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Election campaigns and the politics of performance
Chambi Chachage | 2010-09-29, Issue 498

I am not a fan of election campaigns. I don’t like attending or analysing them. To me leaders emerge, they don’t sell themselves in the market place.

However, a video clip that is circulating online has dragged me out of my hibernation. It is called, in short, ‘Bumbuli Songa’. Bumbuli is a parliamentary constituency in Tanga. It is where the rising political star, January Makamba, is running as Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party candidate after ousting a respected politician, William Shelukindo, in primary elections.

For quite some time I have been wondering why and how Shelukindo, the then Bumbuli member of parliament (MP), lost miserably to Makamba Junior. By the way, just in case you are not familiar with Tanzania’s political landscape, Yusuph Makamba - or Makamba Senior - is the CCM secretary general.

I found it quite ironic that Makamba Junior got 14,612 votes and Shelukindo got 1,700 votes, given the fact that the seasoned politician was celebrated, not least by the CCM presidential candidate, for allegedly spearheading the fight against grand corruption in the Richmond scandal. I say allegedly because this was a response to the credits claimed by an opposition party, particularly the opposition Chadema presidential candidate, for all this.

Shelukindo conceded. But he was quoted online as saying that his defeat in the primaries was all thanks to ‘years of scheming engineered by people within their “party harbouring ulterior motives’ (The East African, 9 August 2010)’. However, one could hardly find support for his assertion - not even among young elites in the new media who are increasingly critical of the aging ruling party machinery. In fact to them January Makamba represents the change of guards that they - and indeed we - are yearning for.

But it is not only this ‘youth power’ that is behind the rise of January Makamba. One only has to watch the video clip ( to understand what kind of force was and is behind his stride. Here is a master strategist who knows the role of the power of performance in politics in this ICT age.

In her groundbreaking Ph.D. study, published in 2002 as ‘Performing the Nation: Swahili Music and Cultural Politics in Tanzania’, Kelly M. Askew makes this poignant point: ‘Power-holders have always known that in order for their power to be recognised and respected, it must be rendered palpable.’ That is what has been happening in Bumbuli.

But what power does January hold? Apart from his intellectual power, which is made palpable to the youth constituency in his blog, ‘Politics, Society & Things’, his other power lies in presidential politics. As a close aide of the incumbent president, he managed to draw some of that presidential power. Bumbuli is now basking in that aura.

In a special interview with Umoja, January clearly mentions the current president as someone who has influenced his political career. The new and colourful magazine is splashed with photos that indicate how close the two have been.

It is not surprising then that his name is among those mentioned as possible future presidents of Tanzania. As his political performance in videos and photos indicates, he is seen as a natural successor of the present president in 2015. Shelukindo should have known better. Opposition parties, if they really want to wrestle him, should know much better.

Probably only January Makamba’s friend, Zitto Kabwe, can muster such power. He could be the ace card if the opposition really wishes to take Bumbuli. As we know, in politics there are no permanent friends. That, in itself, is the power of the politics of performance.


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