Past attempts to map factions within the ruling party — Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) — have suggest that a common background (forged in school as classmates, socialisation in the party, and through family connections) is a key factor that determines whether influential and ambitious members are likely to band together. Interestingly, ideology is not considered a pivotal factor, even though ruling party factions often seek to justify their dissension on the basis of whether policies are pro-poor, a framing that could be construed (wrongly) as primarily ideological.
Apart from lack of grounded (policy or ideological) conflict, factions within the ruling party have historically been known to transcend ethnic identities, thanks to a highly successful nation-building project. However, in recent years, particularly in the period following the unexpected ascent of the late president, John Pombe Magufuli, ethnic identity has gained prominence in national-level politics, in part because of the enduring influence of old factions.
Apart from lack of grounded (policy or ideological) conflict, factions within the ruling party have historically been known to transcend ethnic identities, thanks to a highly successful nation-building project.
Chama Cha Mapinduzi factions tend to become more visible in the immediate period preceding a presidential succession. This is largely because a succession (which in a normal situation usually takes place every ten years), marks a moment when power generally shifts from one generation of leaders to another. It is, therefore, a moment when ambitious politicians make strategic choices with the intention of advancing their careers. It is also a moment when old factions either negotiate or renegotiate their sweeteners.
As such, active factions in the party embody the positioning that preceded, and shaped the general election in 2015. Two major themes — grand corruption and inefficiency among senior government functionaries — characterised the factional feud in this period, and resulted in the coalescing of support around John Pombe Magufuli, as a relatively untainted and “competent” candidate. The exact deliberation that ended up favouring Magufuli as a compromise candidate remains hidden, but his unconventional administration will, for many years, pique the interest of historians and analysts.
President Magufuli’s tenure will go down in history as perhaps the most consequential since Julius Nyerere’s — the father of the Nation. One can hardly recall any other period in the history of mainland Tanzania when the transfer of power led to so many casualties — including among those considered to be “custodians” of the party. Even though the ruling party has largely avoided a public reckoning, the aftermath of the 2015 power transfer has left an imprint on its cadres’ minds, and will inevitably condition future leadership contests. For this reason, it is useful to keep an eye on the nature and implications of factions in the party, since they harbour vital clues on succession.
The exact deliberation that ended up favouring Magufuli as a compromise candidate remains hidden.
There seems to be a consensus among analysts that a faction anchored by the fourth-phase president, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, deserves the status of a matriarch. The former president’s personal qualities as charming, easy-going and his prolific networking abilities have enabled him to maintain enormous influence as a power broker, even in retirement. As a mainstream faction, it brings together the old guard (and their offspring), and members are often regarded as custodians of the party. Its members are largely liberal in their political orientation, with strong connections to the business and church elite. It is the most sophisticated, in terms of exposure, experience, resources and agility.
A succession struggle within the mainstream faction, particularly in the period leading up to the 2015 general election, consolidated a “sub-faction” which coalesced around the former prime minister (now retired), Edward Lowassa. Although he later defected to the main opposition, CHADEMA, after losing a presidential nomination, the majority of his disciples remained in the party, albeit at a huge cost, since most of them endured a career stall. Lowassa’s return to the party in 2019 gave his faction a new impetus, and saw the anointing of his obscure son as a potential successor. This sub-faction is also largely liberal, but is characterized by a serious overlap of politics and business interests, and a long history of allegations of corruption and duplicity.
At the time of his ascent to the presidency, John Pombe Magufuli had held parliamentary and ministerial positions for about twenty years. Yet, he was never able to penetrate the dominant coalition, and had to build his own centre of power upon his elevation. Given the dominance of the mainstream faction, Magufuli sought trust and security in his own ethnic group — the Sukuma. Through nomination, appointment, and co-option, he was able to construct a power base which, towards the end of his reign, rivalled the mainstream faction. Nevertheless, his abrupt departure in early 2021 left behind a collection of incompatible personalities, with no obvious ranking leader.
Some recent suggestions that the former Speaker of the National Assembly, Job Ndugai, fell from grace as he sought to position himself as the leader of the faction, are misguided. Apart from his recent humiliating resignation, Ndugai lacks the necessary organizational or personality clout that is needed to anchor a faction. What tripped the former speaker was his frustration over waning influence, mainly because contrary to its predecessor, the new administration kept him at arms-length. There is an indication that the Minister for Minerals, Dotto Biteko, possesses the demeanour that could support his emergence in future as the faction leader.
President Suluhu’s governing strategy, as seen over the last one year, is anchored in building broad coalitions of support, beyond factions. By refraining from digging into the past (in which she also played a role), in spite of insistence from the opposition, Suluhu has avoided a minefield that could have caused a huge division within the party. This approach has afforded her a notable level of tacit support, even from loyal followers of her predecessor.
President Suluhu’s governing strategy, as seen over the last one year, is anchored in building broad coalitions of support, beyond factions.
A broad coalition, and a largely safe reform agenda (she has chosen to defer the new constitution process until after the general election in 2025) constitute the main pillars of the president’s strategy. With this approach, it is unlikely that factions on the fringes will have a short-term motivation to consolidate. Nonetheless, some irregular flare up like the one exhibited recently by a parliamentarian considered a Magufuli loyalist is inevitable, and necessary as a reminder of the resistance lurking in the party’s dark corners. A pending registration for a new party depicting Magufuli as an inspiration points to the underground resistance.
Had it not been for Magufuli’s death, and as per the ruling party’s leadership norms, President Suluhu would have retired in 2025, having served two terms as vice president. Her ascent to the presidency and professed commitment to staying beyond 2025 carry the possibility of delaying a crucial (generational) succession for about five years. The delay will most likely fuel faction-based succession feuds in the period leading up to the general election in 2030. Until then, the main challenge for factions in the intervening period is to figure out how to remain relevant, without alienating themselves from the powers that be.