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Tanzania: Giant Parties’ Political Bankruptcy And Grassroots Alternatives – Analysis


By Sabatho Nyamseda*


Tanzania’s general elections were held on 25 October 2015 after about two months of electioneering. The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) emerged victorious in the Union elections with 58.49% of the presidential vote and a parliamentary majority. The opposition Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA), whose candidate was supported by the coalition of four opposition parties known as UKAWA, got 39.97% of the presidential vote and an increased share of parliamentary seats.

Zanzibar election results were annulled by a unilateral decision of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) chairman over allegations of irregularities in Pemba, a stronghold of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF). It is said that CUF had won the Zanzibar presidential elections.


To make sense of what has been taking place on the political arena of Tanzania, one has to understand the basic characteristics of the neoliberal economic system.

Neoliberalism was ‘invented’ to restore monopoly capitalism whose blood – that is, rising surplus – was being sucked, albeit in little quantities, by labour through welfare policies. The neoliberal project launched successful attacks on welfarism and enhanced the power of a handful of giant corporations to control and exploit the world’s resources (Harvey 2005). In the political sphere, it is giant political parties that have the monopoly over politics. Political parties in the periphery function as subsidiaries of the major parties in the centre. For peripheral political parties to remain in the political map, their agenda has to complement – not contradict –the main agenda set by central political parties. Just as oligopolies abolish price competition among themselves, so are the political parties (in the centre and their peripheral subsidiaries) which have abolished ideological competition.

Neoliberalism is also the most bankrupt shape of capitalism. Economically, the basis of accumulation is no longer (industrial) production which led to the improvement of productive forces. The neoliberal oligarchy accumulates through dispossession – either directly through outright plunder of resources (under the banner of FDI, privatisation, or even military invasions) or indirectly through speculative promotion of fictitious commodities, like the US subprime mortgages that caused the 2008 economic slump (Bello 2013; Harvey 2003 & 2011).


Bankruptcy is also dominant in the political sphere where progressive politics has been replaced with parochial politics. The progressive pan-African stance that guided Tanzania’s politics in the 1960s and 1970s is gone: its place has been taken by tribalism and chauvinistic nationalism. Emancipatory politics that united the class of the exploited against their common exploiters is seen as something poisonous. Instead, alliances are forged between local exploiters and the exploited on the basis of their common tribe or religion in order to fight against another tribe or religion. Even worse, new parochial ideologies that were not part of Tanzanian politics have been fabricated. These include ageism – which was dubbed “ukaburu wa kiumri” or “age apartheid”. It was meant to prevent those who were born before 1961 from contesting for leadership positions (Nyamsenda 2013).

In a situation where giant parties are politically bankrupt, ideological debate becomes anachronistic. No wonder that CCM’s Magufuli and CHADEMA’s Lowassa turned down the offer of participating in a presidential debate (Kayera 2015). What was there for Tweedledee and Tweedledum, who have been ministers in previous governments and loyal implementers of neoliberalism, to debate about?

During the campaigns candidates rarely referred to their election manifestos. A formality, manifestos contain promises which are not meant for implementation. On launching his campaign, Lowassa told his audience to go and read the manifesto from CHADEMA’s website knowing exactly that the majority of Tanzanians have no access to internet (Mwandishi Maalum 2015). A few members of the campaign teams of both parties that I interacted with were unaware of the contents of their manifestos.

The giant parties’ campaigns were dominated by slander, derision and insults which have now become the main vehicles of taking a person to parliament. The presidential campaign stage turned into a movie stage and the best movie actor would harvest more votes. The superrich Lowassa, with a degree in performing arts, was innovative enough to shift his campaigns to the commuter buses to ‘learn the suffering of the ordinary people’ (Michuzi Blog 2015). His chief rival, Magufuli, had to come up with something different: dancing and performing pushups on the campaign stage to soothe his voters (CCM Blog 2015; Saanane 2015).

The “movie actors” in the presidential race also had to show their talents in making promises. There is nothing that they didn’t promise: everything would be free in the ‘paradise’ the candidate would create on the Tanzanian portion of the earth surface. Echoing the bible, Edward Lowassa promised that under his presidency “a person who eats a single meal shall eat two, one who owns one motor cycle or car shall get two, and he who has one wife shall get two” (Ngunge 2015; translated by this author). The candidates had discovered that empty promises pay off from the outgoing president who won a landslide victory by promising “a better life for every Tanzanian”. This was an empty promise since Kikwete was a loyal servant of imperialism who did not have a programme to reform the internally disarticulated and vertically integrated economy of Tanzania. And the voters are aware that politicians’ promises are not to be fulfilled. According to a recent study by Twaweza and MIT, “many citizens report that politicians all make the same promises and cannot be trusted to keep these” (Rosenzweig and Tsai 2015).


We have so far analysed one aspect of Tanzanian politics – politics from above involving giant political parties. Political elections are therefore an intra-class race among the petty bourgeoisie for state power. The second aspect is politics from below. This involves struggles waged by popular classes for a decent life and against dispossession launched by giant corporations under the intermediary of the petty bourgeoisie. The giant parties always strive to hijack grassroots struggles by co-opting and deliberately distorting the agenda of the latter in order to keep lower classes in check. Once co-opted, lower class members lose ownership and control of their struggle and are reduced to followers of a political messiah, created and promoted by a giant party in collaboration with other ideological state apparatuses like the churches, universities, media houses, private companies, think-tanks and NGOs[1] .

If the petty bourgeoisie has managed to swallow the struggles of the masses, it has not completely succeeded to digest them. The masses have continued to struggle against both the local petty bourgeoisie and their international masters. It is in this regard that MVIWATA, a countrywide network of smallholder peasant groups, issued what they called a “Smallholder Peasants’ Manifesto Towards the 2015 General Elections” as an alternative to the manifestos issued by giant parties.

Part of the Peasant Manifesto’s preamble reads:

“Considering the painful truth that the current policies concerning agriculture and the economy in general have been formulated without full participation of smallholder peasants and other working people;

“And that those neoliberal policies have become the main source of poverty by simplifying the dispossession of jobs and land, and chemical spills on land and water sources, thus causing environmental pollution and endangering the lives of human beings and other species (MVIWATA 2015, 1 & 2)” .

Anchored on the language of class struggle, the Peasant Manifesto declares war against the local petty bourgeoisie: “Smallholder peasants will not accept being continually exploited and ruled by a group of a few while they constitute the country’s majority and are the chief producers of the country” (MVIWATA 2015, 5). It goes ahead and provides a set of economic, social and political demands which form a vision of the country that the peasants in alliance with other sectors of the working people (wavujajasho) want to build.

Economic demands are addressed mainly in section 4 of the Peasant Manifesto. Peasants propose among other things the reinstatement of “the leadership code as founded by Mwalimu Nyerere through the Arusha Declaration without diluting it[4] ” (MVIWATA 2015, 12). Government leaders and top and middle level bureaucrats, the Peasant Manifesto states, should be prohibited from engaging in any capitalist activities such as owning shares in capitalist companies or owning houses for rent. This means that leadership will become an avenue for serving the working people and not exploiting them.

To curb exploitation by an alliance of the international bourgeoisie (through their giant corporations) and local compradors (both in the government and private sectors), the Manifesto proposes the collective ownership and control of the means of production and exchange. The two modes of collective ownership are government as well as cooperatives (ibid, 13).

The Manifesto recognises that collectivisation/nationalisation without socialisation consolidates the power of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, as such it entrusts into lower-rank servants the role of guarding public entities on behalf of their fellow working poor (ibid). Furthermore, peasants “demand the establishment of industries, such as textile industries, etc so that the raw materials we produce are used locally, [thus] providing employment to our youth and building a self-sustaining economy” (ibid, 18).

The Peasant Manifesto’s social demands encompass social justice and equity. “Smallholder peasants,” the manifesto says, “want to see the proper use of their taxes, and therefore [demand that] their taxes be used to provide social services to the urban and rural poor. Social services are not commodities: there must be an end to the selling of education, healthcare, and potable water” (MVIWATA 2015).

In their campaigns, the candidates from giant parties promised free healthcare while their party manifestos do not make such a commitment. Both manifestos talk about mobilizing citizens to join health insurance schemes where they will pay for themselves (CHADEMA 2015, 25; CCM 2015, 9). Thus, while peasants advocate for decommodification the petty bourgeois think of recommodifying social services.

The political demands enshrined in the Peasant Manifesto offer an alternative to the bankrupt politics of giant parties and the 5-year elections. The manifesto envisions a grassroots system of democracy which gives the working people power to actively participate in the making and implementation of policies. The working people through their village and neighbourhood assemblies as well as their cooperatives and trade unions will be the centre-stage of politics[4] (MVIWATA 2015, 2–4).

As it has been discussed above, the demands of the working people range from working people’s collective ownership and control to social justice and self-sustenance. Only a few of these were incorporated in the manifestos of giant parties, and in a distorted manner. For example, industrialisation is mentioned in the manifestos of giant parties but only with the puny goal of reducing unemployment and not resolving the question of exploitation by both internal and external agents. The working people should not expect the petty bourgeoisie to advocate for collective ownership and control or popular democracy, since for the latter to do so is tantamount to committing class suicide. To have the Peasant Manifesto implemented will be an act of class struggle. The working people should therefore unite in pursuit of this struggle.

* Sabatho Nyamseda is a PhD student at Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), Kampala, Uganda.

[1] For a discussion on Ideological State Apparatuses see Althusser (1970).
[2] All quotations from the Peasant Manifesto have been translated by this author from Kiswahili.
[3] By dilution, the authors of the manifesto might have been referring to the Tabora Declaration, issued by a newly registered pseudo-socialist party, ACT–Wazalendo, as the 21st century version of the Arusha Declaration. The Tabora Declaration has reduced the leadership code to an act of declaring one’s (conflict of) interest. A splinter of the capitalist–oriented CHADEMA, ACT–Wazalendo is a party that billionaires can join and become leaders so long as they declare their wealth. It was not by surprise that the party’s leader, Zitto Kabwe, welcomed Lowassa to join the party given that he makes his wealth public (Gamaina 2015). Lowassa’s hope for presidency was halted by Nyerere in 1995 because of his controversial opulence.
[4] The Peasant Manifesto provides a broader definition of politics, which empowers the working people to control what they produce. “We, the smallholder peasants, shall not allow the food we produce go to produce fuel for cars to enable the rich of the West drive with comfort or used to feed animals to enable the rich of the West enjoy fat meat. The value of the food we produce is to feed our fellow human beings, especially the urban and rural poor, the majority of whom suffer from malnutritional diseases or even die of lack of sufficient food” (MVIWATA 2015, 18).

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