CCM Could Rule Tanzania Forever But For the Enemy Within

The biggest threat to CCM’s continued political domination is the CCM itself.

Tanzania’s former president Dr John Magufuli once claimed that his party, the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), will rule forever because there is just no other alternative. To the same effect, CCM leaders from Zanzibar have, in the past, made more audacious statements, especially during election campaigns. The CCM, which was formed after Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP) merged in February 1977, has ruled Tanzania since Tanganyika’s independence in 1961 and the 1964 revolution in Zanzibar. That makes the CCM the oldest incumbent ruling party on the continent, only second to the Unity Party (UP), which ruled Liberia for 102 years. However, changing voters’ demographics, the failure to preserve the party’s identity and intra-party rivalries are factors that could change the status quo if not properly managed. 

Failure to preserve the party’s identity

Mwalimu Nyerere once equated CCM with one of the worst types of illegal fishing nets, common in the Lake Zone, which is so destructive because it carries everything in its path. Mwalimu’s indictment came on the backdrop of swelling numbers for CCM membership. What troubled him was that the party which had a disciplined recruitment process for new members and invested time and other resources to educate those who rose through its ranks on the ideology and the values of the movement no longer tied itself to such encumbrances.

As a result, in the early 1990s, wealthy individuals joined the party mainly to safeguard their own business interests by supporting certain candidates. This situation has filled the party with political entrepreneurs. However, this was the least controversial aspect of CCM’s drive for new members. In the multiparty era, the CCM became obsessed with numbers to the extent that crossing over from opposition parties came to be celebrated, gradually becoming a common feature of the party’s public rallies or other high-profile events. The list of those who defected from opposition parties is long. Some were either appointed to government positions or as parliamentary candidates without going through the party primaries.

The dangers are obvious. For one thing, it is impossible to defend or love what one does not know. The loyalty of newcomers that rose to the highest positions without undergoing a proper induction is questionable.  For another, the advantages granted to some of these new members fuel resentments and lead to tensions among the rank-and-file members. As a result, during the party’s primaries of 2020, the majority of those who had defected from opposition parties fared terribly with media reports pointing to statements such as ‘CCM is pure green’ (CCM party colours are green and yellow) from members in some constituencies explaining these defeats of the newcomers. This was an apparent jibe to these new members that they had no roots in CCM, and their defeats should serve as a reminder of that.

Intra-party rivalries

Overall, the CCM is a fairly disciplined party; however, when it comes to elections in the era of multipartyism, there is little evidence of that. The outcomes of party primaries never fail to lead to political headaches and the ever-present threat of CCM’s split. As the CCM went in search of the first presidential candidate of the multiparty era in 1995, Mwalimu Nyerere was invited to address a meeting of party leaders. During that meeting, he told them that people yearned for change, and if they won’t find it in the CCM, then they will look elsewhere. On a different occasion, he said that ‘genuine’ opposition will come from within the CCM.

There are many who moved to opposition parties, courtesy of the debacles of party primaries, and who pointed to those two quotes from Mwalimu Nyerere as the justification for their actions. Each election, the country draws closer to the fulfilment of Mwalimu’s ‘political prophecy’. The CCM has come to be a party that is at war with itself every time there are intra-party elections.

For instance, President Samia Suluhu Hassan, speaking at a function on Covid-19 funds, and responding to then parliament speaker Job Ndugai’s criticism of her government about the country’s debt (which led to his eventual resignation), said that since coming to office in March 2021 after the death of her predecessor, she has continued to encounter heavy political headwinds from within her own party (i.e., the CCM). She claimed that Mr Ndugai’s criticism was nothing but “2025 fever”.

She added that, since then, there are those who have constantly worked to undermine her government for reasons ranging from her being a woman to her ascension to the presidency, which disrupted some people’s political calculations about 2025. The president also took issue with the language of some parliamentarians – most of whom come from her own party – for talking about a “transition period” even though the country’s constitution does not provide for the same.

This reference to 2025 is about the general election. Like many other African countries, Tanzania in general, and the CCM in particular, have come to be captive of this political ritual where the collective psyche is fixed on the next round of elections.

Tanzania is not the first country in the region to experience the death of an incumbent president. Kenya and Burundi went through the same thing. President Samia’s rise to power was smooth as far as the constitution is concerned. The political process, however, is proving to be a prolonged transition all the way to 2025. There is a good reason for all this.

For starters, her own party’s newspaper wrote a story claiming that she will not be running for the presidency in the general election in 2025. Although the story was a total fabrication, it pointed to the rumblings from within.

She is not the only incumbent to see plotters around her or hear whispers of possible challengers. While it is not against CCM’s constitution to challenge the incumbent president in party polls, it is frowned upon because of what is known in Tanzania as the ‘CCM’s tradition’ of letting the incumbent complete two terms in office. All the presidents of the multiparty era went through these rumours; and when it comes to the Zanzibar presidency, the processes are so acrimonious in some cases that they are only settled in Dodoma, at the party’s headquarters.

Those vying to be nominated as a presidential candidate are required to collect signatures of members of the party, as ‘guarantors’. It does not matter how many signatures a prospective candidate collects; the final decision is with the national congress which votes for the decisions made by the central committee. As a result, the race for the presidency within the CCM ends up with calls for party unity after a bruising process along factional lines. In the first multiparty elections in 1995, it was Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s personal intervention that finally settled the race within the CCM. The factions which were formed during that race were to prove decisive in the 2005 process which led to Jakaya Kikwete being nominated by his party, after the faction that propelled him to power–mtandao–had almost become another party within the CCM. In 2015, in order to sidestep one faction which had proved to be more powerful than the rest, the CCM powerbrokers settled for the late Dr Magufuli (who was considered an ‘outsider’) for the presidency. This prompted three members of the central committee to speak to journalists in the middle of the night claiming that the process was unfair and had flouted the party’s rules.

Changing voter demographics

The CCM struggles to capture the imagination of young voters and their ambitions and dreams, and this remains an issue in the long run. Young voters have no memory of the past to be nostalgic about an era long gone. They are a majority in the country, with a youthful population whose average age is that of a teenager.

While the usual political indicators like voting patterns, the share of the votes, voter apathy/indifference, or the electoral performance of opposition parties, might be useful, they offer little insight into this issue. With regard to voting patterns, the majority of rural voters, who are semi-educated or illiterate, vote for the CCM, while urban voters, especially the youths, favour opposition parties.

To this end, CCM’s vote has only declined in some elections because voters were angry or frustrated by some failures or the endless revelations of mega corruption scandals. However, these votes ‘cast in anger’ had little to do with the confidence of voters in the opposition; it was rather a harsh reminder to the ruling party that things could change–and are already gradually changing. Viewed differently, the relationship between the CCM and the majority of voters so far can be likened to a parent-child relationship where even when relations are at an all-time low, each party would come to the aid of the other in their hour of need. However, with the changing voter demographics, victory is no longer guaranteed. If the youth turn their frustrations into political activism and manage to show up on polling stations, then the party will be in real trouble. 

That said, for now, all indications for the CCM losing power point to potent threats from within. In other words, the biggest threat to CCM’s continued political domination is the CCM itself, and when the curtain finally comes down, the party would have actively participated in its own defeat.

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