With the US election campaign season in full swing since the beginning of the year, a topic often discussed has been the “Establishment” and the rise of candidates who are outside the Establishment on both sides – Donald Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democrats’ side. Both men were not members of their respective parties until recently when they decided to run. But what is the Establishment? I am no political analyst and will not attempt to find the official definition; instead I will give my understanding of it with a Tanzanian link. Establishment can be viewed as all that links into the ecosystem that is in charge of the political and economic functions of a nation. In the US, it is those sitting in the branches of government and civil service including the legislative (regardless of political parties), executive branch, the judiciary and so on. It also extends to the heads of large businesses (dubbed ‘Wall Street’ in the US) who are at the helm of the economy of a nation. In Tanzania we often refer to this as the “system”and we can add into this mix the 4th pillar i.e. media and the civil society as well.
The anti-Establishment sentiment is clearly on the rise in the US but it is also in many ways on the rise in Tanzania. The so-called Establishment in Tanzania is strongly linked to the ruling party CCM which has been in power since independence first in the form of TANU and ASP and later united into CCM. Clearly one cannot speak about the Establishment in Tanzania without taking into account CCM which ruled singularly until the 90’s and still remains heavily linked with the government including the fact that the President of the United Republic is the Chair of the Party. Given rising anti-establishment sentiments, it is not surprising that in the past election, CCM saw its share of votes decline. However this is where the narrative took a new twist in Tanzania.
The candidates for presidency from the two major parties at first glance would have been categorized as follows: CCM – the Establishment candidate VS CDM / UKAWA – the anti-Establishment candidate. Yet this is not what happened. In the internal primaries of CCM, the most favored candidate of the establishment – Edward Lowassa – was jostled out by a small group of the top leadership. In turn the presumed favorite of the top leadership and rival of Lowassa – Bernard Membe – was voted out by Lowassa loyalists and instead a lesser known, inconspicuous John Magufuli was elected. And when I say – lesser known Magufuli, let it be clear that all foreign media and governments as well as many in the private sector were running around to find any information about him. And information in the public domain had been extremely sparse. This is because despite his previous popularity when he had headed various ministries, little was known about Magufuli outside his job. He was not known to hold long stump speeches, be accessible to the media or meet with various interests groups and lobbyists etc. He was an outsider despite being part of the Establishment (and arguably remains one in many ways).
Then came the twist of Edward Lowassa moving to the opposition and becoming their candidate. The opposition ‘sold’ this radical swap as being advantageous because Lowassa was expected to bring the Establishment with himself – the money and business interests backing him, high level officials in government who were on his side and even CCM heavyweights who all had backed him openly during the primaries. And this is where the anti-Establishment attribute shifted from the opposition to Magufuli; who maintained and strengthened it by distancing himself from CCM as much as possible throughout the campaign. To the extent of emphasizing that the ‘Magufuli government’ will do A,B,C; not the CCM government. On the other hand, the opposition was busy lining up any CCM heavyweight switching over including Kingunge Ng’ombale Mwiru a figurehead of CCM, and another former Prime Minister Fredrick Sumaye; thus strengthening its pro-establishment credentials. There was also a show of money and power during the rallies of the opposition, with constant use of helicopters, big crowds and entertainment. Of course, CCM matched each show of force, but this was not really new to the voters. What had been different was Magufuli personally not using helicopters during the campaign and travelling by car; an earmark of a low key, low budget campaign.
After election, one would have expected Magufuli “to drop the act” and get comfortable with the Establishment as many within the party, government and the business community had expected. Much to everyone’s surprise, the newly sworn in Magufuli continued the anti-Establishment narrative, being ‘unpresidential’ by cleaning the streets of Dar-es-Salaam, curbing foreign trips, directing money from MPs cocktail to buying hospital beds. This anti-Establishment behavior has earned him respect and praise in Tanzania as well as in Africa and around the world as everyone is asking: who is this new president who doesn’t seem to have any regard for formalities and procedures and is rather focused on pragmatic solutions and results?
President Magufuli remains little known. Gaining access to him has proven difficult even to those members of the Establishment who had been used to coursing the corridors of the State House. So the only glimpse we can get of Magufuli’s thinking process, vision or approach is via the rare speeches he has given since taking office. On these occasions, like the recent one he gave during Law Day on February 5th 2016, we get unrehearsed speeches, which are arguably controversial. Like this recent speech, where some critics have said is un-presidential, un-statesman-like and even down right impeachable. This may be considered a fair assessment from the perspective of conventional presidential speeches, but these and such, in fact all, criticisms do not seem to have much effect on the citizenry who continue to support and defend, aggressively, the President.
President Magufuli has also very cleverly addressed his critics in this speech saying explicitly “I am neither mad, nor am I dictator, but it gets to a stage that you need to close your eyes and make tough decisions due to the extent to which government officials have ruined this country. [own emphasis]. My sacrifice in serving Tanzanians is to serve them so well that when I get to Heaven I can be made leader of Angels”. Many may skim past this statement in a 46 minutes long speech, but this is crucial: it gives a rare glimpse into two things. One, Magufuli remains firmly anti-Establishment despite being the head of Government. Second, Magufuli seems to be convinced that he is on a mission entrusted to him by God.
It is too early to judge whether this is only a tactical ploy or the true self of President Magufuli. What is clear is that the Establishment (including ruling and opposition parties, the legislative, judiciary, media, civil society and part of the civil service) is clearly unhappy. Yet Magufuli remains highly popular with the public at large who seems fed up with the Establishment and its cozy self-serving alliances and entanglements. Magufuli’s anti-Establishment attitude and actions for now remain his biggest strength. However in the long run, can he run the country as an outsider without finding common ground with the Establishment? Difficult to imagine. Unless he is planning to take on the extraordinary task of entirely revamping the Establishment, a first in our history since the introduction of democracy and free market economy.