Last Wednesday Tanzanians witnessed an unusual incident in a live television broadcast. The National Assembly accorded Professor Mark Mwandosya , Minister without Portfolio, a warm welcome after 14 months of illness, five of which he spent in a hospital in India.
Mwandosya has headed various ministries in the past 12 years. As he entered the House chamber the members of parliament received him like a hero, with a big applause.
Dr Cyril Chami, former minister for Industry and Trade and Dr Harrison Mwakyembe minister of Transport who also had long lay-offs were given a law profile when they returned to parliament.
However, this time around for Mwandosya things were different. He was given an opportunity to give a brief address of about five minutes. He said for 42 years he had not been admitted to hospital, but advised fellow MPs to have their health checked regularly.
A former minister of Water, Environment, Communications ministries at different periods, and the permanent secretary at the ministry of Energy and Minerals, Mwandosya thanked all those who wished him well and prayed for his quick recovery, including President Kikwete.
The electronics engineer was allowed to speak in the House after acting the leader of government business Samuel Sitta asked approval from the presiding chairperson Jenister Mhagama. Later on the deputy leader of the official opposition camp gave his welcome to Mwandosya and wished him full recovery.
The incident can be perceived as mere encouragement to a colleague who missed parliamentary meetings for more than a year because of illness that compelled him to be admitted to a hospital in India in May 2011, when he was leading the Water ministry.
It is correct to argue that the lawmakers were consoling a colleague whose health is gradually healing. It is understandable that Mwandosya deserved to be comforted by fellow legislators. But in politics ‘players’ use every available opportunity to register ‘a decisive goal’ as it is commonly said in the language surrounding soccer game.
Again it may simply be deemed as coincidence. But Mwandosya entered the chamber just when Mwakyembe was approaching the podium to deliver his ministry’s speech for the 2012/13 annual estimates. The latter was guided by Chairperson Jenister Mhagama after noting the MPs’ clapping of hands was meant for Mwandosya.
The Member for Parliament for Rungwe East since 1995, in 2005 Mwandosya vied for the presidential nomination through Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), but his ambitions to occupy the country’s highest office were dashed when he finished third behind President Jakaya Kikwete, the eventual winner of general election, and Dr Salim Ahmed Salim.
Despite the defeat the former lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam remains among leading public figures, thought to dream of contesting for presidency when President Kikwete 10-year-tenure expires.
At his first press conference two days after return from India in October 2011, Mwandosya, responding to a question I asked about his 2015 presidential election plans, said it was not yet time to discuss the race on two main grounds. First, he said, there is ‘a reigning president’ striving to serve Tanzanians as per CCM manifesto and pledges made during the 2010 election campaign. Secondly, the public would like to here how their government can serve them well, rather than ‘continued unproductive political debate.’ On a cautious but arguably strategic note he opted to remain non-committal as to whether or not he would be involved in vying for the presidency.
But he declared that illness had nothing to do with his ambitions to become Tanzania’s fifth head of state. And some observers within ruling party view him as one who could withstand increasing challenge from the main opposition Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) and salvage CCM’s superiority.
Albert Ntabaliba Manyovu (CCM) legislator is among those sharing the view. “It is clear he is very influential in Mbeya and has contributed a lot in keeping CCM where it is today, few years ago I remember he convinced several Chadema members to join CCM.”
“He did this single handedly and the party realised once more that he is still powerful despite his weakness due to illness,” he noted.
Mbozi West MP Davis Silinde (Chadema), echoing the idea, said Mwandosya is regarded by many within Mbeya region as a pillar of CCM. Therefore any doubt over his health condition hypes the worry among the party members and places CCM at risk of losing constituencies to opposition.
“It is on record that when Mwandosya and Mwakyembe were in critical condition some traditional leaders from Mbeya sent a delegation to President Kikwete and told him the sickness was not natural and expressed their worry on the CCM risk, therefore seeing him returning to the House brings political hopes for the ruling party.
He added that it was also a revelation of widening of the already existing divisions within CCM rooted in the 2005 presidential race and the government that was formed after the election, particularly the appointment of Prime Minister and subsequent resignation of Premier Edward Lowassa over Richmond scandal.
On his part Davis Kafulila, Kigoma South (NCCR Mageuzi) said although Mwandosya deserved a welcome, the way it was handled was purely political.
He says even the appointment of Mwandosya as minister without portfolio while yet to recover was based on his political influence.
Sabrina Sungura, Special Seats (Chadema) said some political allies of Mwandosya consider think the disease he is suffer is ‘man-made illness’ so the welcome was like sending a message to enemies that they have failed.
However, Habib Mnyaa, Mkanyageni (CUF) said the style of welcome was based on the fact that Mwandosya is a long serving MP and his unquestionable personality.
“I know Mwndosya…he was my lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam. He is a good person. On the other hand returning to the parliament is not good news to his political enemies; therefore I see the way he was welcomed appropriate.”
The only question that remains unanswered is: Would Mwandosya be welcome that way had it not been for the absence of Speaker Anna Makinda and Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda which led Jenister Mhagama and Samwel Sitta acting on their behalf?
This question can only be answered by Samwel Sitta, Mwandosya and their close political ally Mwakyembe, as well as Mhagama.
One can expect incidents of this nature are likely to happen and be masqueraded as coincidences as the race for CCM nomination for 2015 presidency goes down the wire.