with many questions.
His decision to meet President Samia Suluhu Hassan immediately after his release, instead of his supporters waiting for him at the party’s headquarters, plus stances he has taken since then, have put Mr Mbowe in a precarious defensive position and a burden to shore up his reputation.
The burden has been so heavy on Mr Mbowe’s shoulders that he used his entire speech during CHADEMA’s inaugural public rally in Mwanza on January 21, 2023, to address the sell-out accusations dubbed kulamba asali, which means licking the honey in English.
“If there is anything that has hurt me so much during the 30 years of service to CHADEMA, then it is the decision by some people to accuse me of being compromised and of betrayal,” Mr Mbowe said in his scathing speech. “I’ve been ignoring these claims for there are important issues to address, but they are claims that hurt me so much.”
Mr Mbowe did not name names in his speech. Still, given his past and recent statements, some observers have increasingly been associating Lissu with this group of CHADEMA members who are critical of Mbowe’s post-prison stances, particularly on the future of oppositional politics under the Samia Administration.
Lissu, who survived an assassination attempt in 2017, is an antithesis of Mbowe. A lawyer by profession, CHADEMA’s presidential candidate in 2020 is more outspoken compared to the softspoken party strategist Mbowe.
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Nowhere has the difference between the two been more palpable than in the ongoing reconciliation drive spearheaded by President Samia, where the public remarks by the two reveal that CHADEMA is anything but a united party.
While Mr Mbowe seems to have faith in the ongoing dialogue, surprised by people ridiculing the initiative, Mr Lissu has been very critical of the international community-backed effort, portraying it as a ruse to get those in power off the hook.
Mr Lissu told a rally in Morogoro on May 7, 2023, that there will be no genuine reconciliation if authorities refuse to hold to account perpetrators of past crimes, questioning praises heaped on President Samia for being a mediator-in-chief.
“How come are we being united while not being informed of the reasons that led people to be killed for their political beliefs?” Mr Lissu questioned, echoing his position on the issue. “Are these banners [praising Samia] in town aimed at reconciling the nation or fooling it?”
Perhaps the most profound statement Mr Lissu has made about the ongoing reconciliation talks is the one he gave on May 8, 2023, in Dodoma, where he said it would be “stupid” for CHADEMA members to capitulate because of “half-bread” authorities promise them.
“I’m hearing some stories that if we [CHADEMA] support the reconciliation drive, we will be given parliamentary seats [in the coming parliament], and maybe we will have half of the bread, meaning we will be given some [government] positions,” Mr Lissu told rally-goers.
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“People are being told these stories, and they receive them with glee. Are we intelligent? Is it smart to agree with this nonsense?” Mr Lissu queried. “No, it’s not smart. The solution is New Constitution. Let us demand the New Constitution.”
Lissu’s remarks gave new impetus to speculation that has been swirling around for some time now regarding whether CHADEMA is as united as it claims or cracks are forming in the centre-right political party.
His latest assault on the reconciliation talks prompted CHADEMA’s director of communications John Mrema to open up about these speculations on Wednesday, denying that the party is facing a unity crisis.
“There is no misunderstanding within the party,” Mr Mrema told East African Radio. “The party’s highest organs decided the issue of reconciliation. Mr Lissu approves the ongoing efforts, but there are things he is not satisfied with.”
But analysts told The Chanzo on Wednesday that there exists some misunderstanding among CHADEMA’s top leaders regarding the issue of national dialogue, with a seasoned journalist and analyst Ezekiel Kamwaga commenting that it is a normal thing for any political party.
Mr Kamwaga interprets the whole issue from a communication perspective, arguing that the misunderstanding could be caused by the fact that some people within the party have more information about the respective issue. In contrast, others have less or no information at all.
“I don’t see any crack,” Mr Kamwaga, who edits an online newspaper Gazeti la Dunia, told The Chanzo. “If you ask me, CHADEMA could effectively resolve this misunderstanding issue through proper party meetings. It is a communication problem, I’d say.”
Dr Muhidin Shangwe is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM).
He told The Chanzo that even if there exists no misunderstanding within CHADEMA, recent developments within the party make people believe that there are, and Mr Lissu is confirming those beliefs.
Victim of political shifts
Dr Shangwe considers CHADEMA a victim of the ongoing political shifts in Tanzania that have forced the party to abandon its hitherto militant approach and embrace a more reconciliatory political strategy.
He says the move must have left some injuries within the party as some factions would like to maintain its militant approach, pointing out Mr Lissu as a likely spokesperson of this faction.
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“It is like telling people to put down their weapons and engage in a dialogue,” Dr Shangwe, who interprets what’s going on within CHADEMA as a result of conflicting thoughts on the party’s future, noted. “Now, in a situation like that, there must be rebels.”
He says the situation may affect CHADEMA positively by allowing the party to adapt to the changing political landscape in Tanzania and rebrand itself accordingly or negatively by disrupting its organisation ahead of the 2025 election.
“It may also raise the question of whether it is now the time for CHADEMA’s disintegration,” Dr Shangwe explained, pointing out how opposition parties before it disintegrated, as in the case of NCCR-Mageuzi and Civic United Front (CUF).
“If it does disintegrate, that will deal a huge blow in people’s beliefs and confidence in opposition parties in Tanzania,” he added. “And if that does happen, you can guess who the ultimate winner will be.”
Additional reporting by Lukelo Francis.