by Ben Taylor
Former presidential candidate (in 2015) for the country’s leading opposition party, Chadema, Edward Lowassa, resigned from Chadema in March and re-joined his former party, CCM. Speaking at Lumumba CCM offices, Mr Lowassa said: “I am back home.”
Mr Lowassa had previously served in government as a CCM member, most notably as Prime Minister between December 2005 and February 2008 under President Jakaya Kikwete. He resigned his position as Prime Minister following criticism by MPs
and others of his actions in the controversial emergency electricity generation contract awarded to a US firm, Richmond. In the eyes of many, this scandal left Mr Lowassa permanently tainted, though he retained strong support within CCM, such that he was considered a leading contender in the party for selection as the party’s presidential candidate in 2015. When he was overlooked for that role, he sought and found a new home in Chadema – one that would give him a chance to contest the Presidency.
There were signs that Mr Lowassa never entirely felt at home with Chadema, however, and that many Chadema members and supporters felt uncomfortable with him as a leading player in their party. The Chadema party chair, Freeman Mbowe, had long been an outspoken critic of Mr Lowassa, as had the party’s previous presidential candidate Dr Wilbroad Slaa. Dr Slaa left the party soon after Mr Lowassa joined, though Mr Mbowe and most of the party’s senior figures remained.
On Mr Lowassa’s part, following his ultimately unsuccessful election campaign, his involvement in Chadema party matters was never more than lukewarm. He did not join in the kind of criticism of the government that other party leaders engaged in, and he occasionally spoke positively about President Magufuli’s leadership.
At a meeting with President John Magufuli in January 2018, Mr Lowassa congratulated President Magufuli for a good job he was doing. The former Prime Minister said the ‘fruitful conversation’ he had with the President had comforted him, saying “the President has made my day.”
As such, his decision now to return to CCM did not take many observers by surprise. “He could not stay in the opposition after losing the election because the mission and objectives of the Tanzanian opposition were not in his heart,” said Prof Gaudens Mpangala of Ruaha Catholic University (RUCU). “With his sole ambition of winning the presidency, Mr Lowassa’s exit from Chadema was just a matter of time after losing to Dr Magufuli,” he added. Chadema’s deputy secretary general (Mainland) John Mnyika says the absence of Lowassa will not reduce opposition influence and votes, but will instead help them make significant strides in the coming election.
“In 2015, Tanzanians voted for change. There was a massive motivation campaign for change, so his coming to Chadema was an impetus,” he said. “His exit has given an opportunity to pick a candidate better than him. So, we view his absence is a good riddance and a blessing in disguise.”
Prof Mpangala said the opposition managed to secure six million votes in the 2015 election not because of Mr Lowassa but because of the chances created by political situation at that particular time. He said rampant corruption and inaction of the previous administration gave the opposition a key agenda that resonated with voters.
Despite the predictable nature of Mr Lowassa’s decision, rumours swirled about possible ulterior motives. Some suggest he was doing this in order to speed the release of his son-in-law who is in long-term remand for alleged bank fraud, while others say this was a measure to ward off government pressures on Mr Lowassa’s extensive business interests and property portfolio. A third suggestion is that President Magufuli has encouraged Mr Lowassa to re-join CCM in order to assist him with handling critics within the party, notably those connected with Mr Lowassa’s long-time rival, Bernard Membe.
President Magufuli welcomed Mr Lowassa back into CCM: “He is a gentleman. He was a CCM member and defected to the opposition, but he requested to return home. I commend him – even in holy scriptures we are taught to forgive. Welcome back so that we can build our country which has no political conflicts, and development has no political ideology.”