This past week can be said to have been a moment of learning in the political system, especially its electoral conduct where plenty of learning still seems to be required before it squares up with a civic-minded democratic outlook.
The key moment was a reminder to the principals of the Arumeru by-election campaign from the National Elections Commission (NEC() that those charged with conducting the campaigns should mind their language.
Things were visibly getting off course, partly on account of misuigded sense of confidence of some key stakeholders, and a vengeful spirit of their foes.
The surprising feature is that this misguided confidence and vengefulness was evenly spread between the two camps, the ruling CCM campaign team led by retired President Benjamin Mkapa for the opening session and Minister of State Stephen Wassira, who elaborated – or compounded – some of the contested themes.
On the other hand, the Chadema campaign team whose 'guest leader' was Musoma Rural MP Vincent Kiboko Nyerere did not spare on what they think they know on the retired Head of State. Once they began opening up on some taboo themes, the NEC had to fire the gun, call for order.
But it wasn't before 'bodies were thrown all over the place' as it were, with intimations of ex-president Mkapa's vicarious responsibility for Mwalimu's death, and at a slightly different stage, looking back at the career of Chadema secretary general Wilibrod Slaa in the Catholic Church.
Minister Wassira went out of the way to suggest imponderable incidents which even the church, whatever they know about their former Vicar General, urged temperance and probity in campaign pronouncements. Mwalimui's widow and respected elder Maria Nyerere similarly came out scolding Vincent Nyerere for his remarks.
A fairly wisened newspaper commentator put in a timely advise that people should evaluate the two candidates (and any others), instead of evaluating those who come to campaign for them. Nonetheless, despite the justiciousness of that remark or caution it remains true that focusing on the campaigners wasn't irrelevant or misplaced otherwise they wouldn't have been there in the first place.
There is a well known rule that 'nature abhors a vacuum,' so if the former president dresses down a Nyerere clan member for using the name for political benefits, the clan member could raise issues on his death...
In the final analysis this spate of offensive language between the two leading parties in the Arumeru East campaign shows the character of political sentiment right now, that it relates less to policy intentions or capacity (including competence) to fulfil such aims, but probity, honesty or astuteness.
It is electoral turf of an economically lethargic situation where no one seems to have an answer about the malaise, and the only possible point of contention is moral probity: who is less corrupt, or less amenable to such influence, than the other. Still it was just electoral turf, implying institutions still work, are still valued.
What was being said by Vincent Nyerere, coming in the wake of the tortous issue of whether Kyela MP Dr Harrison Mwakyembe was actually harmed in an intentional manner – some say within the vicinity of his office – was clearly destabilising.
It was creating a 'deja vu' scenario around poisoning suspicions raised by EA Cooperation Minister Samuel Sitta. This, despite that Dr Mwakyembe has lately come down in favour of giving the government select commission on the suspicions time to complete its work.
Despite that this was only a campaign platform rather than specific accusations for instance if the Musoma Rural MP had taken such a motion to the floor of the National Assembly, where it would of course be a different matter, it still was a problem.
On the one hand it was clear that such issues can't be raised on public platforms without something happening to the psyche that keeps the country together, and at the same time it was clear that the two leading political parties scarcely campaign on the basis of a country they share. It is similar to CCM factions and networks, that they hardly have a sense of 'party.'
The Arumeru East campaign was characterised by volatile electoral politics where the Field Force Unit is always at hand to throw in a few tear gas canisters to cool down excessive excitement with the performance of this or that opposition speaker.
When this scenario is repeated in each by-election – as it was also the case in Igunga, also involving the stopping of the head and shoulder cover of a lady DC by Chadema toughies – worries begin to appear as to the sustainability of pluralism with this sort of political culture.The NEC warning could go somewhere to restore calm, and parties' own lessons too.
It is evident that each party has some lessons to take home, which may also relate to own settings and roles they give to specific individuals, apart from the rope they give them to campaign, to determine the content of their remarks, etc. At the same time each party has opened itself to exposure, that it has some hidden skeletons in the closet, and owing to 'external' events like the poisoning suspicions concerning Dr Mwakyembe, it becomes possible to raise other issues. This way, parties may start learning to limit their campaign rhetoric to content, and indeed to those they campaign for, not vilifying their opponents.
The specific case of the campaign role of ex-president Mkapa was especially noticeable, since for all intents and purposes he had much less reason to be campaigning, had it not been for the fact that CCM is fighing a bitter turf war internally.
The best positioned CCM brass for campaign was definitely Edward Lowassa as Arumeru is clearly home turf where he enjoys a lot of goodwill, but several layers of leadership in CCM are still 'shedding' a gown painted with names of 'tainted' leaders.
The result is that they see no one else capable of breaking the ice at the spot but the former president, who spoiled it. Since the ruling party has already shown indications of wishing to reduce the level of presence in its day to day activities of retired party chairmen (and vice-chairmen for Zanzibar) that appears to now have to be implemented.
As some of us suspected, the ploy about removing the former presidents was just in order to permit MPs to swallow their own axing from NEC – that it is part of wider restructuring – in like manner as early 2008 when party chairman Jakaya Kikwete had members of central committee resigning. He then reappointed practically all of them back, with the notable exception of Rostam Aziz.
It therefore follows that ex-president Mkapa will have to cut down on his campaign appearances, and if the top leadership believes personalities like vice-chairman Pius Msekwa or publicity secretary Nape Nnauye or others don't fit the bill, they would seek the presence of other leaders without discrimination.
The whole campaign to unseat or sideline a section of its leadership is failing it, as by comparison, the former president has more to hide than the former premier whom a section of the leadership is haunting – thus pushing Mr Mkapa to excessive exposure. It is a lesson CCM can't pretend they haven't grasped.