Sitta VS Lowassa: From political comradeship to daggers drawn By ThisDay Reporter 1ST MARCH 2010 Speaker of the National Assembly, Samuel Sitta Whatever happens in the upcoming months of Election Year 2010, history will always show that prior to the Richmond affair, Samuel Sitta and Edward Lowassa were close political allies and both key members of the powerful campaign machinery that delivered a landslide victory for President Jakaya Kikwete in 2005. In fact, experienced followers of local politics will recall that the current Speaker of the National Assembly and immediate former prime minister were also key figures in Kikwete's campaign team way back in 1995, when he unsuccessfully sought CCM's nomination for the presidency for the first time. It is precisely because of this solid background of political comradeship, that the current stand-off between these two powerful forces in national (particularly CCM) politics is proving so damaging to the ruling party's aspirations to stay united in the face of yet another difficult election campaign. Following the 2005 general election, Lowassa and other members of the pro-Kikwete campaign lobby better known as 'Mtandao' (The Network) backed Sitta's candidature for the position of Speaker of the National Assembly. And thanks in large part to aggresive campaigning by senior 'Mtandao' members including Lowassa and Igunga member of parliament Rostam Aziz, Sitta eventually won the Speakership by defeating the incumbent Speaker, Pius Msekwa, in a tough contest. In December 2005, with Sitta firmly installed as Speaker of the National Assembly, Lowassa was endorsed by parliament as Prime Minister on the nomination of President Kikwete. And as the fourth phase government got down to serious business going into 2006, the influence of the 'Mtandao' was clear for all to see, with key network members holding most if not all of the nation's top executive and legislative positions. But much was to change over the next two years maximum. According to a key parliamentary source who spoke to THISDAY last week: The problem is that too many people thought that since Sitta's election as Speaker had been backed by the 'Mtandao', he would be easy to control..." By the beginning of 2008, Premier Lowassa and Speaker Sitta were at serious loggerheads over the manner in which parliament with Sitta's backing was handling the looming Richmond power generation scandal as it grew from strength to strength in seriousness. Parliamentary sources say Lowassa and his supporters still feel that Sitta was to blame for the prime minister's eventual downfall in February of that year, when he was forced to resign from government as the Richmond scandal hit its apex. As already well-documented, it was Lowassa as PM who personally supervised the process that led to the awarding of a dubious government power generation contract to the fraudulent Richmond Development Company LLC, even against expert opinion from the state-run Tanzania Electricity Supply Company (TANESCO) itself. TANESCO was forced to relent to what was later described in an official report as undue political interference in the tendering process, and signed the contract with Richmond at night at the headquarters of the Ministry of Energy and Minerals in Dar es Salaam under hugely controversial circumstances. But the Richmond company failed dismally to fufill their end of the deal, the nation's power woes continued, and a parliamentary probe team chaired by Kyela member of parliament Dr Harrison Mwakyembe later delivered a particularly damning report of umpteen irregularities in connection with the deal. The report implicated Lowassa and at least two senior government ministers Nazir Karamagi and Dr Ibrahim Msabaha who promptly tendered their resignations, obliging President Kikwete to dissolve the Cabinet and appoint a new one, complete with a new Prime Minister in Mizengo Pinda. A number of other senior public officials, along with at least one prominent member of parliament in Rostam Aziz (Igunga), were also fingered in the report for blame over the Richmond fiasco. As he announced his resignation before a hushed parliament on the morning of February 8, 2008, a clearly-incensed Lowassa asserted that the whole Richmond scandal had been deliberately blown up in the House by his political rivals, out to grab his job as premier. He did not mention any names. But a parliamentary source says that after that, Speaker Sitta became a marked man, mainly because he had been open and candid in his dealing of the (Richmond) scandal. He has since survived attempts to undermine him in the House and get him expelled from the (CCM) party, simply because he is a shrewd politician and enjoys backing from many people both inside and outside CCM." Ex-Speaker Msekwa, who is a member of the 'Three Wise Men' committee appointed by CCM's national executive committee (NEC) to restore unity within the party in these difficult times, has acknowledged in public that CCM legislators are now split into two distinct camps of pro-Sitta or pro-Lowassa supporters, and the committee has an uphill task on its hands. The Sitta group accuses the Lowassa group of being politically corrupt and thus a liability to the party, while the Lowassa group resents being labeled as such," Msekwa was quoted as telling a news conference in Dodoma after the conclusion of the latest NEC meeting in early February. Insiders say the committee led by ex-president Ali Hassan Mwinyi is now making all efforts to organise a face-to-face meeting between Lowassa and Sitta, ostensibly to bring about a reconciliation. "The ex-president will use all his widely-recognized wisdom to try and convince Lowassa and Sitta to bury their hatchets and disband their groups within CCM for the sake of restoring party unity," a CCM-NECF source confirmed. It has been suggested that the Mwinyi committee might also ask Lowassa to be accompanied by Igunga MP Rostam, and Sitta to bring along Richmond probe team chairman Mwakyembe, to the showdown talks. However, several CCM lawmakers have suggested to THISDAY that the ruling party may be avoiding the real problem by personalising the split within the party on Lowassa and Sitta. "The split within CCM is larger than Lowassa and Sitta...CCM is overlooking the real issue, which is the fact that the party is beholden to leaders tainted with corruption allegations," said another party insider, adding: "CCM needs to address that problem, and remove the party from the control of corrupt and wealthy businessmen/politicians."