Democracy in Africa

The Tanzanian opposition must unite to defeat ‘medieval feudal lord’ John Magafuli

By Zitto Kabwe 4 August 2020

President John Magufuli of Tanzania. (Photo: Flickr / Rwanda Presidency)

Opposition parties in Tanzania need to join forces when the country goes to the polls, to change the course of history and ensure that future generations get the chance to enjoy a brighter life.

A pivotal moment will arise in Tanzania’s history on 28 October 2020, when the county goes to the polls. The election date was announced by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC). On that Wednesday, 85 days from now, citizens will face a momentous choice.

We can choose to keep the status quo for five more years, which means continued repression and restrictions on core freedoms, increased poverty, sluggish economic growth and lack of access to quality education and health care. Or we can make the brave choice – and choose change. Change that brings a people-centred government founded on a people-centred constitution that prioritises growth to create jobs, freedom and access to quality social services for all.

When the election campaign officially begins on 26 August, my colleagues and I will traverse the length and breadth of the union to urge citizens to make the brave choice that puts our children and their children first. But we, as opposition politicians, together with our brothers and friends from Chadema, have to make the options easier, simpler and more straightforward for Tanzanians.

We do not have the luxury this year of choosing to run everywhere under our own banners. There is one path available to beat the current regime, and that is for the main opposition parties to unite. If we agree to back one presidential candidate in the Mainland, one presidential candidate in Zanzibar and divide constituencies between us on the basis of which candidate stands the best chance of winning, we have more than a mere hope of winning this election and changing the course of Tanzanian history. We stand a real chance. And it is a chance we best not miss.

The primary focus of the opposition in this election must be to unseat John Magufuli and the CCM. Broadly speaking, we as the opposition agree on the key problems afflicting our country and what needs to be done to solve them. We each have our strengths and weaknesses but if we combine our strengths, our weaknesses will largely fall away.

I have long advocated for the need for one opposition presidential candidate for the Union – one individual who stands the best chance of beating President Magufuli if he or she is backed by a united opposition movement. It is for this reason that I declined to stand for my party’s nomination to be a presidential candidate. I believe there exist individuals in the opposition space that, with my support, will be better placed to run for the presidency.

This week, both Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo will be finalising our presidential candidates and constituency candidates. It is absolutely essential that we come together immediately after the relevant party conventions have been concluded and decide:

  1. Which candidate stands the best chance of beating President John Magufuli in the Union presidential race?
  2. Which candidate stands the best chance of winning the Zanzibar presidency?
  3. Constituency by constituency across the union, which candidate stands the best chance of beating the CCM?

Emotions, egos and party interests must be cast aside to answer these questions. Instead, clear, calm, scientific analysis and rationality must inform the choice of which individuals we will take to the people. We share the objective of unseating the CCM. Our only consideration, therefore, should be how best to achieve this.

The template of Malawi stands large and proud for us to emulate. There, the opposition parties came together to form the Tonse Alliance that swept Lazarus Chakwera to a comprehensive victory. Unfortunately, the example set by Malawi is the exception rather than the rule in sub-Saharan Africa. Tanzania, however, has the chance now to follow the lead of Malawi and make opposition unity and collaboration a defining trend in our region.

The CCM is banking on opposition disunity and the splitting of votes to obtain a second term for President Magufuli and many CCM MPs. Perhaps it is a well-worn saying – united, the opposition will stand and prevail. Divided, we will fall.

Most tragically, if we stay divided, our countrymen and women will suffer another five years of poverty and repression. I do not think the country will be able to come back from another five years of misrule by a president who styles himself as a medieval feudal lord.

Importantly, opposition collaboration doesn’t just mean who stands for what and where. We have a critical mission to pool our resources in collaboration with civil society to ensure that this election is free and fair and that the democratic will of the people is respected. We cannot afford a repeat of 2015 in Zanzibar, where the legitimate defeat of the CCM was illegally annulled.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic means it is unlikely that there will be any international observer missions present for the election. Here, again, we can take a leaf out of Malawi’s book, where a vibrant, strong civil society movement worked hand-in-hand with political parties to ensure their election was free and fair.

As opposition parties, we need to come together to show leadership in initiating a similar action here. It starts with ensuring that between us, all opposition parties cover every single polling station with trained party and counting agents. That must be complemented by civil society observers who must oversee both the voting process and counting procedures.

This week is pivotal for the forthcoming election. The opposition has no option but to work together. Our country’s future depends on it. DM

Zitto Kabwe is leader of ACT Wazalendo.

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