Kikwete’s ex-PM Lowassa defects, leads opposition


Edward Lowassa

Outgoing Tanzania president Jakaya Kikwete earlier this year urged his Burundi counterpart to observe term limits, but developments in both countries this week have backed the adage that there are only permanent interests in African politics, not foes.

A growing flurry in political posturing could slow down growth in the East African Community, as investors adopt cautious stances over the risk trajectory of the five-member market bloc of 150 million, which has been touted as an integration model for the continent.

Lowassa, Kikwete’s deep-pocketed former prime minister for three years, Wednesday decamped to the main Chadema opposition party, where he was quickly picked as its presidential candidate for the October 25 general election.

He last month failed to get the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) nod for its party ticket, which is a near-guarantee of succeeding Kikwete.

CCM has dominated the country’s politics since modern Tanzania was formed, and will instead back government minister John Magufuli.

Despite positioning his switch as meant to “bring positive change” to the country, with a pledge to use Tanzania’s natural resources to develop the nation, it was the acerbic remarks Lowassa reserved for the party he had just left that suggests it will be a bruising three months for East Africa’s most populous country.

CCM’s leadership, he said, was “oppressive” and “infested with leaders who are dictators, undemocratic and surrounded with greedy power mongers.”

“CCM’s leaders have of late turned out to be undemocratic, oppressive and witch-hunting. I am no longer with them,” he added.

While breaking the CCM’ stranglehold on power may prove a tall order, his candidature will stir up a campaign that was shaping up to become a coronation for Magufuli.

Still, the whiff of opportunism is in the air, for Lowassa was once an object of hatred for Chadema, who portrayed him as embodying the corruption in CCM.

However, though he is a polarising figure, he said to have well-heeled backers, giving the party some much-needed operational heft.

Ahmed Salim, a Dubai-based analyst at Teneo Intelligence, told news agency AFP this week that Lowassa would bring his new party “a lot of financial backing and grassroots support and competitiveness” in parliamentary elections.

“If he is fielded as a candidate, it changes a lot, but we can’t say it clears Chadema to win presidential elections.”

It is also not clear if Lowassa’s candidature has his new party’s full backing, as its erstwhile candidate Wilbrod Slaa has attempted to topple the CCM before and was the presumptive nominee.

Party spokesman Den Lissu however said Chadema had satisfied itself that he was a strong candidate.

An outside factor is if the opposition will rally behind him, with plans of a coalition being explored, but his putative candidacy could feasibly raise political temperatures in a country praised for its stability and which has seen peaceful transfers of power since the return of multi-party politics in 1995.

Mail & Guardian

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