The Chanzo is hosting Digital Freedom and Innovation Day on April 20, 2024. Register Here

Close this search box.

Lowassa: The System And the Lesson That the Opposition Never Learned

If political parties in Tanzania, especially those in the opposition, believe they can have a future in the lives of Tanzanians, they need to find an ideology that they can sell to the people.

subscribe to our newsletter!

Following the demise of former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, many things have been spoken, mostly good, but one thing that stood out was his 2015 attempt at the presidency. 

As a magician of politics, this final act of his time remained historical. It was also a headline at his funeral, with the opposition party CHADEMA feeling that this part of history was omitted and the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), through its national chairperson Samia Suluhu Hassan, arguing otherwise.

One clear thing with Lowassa is that unlike some of his predecessors who also changed political parties, he has become a revered figure by many. 

In many conversations about his final act of politics, ‘the system’ was mentioned many times. For example, an X post by Anna Tibaijuka, former cabinet minister, recounted her conversation with Edward Lowassa in 2015.

“When your name was axed, I asked you to stay in CCM; the system can’t allow somebody to be declared a winner if they are from the opposition,” Tibaijuka wrote. “You replied that you understand this, but you will not allow abuse against you to continue.”

But what is ‘the system,’ and who is ‘the system’?

Systems test in 2015 vs previous attempts

2015 was not the first time that systems were tested in Tanzania. However, it was a close call on the test of systems. And it’s important to follow what the opposition has learned through this process.

The first system tests during the multiparty era were in 1994/95, when the former intelligence officer and Deputy Prime Minister, Augustine Mrema, defected to the opposition NCCR-Mageuzi party, which eventually fielded him as his presidential candidate in the 1995 general elections.

I will use the words of two people who were important to the CCM campaign to explain why this was a critical test of the systems.

In his book Mzee Rukhsa: Safari ya Maisha Yangu, former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi called Mrema a “tactician” and not a strategic thinker, arguing that if Mrema had waited for some time and not defected as early as he did, there’s much likelihood that CCM could have lost the election.

Nevertheless, he admits that even though CCM had enough time to plan, the challenge was tough and they had to call in President Julius Nyerere to add more weight to their campaign. Mwinyi says that some CCM top brass lost hope after the March 25, 1995 opposition rally.

“The votes that Mrema received in the election, which was the first under the multi-party system, and also after defecting from CCM just six months before the election, indicates that had we not worked hard, CCM could have been defeated,” Mwinyi writes.

In his weekly show with The Chanzo, Jenerali Ulimwengu, a veteran journalist and analyst, speaks several times about the 1995 election. As one of the people who led Benjamin Mkapa’s campaign, Mr Ulimwengu says that he felt it was important to defeat Mrema as he believed he was “dangerous.”

 Ulimwengu cites an example of how Mrema would make speeches in parliament in a way that almost seems as if he was transported elsewhere.

What surprised Ulimwengu was that during the campaign, posters for Mrema were everywhere, but those of Mkapa were nowhere to be seen. When he enquired, they told him that the only ladder available for placing posters in strategic places was available at public entity TANESCO, and they would not provide it to them.

In another incident, Ulimwengu explained how one of their colleagues in the campaign was surprised that he placed a campaign poster of a CCM candidate outside his home in Sinza. In his words, he said that “people were afraid.”

In 2015, when Lowassa defected to the opposition, it was an open secret that he managed to run parallel systems to the one used by CCM during the election. From intelligence, political financing, social influence such as religious leaders and former leaders’ endorsement, and support from other critical institutions.

It was an election that, for the first time, the opposition could promptly finance the majority of its election strategy and receive information on its competitor’s strategy and design strategies with adequate information. The only challenge that significantly hampered this momentum was the deteriorated health of the presidential candidate, Lowassa.

A lesson that the opposition never learned

While it’s common for CCM to infiltrate opposition camps using different means, it would be an understatement to say that opposition parties such as CHADEMA are doing nothing on their own.

It’s worth considering some of the opposition’s attempts to manipulate or influence issues in CCM. In 2010, Wilbroad Slaa, then CHADEMA secretary-general, was tasked with the role of enticing 50 members of CCM led by Samwel Sitta to join the centre-right opposition party.

This group was rumoured to have prepared to join a new party, Chama cha Kijamii (CCJ). However, the plan was foiled when the Party Registrar refused to give the party permanent registration status. In his book, Nyuma ya Pazia: CHADEMA Ilivyosalitiwa 2015, Slaa says that plans for the group to join CHADEMA were being made at the Speaker’s offices, and they had several of those meetings.

It was agreed that CHADEMA would find gratuity for about 50 members of parliament who would shift  to CHADEMA four days before the dissolution of parliament in 2010. Slaa says that the plan halted a week before the move when Speaker Sitta stopped taking his calls.

With the 2015 successful defection and successful campaign, it is worth reflecting that ‘the system’ is not just a security apparatus as many have continued to put it, even though security forms a large component in its composition.

Critical analysis of the system goes back to the men who built Tanzania as it is, the social engineers of Tanzania’s systems. The system is an ideology that the state is the party, the party is the state, and many see any attempt on the party as an attempt to destroy the state.

Historically, there have been two prerequisites to work-out any system. First is the greed of the people involved, specifically greed for money and power. But experience shows there is enough money and power for people inside the ruling party to share. Most opposition still believe in managing the system this way, which won’t work.

Another way to work-out the system is through ideology, a belief that people will truly believe, something close to faith and identity.  

The men and women who built Tanzania were social engineers.If political parties in Tanzania believe they can have a future in the lives of Tanzanians, they need to find that belief and sell it; fighting against corruption is not enough of an ideology, and saying we will bring social service is not enough. They need to think from the day a child is born to when they reach an old age, what will they be doing? 

They need to think long-term.

Tony Alfred K is an analyst based in Dar es Salaam, he can be reached on X through @tonyalfredk. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further inquiries.

Digital Freedom and Innovation Day
The Chanzo is hosting Digital Freedom and Innovation Day on Saturday April 20, 2024 at Makumbusho ya Taifa.

Register to secure your spot

2 Responses

  1. Good analysis.
    In addition, state/party interlinks are strategic, founded by the Tanzania’s social engineers. Many ro blame to the fore fathers of the nation. These are inscribed in the constitution. The constitution is again subject to the descritions of those benefiting from the system.
    How change this is our main challenge.

  2. The social engineers who carved the party are gone. The few left are more concerned about personal and family power and richness than a long term prosperity of the country. Worse, they seem to care les about the suffering of the masses, most of whom are poor and destitute and find ways to modernise the economy to create opportunities for all. Knowledgeable people are seen as suspect and the weak intellectually are running the show. With a control on resources, this ‘group’ can only be removed after a very organised peoples power. The state raging of the 2020 election is something the opposition must reflect. However, as the security forces, who are often used by the ‘system’ to ‘silence’ the opposition continue to be aware of their long term fate, these might co-operate to ensure that free and fair elections are done.

    Intellectuals are used and punished by the system where they show critical analysis. Time must come for intellectuals to help political change for the better and encourage the nation to get out of a constitution designed for the sultan in an era of open democracy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *