By Bernard James
Chadema presidential aspirant Willibrod Slaa yesterday drew thousands of Dar es Salaam residents to a huge rally at Jangwani grounds, where fellow opposition leaders drummed up support for his bid to defeat President Jakaya Kikwete in the October 31 General Election.
Dr Slaa’s entourage had been given a rousing welcome at the Julius Nyerere International Airport by hundreds of supporters, who had turned up as early as 9am. However, the plane carrying the party leaders from Zanzibar landed at 12.50pm.
The outgoing Karatu MP then rode on an open-roof four-wheel vehicle through the streets and was cheered by thousands of his supporters.
It took over three hours for the 40-vehicle convoy to cover the 20km journey from the airport to Jangwani grounds, which were already teaming with people eager to listen to the top Chadema leaders. Dr Slaa has visited several regions to solicit party members’ endorsement to make his maiden presidential plunge.
Chadema’s rallies have been well attended in what officials see as their party’s credible challenge to the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi and President Kikwete, who is seeking re-election to his second and final five-year term.
Yesterday, police had a difficult time controlling traffic, as more motorists and cyclists tried to join the Dr Slaa’s convoy. Dr Slaa, a former Catholic priest, who has served as an MP for the past 15 years, has carved a niche for himself as an anti-corruption crusader, both inside and outside Parliament.
At Jangwani, Dr Slaa declared, amid chants of “Rais! Rais! Rais! (President!) that his top agenda, if elected, would be to wipe out corruption, which, he lamented, had become the norm in the country, enriching a few at the expense of the majority.
He said more than a million people had endorsed his candidature at the rallies in 13 regions. “This clearly tells me that you are ready to change the way this country is governed. I ask you to pray for me so that Chadema can drive CCM out of power.”
He said Tanzanians should not expect positive change under the current leadership. “Tanzania is a poor country amid plenty. We have remained poor for 50 years since independence because those in power have failed to plan our priorities and embraced corruption,” he said.
“I have travelled all over the country. I now understand why Tanzanians want me to vie for the presidency. I can assure you today that Chadema’s government will stand for accountability and assure equal share of country’s resources.”
A Chadema government, he said, would initiate constitutional reform three months after taking over office.
The founder of the opposition NCCR-Mageuzi party, who recently decamped to Chadema, Mr Mabere Marando, said he would relentlessly campaign for Dr Slaa, whom he described as “a credible candidate”.
Mr Marando, a lawyer, defended his decision to represent in court some of the people charged with grand corruption, arising from the “List of Shame” unveiled by Dr Slaa at a rally in Dar es Salaam two years ago.
He said his clients were not the kingpins of corruption.
“They have been sacrificed for political purposes. It’s just about bamboozling people. If you want to fight graft you have to deal with the roots…and the root of corruption in this country is CCM,” he charged.
Former Bukoba Urban MP Wilfred Lwakatare said that over 1.3 million people had signed up to rally behind Dr Slaa in 17 regions.
The chairman of the Chadema campaign committee, Prof Mwesiga Baregu, described Dr Slaa as the only credible candidate, who could bring about true changes if elected.
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