Lowassa’s Comebacks Were Derailed, But At Least Jakaya Kikwete Kept His Promise

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The death of Tanzanian political titan Edward Ngoyai Lowassa signifies the end of a political era of politicians who honed their political teeth under one political democracy and had shown a ferocious appetite to continue to play an active political role during multiparty democracy despite the political terrain having shifted beneath their tiny feet. This article retraces Lowassa’s earlier political career, how it blossomed, what tarnished an otherwise astute politician and how history will remember his contribution to our political arena.

His Earlier Upbringing and Education

Edward Ngoyai Lowassa was born on 26th August 1953 in Arusha, Tanganyika. He was the fourth child of his father, Ngoyai Lowassa, who combined livestock keeping and part-time employment with the British colonial rule at Monduli, Arusha. His father was a clerk (tarishi in Swahili) during colonial rule.

Edward Lowassa started his education at the then Monduli Primary School, now renamed Moringe Primary School, in 1961. Lowassa was the school band leader at Monduli Primary

School, and in 1967, he sat for the CPEE. He advanced his education at Arusha Secondary School in 1968 and sat for his O-Level Certificate, the CSEE 1971. He attended Milambo Secondary School from 1972 to 1973 for his A levels, where he sat for his ACSEE.

Lowassa received his undergraduate degree in BA Fine and Performing Arts. University of Dar es Salaam in 1977. At the University of Dar es Salaam, he encountered Jakaya Kikwete and John Chilligati. In 1978, he was drafted into the army and fought in the Kagera War between Tanzania and Uganda. Lowassa then earned an MSc—in Development Studies from The University of Bath in the United Kingdom in 1984.

His Public Service Career

After completing his undergraduate degree, he was posted to Singida District Commissioner as an administrative officer, where personality clashes with the then District Commissioner led him to abandon his employment and join CCM in Dodoma.

In 1989, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi appointed him the Managing Director of the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC), a position Lowassa held until 1990. President Ali Hassan Mwinyi also appointed Lowassa an MP during the same period.

No sooner than Lowassa joined the AICC, he found out his former boss in Singida was working there as he prepared for retirement. Lowassa summoned him and told him to seek employment elsewhere because of the way he had mistreated him when he was employed in 1977. The ex-DC was relocated to Arusha Technical College, where he had to endure a one-bedroom until his mandatory retirement, despite having a family of more than five daughters!

Lowassa successfully ran and won the parliamentary seat for Monduli under the CCM’s flag, a position he held until 2015 for 25 years. President Mwinyi appointed him Minister for State, Prime Minister’s Office and First Vice President (Judiciary & Parliamentary Affairs), 1990–1993. Mwinyi shifted Lowassa to Minister for Lands, Human Settlement Development,1993–1995.

Nyerere Gavel Ended Lowassa’s Presidential Ambitions

1995 was the end of the ten-year tenure of President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who reigned from 1985 – 1995. Lowassa and his buddy Jakaya Kikwete hired a private jet from Dar-es-Salaam to Dodoma to pick up CCM’s presidential forms. They returned them, attracting scrutiny from many a political pundit. Many questioned their late timing, and using a private jet to suggest their presidential stab was a second thought. The flaunting of the money-guzzling plane was in bad taste for a nation grappling with massive poverty.

Nyerere speeches during that period targeted both John Malecela and Lowassa for unsuitability for the highest public service in the land. Malecela’s political career was doomed after a group of mainland Tanzania MPs known as the G-55, shepherded by Njeru Kasaka, had demanded a Tanganyikan government within the union.

Nyerere’s book called “HATIMA YA TANZANIA NA UONGOZI WETU” had agonized over leadership failures of both the then First Vice President and Prime Minister John Malecela and the then CCM’s Secretary General Horace Kolimba. Nyerere’s beef had to do with the Tanganyikan government within the union government, which was not an approved policy. The duo leaders had failed to scuttle those initiatives of the G-55. After the book was published, Malecelea and Kolimba were forced to resign.

Paradoxically, Malecela and Kolimba had prior duels of political supremacy to endure as they battled to take charge of the 1995 presidential succession politics. Sadly, both found out, to their chagrin, those perspirations were vanities. Neither made it to the top 5 list approved by the CCM central committee of the presidential candidates for the 1995 elections.

Of less significance, Njeru Kasaka was appointed to a junior ministerial post for his agitation for a Tanganyikan government within the union’s structure. This appointment left a bad taste in the mouth because this promotion contradicted the reasons behind the axing of Malecela and Kolimba. If the duo were punished, there was no reason to reward the kingmaker, who was hellbent on undermining the union structure.

Nyerere had a giant axe to grind against Lowassa for what Nyerere termed as Lowassa’s avarice was passim, conspicuous and unacceptable. Nyerere accused Lowassa of amassing wealth shortly after becoming a senior officer and a cabinet minister. During Lowassa’s ministerial tenure as the Minister for State in the Prime Minister’s office, he was in charge of the distribution of aid after floods had devastated families and properties in Southern Tanzania, Lindi region, in particular.

That Lindi floods (1990) aid such as tinned fish snaked their way to markets as far as Korogwe and elsewhere, bus travellers during the early 1990s would remember that the Lindi flood aid was stolen and sold to merchants, who employed hawkers to resell it for a profit, depriving the victims of the floods of their remedies.

After Nyerere expressed his concerns during CCM top caucus meetings and later shared them publicly after the elections, leaving Lowassa’s political career very much in the doldrums, albeit Lowassa frantically attempted to resuscitate it with mixed outcomes.

Lowassa Snubbed by President Benjamin Mkapa

The first cabinet picked by the then president Mkapa had one notable name missing: Lowassa. I suspect two reasons contributed to President Mkapa omitting his name from his maiden cabinet.

The first reason was President Mkapa had to align himself with Nyerere’s criticism that Lowassa’s appetite for self-enrichment was natural and could not be swept under the carpet. But the second reason was Mkapa’s grudge. Few may remember after CCM endorsed Mkapa as her presidential flag bearer, Lowassa’s public utterances did not go well with the Mkapa campaign machinery.

Lowassa, when quizzed by one reporter, tried to mimic Nyerere’s strategy of introducing Mkapa to the Tanzanian electorate. In his campaign speeches, Nyerere indicated that Mkapa, although long in government service, was an unknown quantity, and CCM had a duty to introduce him to the electorate.

Coming from Nyerere, being the most senior politician was acceptable, but it was insubordination when Lowassa used similar words that they would introduce him to the public. Lowassa was a junior minister compared to Mkapa, who had been in the cabinet since the days of Nyerere, holding senior portfolios such as foreign affairs docket, among others.

It took two years after being sworn in office for Mkapa to let “bygones be bygones” and to appoint Lowassa to his cabinet in 1997.

The 2005 Presidential Campaigns

In 2005, then Prime Minister Frederick Sumaye was perceived as a formidable political force as CCM headed to the presidential nomination process. Sumaye was a man to beat. So, having evaluated their political fortunes, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete and Edward Lowassa teamed up to defeat the Sumaye presidential stab. The fear of Sumaye made Lowassa defer his presidential ambitions, hoping a decade later he would be best placed to win it. However, circumstances beyond his capability would ensure the presidency was not his calling.

Jakaya Kikwete Kept His Promise of The Bargain

After winning the presidency, Kikwete kept his promise and appointed Lowassa the Premier. However, while Lowassa hit the ground running and impressed most of us as he tackled hunger in central Tanzania, it was how he addressed the energy crunch that Nyerere past observations came to haunt his political career.

READ RELATED: Jakaya Kikwete Heart Institute Secures 3.6 Billion for New Facilities.

What Went Wrong for Lowassa?

Lowassa’s boundless energy was both an asset and a liability. It worked marvellously for him when the hunger problem needed his enthusiasm, but energy issues demanded enormous political and bureaucratic skills, which he did not have. As the nation was rearing from one power cut after another, Lowassa bypassed bureaucratic and legislative procedures to address power woes. Still, his uncharacteristic methods and underestimating the gravity of the procurement laws took apart his once glittering political career.

Lowassa formed what he dubbed a national negotiating team that comprised permanent secretaries of relevant ministries that proposed Richmond deliver diesel-generating engines as emergency power supply. Little did senior bureaucrats appraise the capability of Richmond to supply the said generators.

Investigation upon investigation established that Richmond could not supply the generators beyond a reasonable doubt, and the matter took a frightful twist. Under political pressure to solve this problem, Richmond handed her mandate to Dowans, who could deliver the generators but ran into tax evasion allegations and later had to confront the TRA about those tax obligations.

In Parliament, the pressure was unbearable as the Mwakyembe Committee was tasked to interrogate the whole caboodle, leading to the tenders being awarded to Richmond and Dowans. The findings of this parliamentary Committee castigated Lowassa for interference and abuse of public office, urging him to consider his next steps carefully.

Lowassa resigned and became the first Prime Minister to serve the shortest stint at that level. Again of curious interest, Mwakyembe was rewarded with a junior ministerial docket for reasons beyond the scrutiny of this discussion. Was Mwakyembe being patted in the back for downing a political heavyweight, or what?

Lowassa Comeback is Once Again Derailed

In 2015, Lowassa attempted to regain the initiative when he applied to run as CCM presidential candidate; his name was not among the top 5 of those whom the CCM central committee shortlisted.

Despite some members of the National Council crooning they had confidence in Lowassa, President Kikwete was unimpressed as he grandstanded to see three presidential nominees forwarded by the National Council to the General Council, where John Pombe Magufuli emerged as the nominated candidate who went on to win the presidential elections of 2015.

Lowassa, having seen CCM’s path to the presidency, was blocked, but he opted to jump ship and joined Chadema, where he was nominated and faced Magufuli but was defeated.

Lowassa returned to CCM before he succumbed to his illness, which ended his life on 10th February 2024.

How Will History Remember Lowassa?

Lowassa will be applauded as an astute politician who stuck to his beliefs even when the odds stood against him. Still, he will also be remembered as his death signalled the end of a political generation that was groomed in one political party regime and had struggled to find relevance in the transition period to multiparty democracy.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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