By Phyllis Johnson
The longest serving political party in government on the African continent Chama Chamapinduzi (CCM) has chosen its next leader to walk in the footsteps of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
He is Dr John Magufuli, a scientist and government infrastructure activist who has served as Minister of Works twice, under the current and the previous president of Tanzania, a country of 50 million people.
Colleagues say Magafuli is a “popular character, blunt and brusque but gets things done”, and they see in him a person who can galvanize the electorate behind the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, in a general election set for 25 October, against a fragmented opposition.
He has a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Dar es Salaam, and has served as a Member of Parliament for the past 20 years, representing his Chato constituency in the gold-mining district of Geita in northwestern Tanzania near Lake Victoria.
Magafuli, 55, was born around the same time as his country, so is roughly the same age, and has served in various cabinet posts under President Benjamin Mkapa and his successor, Jakaya Kikwete, the current president. The current Tanzanian constitution restricts serving presidents to two five-year terms.
Magufuli also served as Minister of Livestock Development and Fisheries, and of Lands and Human Settlements, but his main achievements are in his passion for infrastructure development, especially the rural and feeder road networks which improved significantly during his time as minister, and the Mtwara Corridor in southern Tanzania.
Nyerere was the founding father and first president who lead his country to independence in 1961, and thereafter supported the liberation of other countries in southern Africa from colonial rule, including Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
He was a visionary and principled leader who set high standards of behaviour and expected the same from his party and government. The famous Arusha Declaration of 1967 aligned with a strict leadership code.
Tanzania’s stability is credited to Nyerere’s legacy of inclusive CCM politics and principles, and the unique Union that allows Zanzibar to have its own president and parliament while participating fully in the Union presidency and parliament with the mainland.
The CCM party congress held 11-12 July in the Tanzanian capital, Dodoma, also chose its candidate for President of Zanzibar, the incumbent Ali Mohamed Shein, who if elected will serve his second term in office.
CCM’s Magufuli named a Zanzibari running mate for vice president, as per tradition, and she is Samia Suluhu Hassan, the current Minister of State in the Vice Presdient’s Office for Union Affairs.
CCM is the longest serving political party in government on the continent, serving since Independence in 1961. This is the party of Mwalimu Nyerere who led the country to independence as the president of this party under its previous name, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU).
Under Mwalimu’s leadership, mainland Tanganyika joined with the islands of Zanzibar in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania, and the ruling party later changed its name to CCM to incorporate members in both places.
The CCM congress in Dodoma was a classic and hard-fought political contest to be studied into the future by students of politics, as the list of 38 prospective candidates who had submitted nomination papers was reviewed by the party ethics committee before being pared down to five candidates by the central committee, observed by an advisory council of elders that includes two former presidents.
Those with criminal records or corrupt behaviour were removed, and the selection process also considered each candidate’s track record, education, profession and political outlook, including engagement and approach to party activities.
Among the aspiring candidates were the outgoing vice president and the prime minister, two former prime ministers, and 12 cabinet ministers. These included five candidates who are women, among them the Justice Minister, Asha-Rose Migiro, a former UN Deputy Secretary-General.
She was among the five candidates selected by the central committee and remained in the race after the National Executive Committee reduced the candidates to three. The final list of three candidates included Magafuli, Migiro and another woman, Amina Salum Ali, currently the African Union ambassador to the United States.
The party congress chose one candidate from the three, with a landslide vote of 87 percent for the works minister, Magafuli.
By well-established tradition, the party will unite around the selected candidate (although there may be defectors) and prepare for the election campaign under the guidance of the secretary-general, Abdulrahman Kinana, who has been at the helm of this congress and active in initiating projects throughout the country during his term.
A Tanzanian political analyst and long-time supporter of CCM, although not a card-carrying member, said, “CCM may have some challenges, but when it mobilises for an end that is important for the country and nations, there is no party like it anywhere.
“The genius of the party is simply incredible. Everybody was predicting doom and gloom, and just see how it was managed?”
This is the first presidential candidate selection to take place without the direct influence of the founding father and first president of the country, Mwalimu Nyerere, who died in 1999.
After leading his country to independence, he served for 24 years in office, working on building the nation and against colonial rule as chair of the Frontline States, before setting his vision on closer cooperation among developing countries, chairing first the South Commission and then the South Centre.
He endorsed the candidacy of Benjamin Mkapa in 1995, and advised Jakaya Kikwete to wait for the next round, which he did. Mkapa was elected in a landslide and served as president for two terms, and Kikwete also drew 80 percent of the votes when he was first elected in 2005.
The CCM candidate will contest the national election in October against several opposition party candidates unless they can agree to choose one among them which, at this stage, seems unlikely.