During the CCM screening process of aspirants for lection to the National Executive Committee (NEC) to be held in the next few weeks, the ruling party is said to have taken a good number of youth on board for the major objective of strengthening it, hopefully regaining its waning popularity. But shall the strategy work ?
I believe that by bringing younger people in leadership positions the ruling party, Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), is trying to solve part of a set of genuine problems it has been facing in recent years.
As an amateur political observer and a former leader of TANU/CCM at grassroots level (serving as Branch Party Secretary at Iyunga Secondary School and recently elected as a CCM Cell Leader where I live), I see three fundamental problems the party has been facing.
Problem 1: an ageing and fatigued membership base. Problem 2: failure to identify a unifying rallying mission, which can be identified and accepted by the majority of a growing young population. Problem 3: prolonged state of denial that there are some fundamental problems facing the party (at least at face value for those who are not privy to confidential party meetings).
Let me start with this last problem by emphasizing that the “state of denial syndrome” has grabbed the party despite some useful words of wisdom by Mwalimu Nyerere in one his writings, I think it was "Tujisahihishe" in the early 1960s.
He cautioned that truth has one unique character: it does not care whether you are old or young, short or tall, black or white, etc. He went further to illustrate that if as an adult you were in the processing of kicking a rounded stone, mistaking it for a soft ball, a young person cautions you against, but ignore the warning and proceed to kick the stone, you will certainly injure your toe. Truth, he said, has a habit of revenge.
In the case of CCM warnings that the party was heading in the wrong direction started more than 15 years ago but went unheeded, at least in open forums and by actions, and in some cases it cost individuals their positions in the party and in government.
I am glad that the current leadership of CCM has taken some bold steps of openly accepting that there are problems within the party, which require some urgent solutions. So I agree with the observation that by elevating younger members (definitely with leadership qualities) to higher leadership positions, the Party is attempting to partially solve Problem 1.
It is therefore hoped that the youthful leaders will proceed to aggressively recruit new and genuine members as an effective way of rejuvenating grassroots membership (instead of dishing out free cards near party elections) to make party branches alive and kicking to the extent that local leadership will not feel threatened when they see branches of alternative parties are being opened in their localities, when they can proudly count on genuine grassroots support.
I believe it is not too late to rejuvenate the party and perhaps that is why the CCM national chairman confidently predicted that it is not yet time for the party to wither and follow the path of other liberation parties such as UNIP (Zambia) and KANU (Kenya).
We should also bear in mind that parties like KANU didn’t have any genuine grassroots party base so it’s not quite right to draw a parallel between CCM and KANU! Some observers believe that CCM has been living on borrowed time based on the strength of "Club Effect", which is always an inbuilt advantage for any organisation which has over years invested heavily in membership recruitment and systematic organisation, as has been the case for CCM.
The same phenomenon applies to sports clubs like Simba or Yanga or religious denominations. It is argued that the club mentality binds people and will mostly stay together in good and bad moments. I have personally been a fan of Yanga, even when it split into two camps (Raizoni and Kandambili) and stuck to it even when it suffered perpetual defeats by Simba; simply because I was groomed as a Yanga fan at an early age, during the days when the club could terrorize English football clubs like Aston Villa or send Asante Kotoko of Ghana packing in disbelief.
If the club effect theory is true, then it means CCM has been surviving out of support of old members (veterans) who also automatically groomed their children into CCM membership (but unfortunately continued to hold on to leadership!), thus missing the chance to recruit new blood outside the family club members. This void was identified by alternative parties (I don’t like to say "opposition" parties because the term has a negative connotation in African cultural settings).
They have mounted well publicized recruitment campaigns, mostly attracting younger voters, who in turn elect into leadership positions relatively younger people. As an unsubstantiated observation, it would also appear that their members tend to have a bias in favour of well learned candidates.
I am not quite sure if they have been strict enough on the qualification of those who vie for grassroots positions in order to avoid bringing in leaders who are not workers or farmers or traders or brokers!
Strategically, the so called opposition parties have very clear agenda upon which to rally their members against CCM leadership. How? They have picked on weaknesses that are universally acknowledged: governance issues, slow pace in reducing poverty levels, inadequate, and in some cases poor service delivery, etc.
If I may divert a bit: I once witnessed an informal debate between two groups of youth in Buguruni area in Dar, where the supposedly opposition sympathetic youth admitted that perhaps at the moment it would have been better to give a chance for "CCM to clean its own mess" as the problem of poor governance was so enormous such that any new leadership coming in might sink and disappear into that crater of a mess, which they called "dimbwi la tope la matatizo."
They asked with some concern on how an incoming leadership from another party will sort out the inbuilt culture of grabbing or stealing at all levels: kiosks/shop attendants stealing from own brothers/sisters, masons stealing cement bags, mechanics fitting fake parts, Mama Lishe adding some yeast into ugali or using transformer oil to prepare potato chips, party leaders pocketing voluntary contributions from their members, gangs of vibaka terrorizing neighborhoods with impunity; and the list was long.
They also raised, among others, the problem of poor or non available services in government run dispensaries, of teachers who go to school to sell bans (maandazi) or some who are employed by two private schools, thus failing to deliver quality service.
To my surprise, they didn’t say anything about the much complained issues among the elite: complaints about parliamentarians unjustified sitting allowances, misuse of tax holiday provision for foreign companies, unbalanced sharing of proceeds from mining contracts with foreign companies, tax cheating by big companies or inefficiencies at our ports or non-tariff barriers along our trade routes connecting with our neigbouring countries.
The above example illustrated that the youth are touched more by factors impinging directly on daily lives. And that is where the Opposition has taken advantage to rally support promising change.
That point brings me to Problem No.2 for CCM, which must be solved as a matter of urgency: it has to identifying a rallying point! An issue or set of issues, which can ignite the passion of its members and the youth. Fortunately, one of the low lying fruits to be picked by CCM, and was successfully used in 2005 when bringing in President Kikwete, was the promise to stamp out corruption and work towards creating accountable and efficient government machinery.
While I understand and appreciate the logic behind using a more systematic institutional based system for stumping out corruption, thus avoiding building a personality cult behind the efforts, I believe a more aggressive unified approach in dealing with the matter, coupled with some publicity campaigns on the success stories, could go a long way in consolidating or at least preventing further erosion of its grassroots support, especially in urban centres where the media has been successfully used by the opposition to point out at weaknesses, which CCM has unfortunately lacked a systematic counter-argument campaign.
Of course in the medium term, creating employment and job opportunities will sort out the disappointments faced by a growing number of jobless youth. Kilimo Kwanza-inspired initiatives also offer some hope in engaging the youth in agricultural value chain activities, not necessarily at the production point as some people are misled when they hear about agriculture.
But that requires sometime to be actualized as youth agricultural programmes will have to be implemented, including change of mindset on what the sector can offer to the youthful population.
Having said that, I also believe that despite these weaknesses, CCM's life will be partly saved by the reforms it has already initiated, and partly by the strategic faults already committed, and are likely to be committed in the near future, by opposition parties, who tend to overuse the freedom of expression and assembly to the detriment of laid down principles of law and order.
I once told opposition party leaders during an ITV live debate that it is counterproductive for the integrity of their parties, if they keep on opposing and thrashing everything said or done by CCM and its government, because people are not that stupid: they have ears to listen and distil the truth from lies; and they have eyes to see and differentiate between white and black. I encouraged them to keep on strengthening grassroots party membership, because that is where the battle for support and votes will be won or lost.
It does not matter how much in the interim there are some vote stealing or rigging episodes here and there (which tends to happen on both sides, given the chance), but it will reach a point where the truth will prevail based on the reality on the ground: a peaceful transition to new leadership change without havoc or bloodshed, within CCM and between CCM and alternative parties; and should happen not through intimidation or coercion or purposely causing breach of peace in our streets as a means to whip up sympathy by the population or foreigners!
As a policy analyst, I recognize that peace is an integral part of any successful development plan towards sustainable human development. It is true that some of the misdeeds by people entrusted with leadership positions are deeply disappointing, but the situation isn’t so grave to warrant bloodshed as a means to effect changes either within a political party or in removing the ruling party. Hence the warning by the CCM chairman to CCM leaders who had applied for NEC membership using fouls means, including threats to get elected, was in right order.
In conclusion, I would prefer a transition to a middle income economy as envisaged in the Tanzania Development Vision 2025, where people enjoy high quality livelihoods, and are protected by a properly functioning society governed by rule of law. I miss my sleep when I observe our political leaders, within and outside their party machineries, go to lengths to incite people to disobey laid down procedures under the guise of freedom of expression and assembly.
I believe that discipline and adherence to law and order should be nurtured first and foremost within the political parties. I was therefore consoled to note the attempt by CCM to strictly follow laid down procedures for picking candidates to vie for different positions, and that PCCB has been given a free hand to rein in on errand leaders using materials or money to influence election outcomes. It is my hope that other political parties will follow this example, or perfect if they are already doing the same!