Dar es Salaam. The debate around the necessity of an inter-governmental agreement between Tanzania and Dubai that would allow the latter’s multinational logistics company DP World to operate the Dar es Salaam port has been so consistent that some have started to think about its possibility of influencing the 2025 electoral politics.
On June 10, 2023, lawmakers unanimously endorsed the controversial deal that continues to polarise the nation, with division in opinion between its supporters and critics appearing as clear as day. The government and the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party describe the agreement as “the best deal ever,” while activists and opposition parties describe it as “the worst.”
In the middle are religious leaders and legal experts who, while appreciating authorities’ efforts to attract investors into the country, are very clear in their analysis that if the agreement goes to implementation in its current form, Tanzania will lose more than it’ll benefit from it.
Sunday’s analysis by the Tanganyika Law Society represents many recommendations that others have shared to make the deal more favourable to Tanzania, which include, among other things, doing away with provisions that prevent parties from terminating the agreement due to material breaches.
But debate around the agreement is not limited to legal arguments only as political arguments have been equally prominent, with the opposition CHADEMA party being at the forefront, causing the debate to take a political face.
At least two political arguments have put those in the government, including President Samia Suluhu Hassan herself, on the defensive end. It includes the accusation that the CCM’s government is selling off Tanzania’s properties to foreigners, a charge the government has vehemently denied.
CHADEMA national chairperson Freeman Mbowe also criticised the deal based on Samia’s identity as a Zanzibari, telling Tanzanians that if the Head of State thinks the agreement is beneficial, why then does it cover Tanzania Mainland only and not Zanzibar, where she hails from?
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Defending herself, President Samia told rally-goers in Mwanza recently that she is a Tanzanian woman and selling off the country has never been among her priorities. Tanzania’s first female Head of State says she has her eyes on the country’s development, which she said is everyone’s role in ensuring its accomplishment.
The deal with Dubai gives CHADEMA, supposedly the leading opponent of CCM in 2024’s local government elections and 2025’s general election, a platform to ground its campaigns and challenge CCM’s grip on power for almost six decades.
A rare opportunity
It is a rare opportunity that has presented itself amidst a reformist mood created by President Samia in the areas of economy and politics that won the hearts of many, including Mr Mbowe himself, who has lauded the Head of State on several occasions for her measures aimed at charting a different future for the country under her 4Rs philosophy: reconciliation, resilience, reforms, and rebuilding.
During a recent press conference by CHADEMA deputy national chairperson (Tanzania Mainland) Tundu Lissu, it was clear that the centre-right political party will continue to whip up its political base through the DP World deal as 2025 nears.
“This is the big political agenda for the next twenty years, not just for the 2025 [election],” the firebrand politician admitted. “It will remain on top of the political agenda. I don’t know how CCM is going to avoid this issue.”
But under what circumstances will the Tanzania-Dubai deal on the operations of the Dar port influence the 2025 electoral politics? Experts told The Chanzo on Tuesday it will all depend on how the government respond to the concerns and recommendations Tanzanians have expressed concerning the deal.
The government has been assuring the public that the recent intergovernmental agreement the parliament endorsed is not final, pointing out that room for improvement still exists, including ensuring that national interests are protected in the subsequent Host Government Agreements (HGAs) to be signed.
Dr Richard Mbunda, a political science lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, thinks that what will come from here will determine the 2025 electoral politics.
“The government has already made blunders,” Dr Mbunda told The Chanzo in an interview. “Whether the issue will affect CCM electorally or not will depend on how it responds to people’s concerns. If people feel ignored, you know what to expect at the voting booth.”
However, veteran journalist and analyst Ezekiel Kamwaga thinks that the government can go ahead with the deal as it is without any difficulties in 2025, provided that the investment at the Dar port pays off and people see results.
“Should the government go ahead with executing the agreement as it is and come 2025 it has nothing to show off as a success, then there will be problems,” Kamwaga, who edits an online newspaper Gazeti la Dunia, said in an interview.
The government’s next steps will not only determine CCM’s performance in the upcoming elections but also the path of the reconciliation process Samia launched immediately after coming to power.
Analysts told The Chanzo that the government would have difficulty seeking dialogue with key actors in the process – political parties, and religious leaders, to name a few – if it is unwilling to listen to their opinions on the most sensitive issue defining the country’s future.
Opposition from within
But challenges to President Samia’s candidacy in 2025 might not come from opposition parties only. There are fears that some factions within her party, CCM, might exploit the issue to challenge her ambition to stand in 2025.
Past developments show that Samia’s candidacy might be open to a challenge. On August 11, 2021, for instance, CCM’s mouthpiece, Uhuru newspaper, ran a false story on its front page that Samia does not plan to seek a second term, an accusation Samia later denied, leading to the suspension of the paper for several days.
On December 14, 2022, during the CCM congress in Dodoma, senior cadres gave Samia assurances over her candidacy in 2025, further confirming the challenges she faced in her party.
Some observers have commented that a faction within the party disinterested in Samia’s candidacy, which has been associated with the former leader John Magufuli, will use the port deal to strengthen their case in the party.
Additional reporting by Lukelo Francis.hea