President John Magufuli takes the mantle as CCM Chairman this week from his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete who was set to relieve his post in 2017. However, pursuant to the party’s unwritten law, an incoming president assumes the chairmanship position soon after his election. The election of John Pombe Magufuli as president of Tanzania in October 2015 somehow averted further divisions and fissures that emerged during the presidential nominations of Tanzania’s grand old party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
The party somehow united when John Magufuli was nominated as the party’s presidential flag bearer in July 2015 during the party convention in Dodoma beating off supposed frontrunners like Bernard Membe and former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa. Political intricacies within the party saw the surprise and rather fortuitous nomination of Magufuli. Intra-elite competition within the party coupled with underlying power struggles and corruption scandals of senior CCM henchmen had placed CCM in an awkward position ahead of the 2015 General Election. Magufuli’s impeccable track record in government and unique no-nonsense approach endeared him to the public who had otherwise lost trust in CCM. So much was CCM’s damaged reputation that Magufuli was seen as the party symbol and the campaign theme ‘Hapa Kazi Tu’ (loosely translated as ‘strictly business’ summed up Magufuli’s/CCM’s campaign manifesto.
The fallout from the nominations in Dodoma saw the high profile defection of Edward Lowassa to the opposition Chadema, which was part of the united opposition – the Umoja wa Katiba ya Wananchi (UKAWA). Lowassa’s defection was also followed by a number of defections of CCM luminaries to the opposition. Despite the opposition forays CCM was able to win the election, which in all account was Tanzania’s most competitive election since the advent of multiparty democracy in 1992.
The election of Magufuli was a welcome reprieve for CCM, which was badly bruised. President Magufuli embarked on house cleaning of the country’s rotten civil service and crucial institutions such as the revenue authority (TRA), the ports authority (TPA), the anticorruption institution PCCB among many others. The clean up caught up with many CCM sympathizers and business conduits of CCM. There were rumors that some ‘forces’ within the party are not happy with Magufuli’s ‘speed’ and there was talk of delaying his elevation as CCM Chairman. Despite never having held any leadership position within the party, Magufuli is seen as a man who will sanitize CCM and give the party renewed direction. His biggest challenge however, will be to unite a wilting party. Even with Lowassa’s absence his influence within the party remains solid. Magufuli needs to trade carefully and learn to play party politics for him to resuscitate CCM’s dwindling fortunes.