LOOKING back at the stormy upheavals of the local political scene during this past year, the big question that comes to mind is: How much worse can it get in 2010? And the mere fact that it's going to be an Election Year makes the question even more pertinent than it might have been in the normal scheme of things.
To quote Dar es Salaam resident Frank John Mapunda: "If you thought this year was tough, you ain't seen nothing yet. Mark my words, when the election campaigns get fully underway, things are going to get even more messy..."
Actually, even though the trigger of the official starting pistol has not yet been pulled, all indications are that the campaigning for next year's presidential and parliamentary elections has already begun in earnest in most (if not all) parts of the country - whether the national electoral authorities like it or not.
Both NEC on the Mainland, and its Zanzibar counterpart ZEC, appear to have been rendered toothless in the face of some serious coercion, manipulation and intimidation tactics being applied under their very eyes on potential voters on both sides of the Union, over the past few months.
In Zanzibar, the voters registration exercise was by all accounts chaotic, marred by reports of general unrest, deliberate orchestrated sabotage, over-zealous police and security activity, protests and physical clashes, instances of bombings and torching, and overall purposeful messing-up of the exercise.
Authorities were accused of barring eligible would-be voters from being registered on the pretext of not having proper Zanzibar identity cards.
Meanwhile, on the Mainland, the anti-corruption war that started off the year so strongly, was abruptly hijacked somewhere midway by the growing realization amongst most of the participating politicians that - with elections lurking around the corner - there was need to start channeling their immediate energies towards buttressing their own constituency fortresses.
Perhaps the real wake-up call came in last October's local government elections held countrywide, the events of which could be taken as a true litmus test of what to expect when the real thing comes around next year.
Much was written about what went on at the time, and without going into too many details, a front page photo published by THISDAY at the time (and reproduced here) surely summed up the extent of the farce.
Although dignitaries like the Registrar of Political Parties, John Tendwa, noted with concern discrepancies such as low turn-out of voters, most analysts saw the problem as being that - for the first time ever – it wasn't really about which political party fit the leadership bill better than the rest, but more about growing public apathy towards serious infighting within the once all-conquering ruling party itself.
Having smoothly weathered the turbulence caused by the country's return to multi-party elections in a new era of political pluralism back in 1995, the CCM juggernaut has effectively steam-rolled its way over the opposition for the past decade and a half, and only now is it displaying serious cracks in its facade and rheumatism of its joints.
Which brings us back to the spectre of grand corruption that has continued to cast a long and menacing shadow over national politics during the course of 2009, and by most indications is likely to persist, making it a potentially dominating factor as the October-scheduled general election draws ever more closer next year.
With tensions rising in the political atmosphere over much-publicized scandals like Richmond, Kiwira, radar, EPA, etc, matters came to a head in August when CCM's top decision-making organs, the central committee and national executive committee, held back-to-back meetings in Dodoma.
In the wake of the dramatic events that unfolded during those meetings - highlighted by an apparently carefully-orchestrated but ultimately abortive attempt to unseat the Speaker of the National Assembly, Samwel Sitta - various political analysts now cite the increasingly negative influence of money in politics as the single behind-the-scenes driving force threatening to tear the ruling party apart.
It has even been suggested that the fall-out from the Dodoma meetings may eventually prove so damaging as to precipitate a complete disintegration of CCM as the country's most powerful political party for years on end.
According to one analyst (or observer if you prefer): “Financing politics is now considered a very good investment in Tanzania. CCM currently relies on this small group of wealthy politicians-cum-businessmen within its ranks to finance party meetings and elections. Little wonder then that it is these same wealthy politicians-cum-businessmen who now influence most of the major decisions made by the ruling party...”
By the same token (so to speak), it is hardly surprising that virtually all the 'wealthy' CCM politicians in question are invariably tainted by corruption allegations. And according to reliable reports, this faction of corruption-tainted CCM heavyweights has already launched the so-called 'Operation Liberation' aimed at ensuring that it (the faction) gains total control of lower-level CCM and government leaders in each of the country's administrative regions.
The faction (clique) is said to be targeting CCM regional chairmen, secretaries, members of both the party's national executive committee (NEC) and national congress, regional commissioners, district
commissioners, and other key government officials aligned to the ruling party at regional and district levels, to ensure they are prepared to “do what the faction wants come election campaign time."
It is further said that the whole operation is being bankrolled by "one or two" of the ostensibly more wealthy CCM politicians, in tandem with a few party outsiders who, however, have close links to the faction. The funds are said to be coming out of the illicit earnings from various major scandals such as the EPA and CIS embezzlement scandals, the Richmond power generation scam, and the corruption-tainted military radar deal, plus massive tax evasions in the importation of sugar, rice, and other commodities.
The CCM-CC and CCM-NEC meetings in Dodoma were concluded by the appointment of a committee comprising three of the party's most respected elders - ex-president Ali Hassan Mwinyi, ex-Bunge Speaker Pius Msekwa, and former Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly, Abdulrahman Kinana. Their primary task was to seek ways of healing the apparently deep rifts between a growing number of CCM legislators and the central party establishment itself, oversee the restoration of party unity, and fix CCM's growing image problems in the eyes of the general (voting) public.
The timing of the move to bring in the 'three wise men', coming barely a year before the presidential and parliamentary elections, was seen as particularly poignant for the near-future hopes and aspirations of the ruling party as a whole. But it was clear from the start that they had their work cut out for them, and as 2009 draws to a close, there is precious little progress to write home about.
One thing that CCM can continue to be quite sure of as we head into Election Year, is that the threat from the opposition camp remains negligible, almost non-existent; what with reports of similar infighting that appear to have already knocked out CHADEMA and particularly its rising star Zitto Kabwe, plus reports of a new 'Muafaka' of sorts between the top CCM and CUF leaders in Zanzibar (even if very few other people in the Isles or elsewhere actually understand it).
As for the chances of private candidates being allowed to contest the 2010 elections, whether at presidential or parliamentary level, that also appears to have been nipped in the bud for the time being.
But on the other hand, more and more incumbent CCM members of parliament have in recent months chosen to become increasingly vocal about corruption - even if only for fear of being perceived by their constituency electorates as being part of the problem. And that's where CCM's main problem lies.
There are even reports of an imminent formal split of the ruling party in the next few months, as a direct result of the deep-rooted ideological battle now being fought within its ranks, particularly its direction (or non-direction) in the fight against grand corruption. To quote one senior CCM legislator whose identity we shall leave unrevealed for now, but who certainly knows what he is talking about:
"There is now a real danger that CCM will have become irreparably split by February 2010 - and that is bound to precipitate a significant leadership exodus from the ruling party..."
Although it remains unclear if the looming breakaway group might form its own political party or opt to join one of the existing opposition parties, analysts agree it would most certainly present the biggest test for CCM at the October 2010 general election.
Yes, this has certainly been a memorably roller-coaster of a year for Tanzanian politics, and it will be interesting to see how things eventually pan out next year. But with an electorate that is on the one hand perhaps much more enlightened, but on the other hand still grappling with the harsh trickle-down effects of the global credit crunch that has rendered this year such a hard struggle, the signs are that things are likely to get even more messy. Real messy indeed.