Tanzania: JPM – Will He Be Able to Walk the Thin Line?

Democracy is noisy business, if one takes the most popular definition by former US President Abraham Lincoln, who said it is "the rule of the people for the people".

In Tanzania, home to nearly 50 million people and about 20 registered political parties, all scrambling for power, and a fair share of the national cake, surely, that noisy business is inevitable.

It is the reality that President John Magufuli, who succeeded Mr Jakaya Kikwete as CCM chairman at the weekend, will now have to face on two fronts -- at the national level and within the ruling party.

It's a fine line he will be walking, and his predecessor, former President Kikwete, sounded him a little bit on how to cut through the political noise to make decisions that matter.

During the hand over ceremony in Dodoma, Mr Kikwete dropped bits and bobs out of his rich political experience on how Dr Magufuli can walk the delicate balance.

But does the President have the thick skin to absorb the political noise?

May be his recent decision to ban political rallies could be a good starting point. Was the pressure becoming too much for him? Already, it has sparked a backlash. The Opposition and critics have condemned the decision as heavy-handedness. But the President has vowed not to let politics distract him from his endeavour to deliver on his campaign promises last month.

He urged Tanzanians to focus on building the nation, stressing that elections were over and that there was no time for cheap and divisive politics.

"We can't allow people to politick each and everything daily. When will the people work and build their nation?" he queried, as he went on challenging politicians to either table their motions in Parliament and other official forums or wait for the 2020 General Election campaigns.

But retired President Kikwete on Saturday told the new CCM chairman that one of the immediate challenges the ruling party was facing, which he (Dr Magufuli) should begin with, was the link between the party, its members and the people at large fading out.

CCM leaders were not vigilant in selling the party to the people, observed Mr Kikwete, explaining: "Essentially, politics is all about connecting with the people, our leaders are not doing that and the Opposition is taking advantage of it. Come elections, we get a hard time to win the people's votes."

He went on congratulating the party's secretary general Abdulrahman Kinana for salvaging the ruling party in last year's fiercely fought General Election.

Just from his appointment in 2012, Mr Kinana crisscrossed the country holding political rallies and taking part in community development activities.

It reached a point during his tours where Mr Kinana had to openly lambast some cabinet ministers, saying they were not only lazy and burdensome, but also they were tarnishing the image of the CCM government.

"Thanks to comrade Abdulrahman Kinana, we managed to turn the fortunes to our favour last year. As a chairman, you (Dr Magufuli) should ensure the leadership works and connects the party to the people. This should be full time work, not just something to be done during the campaign periods only," Mr Kikwete stressed.

However, should CCM continue consolidating its hold at the community level, the ruling party and its government will have no choice but to also give opposition parties room to consolidate their bases and stop making excessive noises.

But the Opposition is not the only one causing the uproars; CCM itself also abounds with noises internally.

Mr Kikwete cautioned President Magufuli when opening the NEC meeting on Friday that members of the key organ would often shower him with praises, but he should not be surprised to hear piercing criticism and blame from them whenever things went astray.

"Dealing with NEC is a very delicate undertaking. You should tread carefully when working with the most important organ in making party decisions on behalf of the Congress, whose meetings are hard to hold."

He cited one of last year's hectic NEC meetings which saw supporters of Edward Lowassa chanting slogans to show their support for the former Prime Minister after the CC scrapped his name from the presidential race. Dr Magufuli admitted in his maiden speech that if he chaired the ruling party then, about a quarter of Mr Lowassa's confidants would 'disappear'.

He paid a glowing tribute to Mr Kikwete for his outstanding political humility, asking for the CCM members and supporters to pray for him to try to emulate his predecessor.

And his observation has turned out into a clincher. Dr Magufuli should not only wait for prayers alone, but he should also work hard to put on a thick political skin for him to smoothly run the country as a president and number one cadre of the ruling CCM.

Dr Magufuli had a political career spanning 20 years before he ascended to the presidency early November last year. He has been much of an outsider in the CCM establishment.

Mr Kikwete rubbished claims by some critics that much as Dr Magufuli was neither a CC nor a NEC member before, he was not conversant with CCM and active enough to become the ruling party's chair and president.

In a similar vein, President Magufuli must do all it takes to acquire management skills on uproars, for they are the lifeline of politics in place since time immemorial, as the US 15th President James Buchanan once attested: "I like the noise of democracy."

Source: The Citizen.