Edward Lowassa’s Contested Political Legacy

Despite Lowassa’s history as a former senior government official, it is evident that CCM wants to capitalise on Lowassa’s popularity as the country gears for the local government elections this year and the general elections next year.

Evidently, the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) wants to win political capital from the death of Edward Lowassa, who died on February 10, 2024. It began with the announcement of his death by Vice President Philip Mpango. President Samia Suluhu Hassan then condoled with the family of Lowassa, who briefly served as Prime Minister between 2005 and 2008. 

CCM announced that it had suspended ongoing party engagements down South. The national broadcaster TBC – the government’s mouthpiece– has been running special tributes for Lowassa since the announcement of his death. 

Senior former and current government officials have sent condolences and tributes to the late premier. It is, however, puzzling why CCM is so keen to own and embrace a leader who they shunned, disparaged and mocked. Further intriguing is the ambivalent tributes from CHADEMA – the party Lowassa joined after his humiliation in the 2015 CCM nomination process. 

Lowassa and CCM

Lowassa’s death helps us situate and punctuate Tanzania’s recent political history and, specifically, internal party dynamics. The silver fox politician rose within CCM ranks to become Prime Minister in 2005. Lowassa was, by accounts of both his admirers and detractors, ‘the good guy.’ 

He has been described as a strong-willed individual with unwavering conviction. For a man who was accused of many things, he rarely wanted to defend himself. It is said he took the fall for his accusers by choosing to remain silent or brushing off allegations. 

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Lowassa was an ambitious man. His dream was to become the president of Tanzania. However, when he first sought the top job in 1995, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere had serious reservations about his wealth despite his popularity. In 1995, the youthful Lowassa and Jakaya Kikwete had an unbreakable bond. 

The two flew a chartered plane to Dodoma to hand in their nomination papers. Lowassa and Kikwete had built a formidable faction within CCM known as mtandao or network that mobilised resources, delegates and plenty of money. 

Despite the mtandao not delivering the candidacy of Kikwete in 1995, its continued clandestine mobilising culminated with the nomination of Kikwete as CCM’s presidential candidate in 2005. 

Lowassa is credited with having been the key mobiliser in this amorphous network. His reward was the Prime Minister’s position and a promise that Kikwete would pass over the baton after his term ended in 2015. 

Three years into his premiership, Lowassa was forced to resign over serious graft allegations involving power generation in what came to be known as the Richmond scandal. The once unbreakable bond of friendship between Kikwete and Lowassa was over. 

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Some saw it as betrayal, while others saw it as Lowassa saving his friend(s) by biting the bullet. As he resigned in parliament following a government report led by Harrison Mwakyembe, Lowassa insinuated that people were after his position and granted their wish. 

The Richmond scandal report did not result in any meaningful convictions but resulted in the resignation of Lowassa and two other ministers, Nazir Karamagi (Energy and Minerals) and Ibrahim Msabaha (East African Cooperation). 

Mobilising for 2015 

Despite taking the fall for his trusted colleagues, factions within President Kikwete’s inner circle were intent on suppressing the popularity of Lowassa within the party and outside. After the elections in 2010, Lowassa began to pull resources and money in preparation for the 2015 elections seriously. 

Even with the frustrations from some factions within CCM, Lowassa didn’t back down from his resolve to clinch the nomination in 2015. He built a strong network that targeted religious groups such as his religious base – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) and the Catholic Church, the two leading churches in Tanzania. 

He also had backing from Muslim clerics and wealthy business people. As he mobilised, Lowassa’s central message was the dislike of poverty and promoting education. This message resonated with the poor folks. Lowassa was a generous man. He dished out money in church projects, school projects, and hospitals countrywide. 

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Despite President Kikwete’s attempts to sentence him in the court of public opinion in 2011 through the anticorruption operation dubbed vua gamba or shedding the skin, some public sections continued to show love for Lowassa. During this time, the opposition CHADEMA anticorruption juggernaut also reached a fever pitch. 

CHADEMA had publicly listed Lowassa among the most corrupt leaders. CHADEMA had organised its campaign on an anticorruption message led by then party Secretary General Dr Wilbroad Slaa, who had run for president in 2010. 

Slaa was a charismatic and fearless figure who openly spoke about Lowassa’s corruption. At the time, CHADEMA’s position was that CCM was led by a cabal of corrupt individuals, including Lowassa, who led a rival faction from within. 

Lowassa and CHADEMA

Going to the 2015 nomination, Lowassa understood that he had to win public sympathy and support because it was evident that President Kikwete had, by all means, made up his mind not to allow Lowassa to get the CCM presidential nomination. 

As predicted, Lowassa was expunged from the CCM presidential nomination list by the party’s National Security and Ethics Committee. Despite the feeling of disgruntlement, Lowassa and his team were convinced that he should be on the ballot. 

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By mid-July, when the CCM nomination process had ended with the nomination of John Magufuli as flagbearer, there was pressure from Lowassa supporters to announce his political future. 

By then, the opposition, which had formed a coalition known as Umoja wa Katiba ya Wananchi (UKAWA) following their protest against the hijacking of the constitution process by CCM, was also selecting a joint presidential candidate. Aware of the fallout in CCM, UKAWA and specifically CHADEMA saw Lowassa as a pragmatic fall-to guy. 

Dr Slaa, who was seen as the likely joint candidate for the UKAWA coalition, documents the intricate behind-the-scenes negotiations that negotiated Lowassa’s entry to CHADEMA. Dr Slaa felt betrayed by the decision to welcome Lowassa to CHADEMA in what he calls the privatisation of CHADEMA. 

Lowassa announced his defection from CCM and was welcomed to CHADEMA on July 28, 2015.  CHADEMA’s national chairperson, Freeman Mbowe, explained the decision to welcome Lowassa to the party as a pragmatic one. 

It was evident that Lowassa’s heart was not in CHADEMA. On the day he was handed a CHADEMA membership card, party supporters asked why he was not clad in party regalia. UKAWA endorsed his candidature for the 2015 elections.

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Lowassa’s health during the 2015 election was the subject of political ridicule. He couldn’t campaign as effectively as his primary opponent at the time, CCM’s John Magufuli.

Lowassa and UKAWA faired considerably well in the elections, garnering 39 per cent of the vote. After the elections, Lowassa maintained a low profile and, in 2019, at the height of President Magufuli’s strongman rule, announced that he had returned to CCM

CCM revisionism

CCM has been quick to claim Lowassa after he died. President Samia has declared five days of mourning. He is being eulogised as a great servant of the army, party stalwart and resolute leader. 

Despite Lowassa’s history as a former senior government official, it is evident that CCM wants to capitalise on Lowassa’s popularity as the country gears for the local government elections this year and the general elections next year. 

In the grand scheme of things, CCM has chosen to forget the accusations it levelled against Lowassa and elevate him as a hero at the altar of political expediency. Despite the short stint as a member of CHADEMA, Lowassa returned to his political home, which will now bury him as a hero – just like he never left. 
Nicodemus Minde holds a PhD in International Relations from the United States International University- Africa,  Nairobi. He can be reached on X at @decolanga. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at editor@thechanzo.com.

3 Responses

  1. CHADEMA committed a political harakiri when they ditched charismatic Dr Slaa and embraced scandalous Lowassa. It was an act of opportunism that destroyed Chadema when Dr Slaa rightly protested and left the party. Chadema wrongly thought Lowassa would bring massive CCM followers but that never happened. In fact he himself reverted to CCM as another act of opportunism. Today CCM are using his demise as electoral campaign by trying to score political gain

  2. The same guy who was once on top of the Chadema list of shame is now being lionized by CCM as the great leader, clean and honest

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