July 15, 2011
'Rostam Quits'

“After consulting with my family, friends and my business partners, I arrived at the decision to step down, with the intention of maintaining my respect and integrity among party members and other wananchi as well as my leaders who I believe after my resignation will get an opportunity to focus on other challenges facing the party.”

So announced the honorable Member of Parliament from Igunga Mr. Rostam Aziz on the 13th of July, 2011 his decision to quit what he called ‘gutter politics’ to a group of elders and party officials at his constituency. 

The news sparked a media frenzy and the story quickly spread in the electronic and social media. At about 3.30pm, the first official confirmation of the news came through. The CCM MP for Bumbuli and the Party’s Secretary for Politics and International Affairs January Makamba tweeted:

In the twittersphere the response ranged from surprise at the abruptness of Mr. Aziz’s departure, cautious optimism that this may be a chance for the ruling party to start afresh, suspicious of CCM at their supposed attempts at deluding the electorate, to anger that this was a political tactic aimed at distracting the country away from government incompetence. 

Meanwhile, on Clouds FM, the presenters of the drive-time show Jahazi lamented the fact that, seemingly, once again, Tanzanian politics was embroiled in personality politics as opposed to the serious engagement with issues.

Back in Igunga, The Citizen reports:

Some [constituents] carried posters declaring: “No development in Igunga without Rostam. Several of the constituents collapsed as the long-time MP announced that he was quitting from the position and that of a member of CCM’s national executive committee.

Mr Aziz arrived in Igunga at around 1pm and proceeded to CCM offices where he found members of the party’s youth wing holding a meeting.He told them that he was scheduled to speak to the constituency’s elders.

As he was meeting the CCM youth, some of his supporters carried posters reading: “Igunga without Rostam, no development”; “If they expel you from CCM we are all going to quit from the party” and “We love you, our MP, and we have confidence in you.”

So, who is Rostam Aziz and why is he such a polarizing figure? 

Mr. Aziz, a successful businessman reputed to be one of the richest man in Tanzania, was first elected to parliament in 1994 at the age of 26, the youngest MP of his class. He soon became a rising star within CCM and during the 2005 general election he reportedly helped fund President Jakaya Kikwete’s landslide victory, a role that is believed to have cemented his position as a hugely influential figure in the party. 

But in recent years, he has increasingly become a controversial figure. He is alleged to have been involved in the Richmond electricity deal that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Edward Lowassa (although it should be noted that in 2009 the High Court of Tanzania ordered the weekly Kiswahili paper MwanaHalisi to award damages to the tune of approximately US$2,240,000 to Mr. Aziz for ‘alleging that he was the one who brought Richmond, a USA-based company, to Tanzania.’) In 2009, he was involved in a very public spat with Reginald Mengi, the Executive Chairman of IPP Group, after the latter accused him of being corrupt. Recently, reports that he had the power of attorney over Dowans Tanzania, the ‘successor company to Richmond,’ revived accusations that he was linked with the scandal-plagued project from the beginning.

Nevertheless, his decision to resign from his parliamentary seat came as a huge shock. It is still unclear what, exactly, happened. Was he compelled to resign or as, he implies in his speech, staying in ‘gutter politics’ was simply becoming untenable as it started to negatively affect his business interests? And what does his resignation mean for him, personally, and his beloved CCM? He has quit electoral politics, but does that imply that he has departed from politics altogether? The blogger Maggid Mjengwa says not so fast, suggesting that Mr. Aziz’s relinquishing of his public posts is unlikely to diminish his influence in the ruling party. As for CCM, it means that they have to go through a by-election at a time of fraught political uncertainty. Yes, Igunga is one of the safest CCM seats in the country, but was that Mr. Aziz’s doing or his party’s? The answer to this question will determine whether CCM retains it’s heretofore stranglehold of Igunga.

At the moment, however, some of Rostam’s former colleagues seem pre-occupied by other matters. The Honourable Dr. Faustine Nduglulile MP (CCM - Kigamboni) blogged:

With this surprise resignation, the next coming days will be very critical in Tanzanian [sic] politicosphere. The key questions will be:

1. Will other [sic] who are tainted with corruption follow suit and resign?

2. Will the Government follow up with prosecution? [sic]

3. With damaged reputation [sic] and “limited political influence” what would be Rostam’s next move? Will he fled from the country or staying [sic] put?

Here is my question: will the media get hynotised by the personality politics of this story or will the incident inspire in our often attention-deficit-disorder-afflicted press a deeper examination of our political culture? I’d be curious to see what narratives emerge and take shape in the coming weeks, what the press chooses to focus on and what that implies for politics and political journalism in Tanzania. 

(Photo: Businessman and CCM Member of Parliament for Igunga at a party function. By Michuzi, Jr)