Leading opposition candidate Dr Wilibroad Slaa seems to have taken by storm his native Karatu and kindred areas like Mbulu whose MP is heavyweight cabinet minister Philip Marmo, though a few doubts remained as to the consistency and sustainability of the campaign message he seemed to be ready to deliver.
It appeared that his message was focused on the perennial theme of the 'war against corruption,' which has so far failed in several important sequences, from the Freeman Mbowe campaign in 2005 through the fourth phase administration. It also failed as a registration rally tactic for new CCJ.
It was said that about 48,000 people came up wishing to sign his forms to contest the presidency, which means that the principle of 'sponsorship' has some limitations as to what it means, in the sense that even ordinary voters are supposed to be sponsors.
Ordinarily it is people with immovable property who can do sponsorship, in the sense of being capable of meeting any liabilities that arise from their support for that candidate. Assuming that there is no risk involved, it follows that the polls commission is largely seeking to affirm that a candidate has taken the trouble to show that he is serious about such aspiration.
The candidacy of Dr Slaa has been characterized as an after-thought on the part of his Chadema top leadership colleagues, whereas a well developed political party is supposed to resolve such issues in a strategic manner.
Despite that there are reasons to see the late candidacy as a plus in the sense that it will direct attention to the campaign rather than to private or party issues since there is little time to embark on those subjects, there is a slightly different impression at the political level. Abruptness also leaves the candidate breathless about the strategy, and how to improve on past errors, and test results.
At the time that he was given the baton of leadership, Dr Slaa avoided making specific affirmations about his overall policy thrust, saying that this should wait his formal installation as candidate, in a fortnight or so, a promise he seems to have failed to keep. In the 'mammoth' rallies greeting his candidacy in Karatu and Mbulu areas, he appears to have come out all guns blazing on a rather familiar theme, of 'the war against corruption,' and apparently for that reason claiming that he was a Moses about to save the Tanzanian people. It is uncertain if he thought that the title is new, but it belonged to Julius Nyerere.
When Mwalimu was being given that title, Tanzania was supposed to be passing through a desert of shortages towards a nirvana of Ujamaa - a theme that also preoccupied the leadership of the People's Republic of China at that time. They went through upheavals that compare in this country with a series of 'Leadership Code' and 'Mwongozo' as well as villagization and break up of primary and regional cooperative unions, etc.
China cast out that policy outlook two years after the death of Chairman Mao, and started embarking on serious modernization drive, while Tanzania tolerated only lukewarm reform.
That is why, 30 years down the road of the Chinese modernization, the picture that Tanzanians wish to remain about China is the solidarity with liberation and now with poverty, and none of the firebrand ideas that enabled China to move forward. One idea for instance was how China used the Diaspora to fetch billions of dollars annually for investments after the entire coastal area was placed for freehold purchases of land or any immovable assets. In most cases foreign investors united with local Chinese firms and especially with firms put up by the government, as their property rights were laid out clearly.
When Chinese diplomats and economic opportunity hunters talk to Tanzanians they usually avoid references to the big issues, or what really matters, and focus on irrelevances related to the theme of the day, whether it is education, loans to SMEs, etc. The issue of the fundamental need for reform and the necessity to focus on property rights and calling back capital hiding in the Gulf, Canada, UK, US and elsewhere, and reminding people that local people living abroad are interested in profit, not patriotism, is scarcely being heard. Tanzanians will have to discover that theme for themselves, not wait for China.
It is with such development requirements in mind that, listening to Dr Slaa and his theme of salvation and his numerous admirers staunchly anchored in the distant past, where Mao and Nyerere were both leading their people to a prosperous, egalitarian socialist motherland, one doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry. There is need to laugh because of the backwardness of the theme itself, that defeating people who shared out 130bn/- leads to prosperity in Tanzania, and crying because with that sort of opposition, nothing will ever change in the country. It is simply a merry go round of refusal of reform.
What thus was a bit surprising strategically was why Dr Slaa seems to believe that the theme about CCM or the fourth phase government being corrupt is likely to garner him the votes he needs to make a serious bid for the presidency. To believe that this is the case is to assume that the Chadema chairman failed in his 2005 campaign because of personality problems, or inability to present his arguments, which are both entirely faulty. Mbowe is as effective a speaker as anyone that could be needed, and few in CCM have as much a force of being present as himself.
Many people do not realize that there is something awfully arbitrary about a policy format based on a generalized 'war against corruption' rather than serious policy as such, since by its very character its implementation is always arbitrary. The most visible example is the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB), as it regularly lays a cash trap for someone, ostensibly seeking to curry some favour with him as an editor, or posing as a third party about something in particular. After the hapless journalist or magistrate picks the tab, PCCB arrests and files a case, not by investigating cases.
Everyone knows that this way of doing things goes next to nowhere even in the fight against graft, and instead it provides a public relations flurry from time to time, with the powers that be showing to the donors how much is being done in the pursuit of 'good governance.' With donors less and less intent on being impressed by such gestures, it concomitantly follows that opposition should take up questions of principle as to what sort of formulas permit fast economic growth, and Tanzania's incapability learn is in that regard astounding. It is the most sluggish economy in East Africa, with the greatest endowments.
These parameters of what opposition politics needs, that is, a proper alternative to what there is, since countries which were in the socialist sluggishness like ourselves who made it forward are plentiful, are just one side of the Dr Slaa candidacy coin. The other is what has been learned on effectiveness of anti-graft policies or emphasis as platform to being elected, for the simple reason that it refuses to say why it is that neither Mbowe nor CCM radicals succeeded with it. What new aspect can Dr Slaa bring up now?