Zitto Kabwe interviewed by Martin O’Neill and Joe Guinan
Zitto Kabwe has been a leading opposition figure in Tanzania’s national politics since he first came to parliament in 2005. He quickly joined more seasoned opposition MPs in drawing attention to a string of government corruption scandals. He was also closely involvedin activist efforts to reform Tanzania’s mining legislation, a push that ultimately led to the replacement of the World Bank-backed 1998 Mining Act.
Zitto returned to Parliament for a second term in 2010, taking up a powerful position as Chair of the Public Organizations Accounts Committee (POAC). Under his tutelage, POAC challenged the government repeatedly over corruption, prompting then President Kikwete to reshuffle his Cabinet in 2012. Shortly thereafter, actors within the ruling party—Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM)—manoeuvred to change the parliamentary standing orders and scrap the POAC. The popular Zitto nevertheless bounced back in 2013 as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The PAC soon gained its own notoriety. Thanksto Zitto’s “forensic skill and determined handling”, the committee brought a damning report to Parliament in 2014, implicating several ministers and wealthy business tycoons in a £116m energy scandal. The “escrow scandal”, as it was known, captured national attention and led to the firing or resignation of several ministers and the (somewhat delayed) arrest of two businessmen.
In 2015, Zitto left his former party, Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA), and founded the avowedly left-wing ACT-Wazlendo party, a new force for democratic socialism within Tanzania, on whose ticket he won his third term in parliament.
After the 2015 elections, though, the political climate in Tanzania changed markedly. President Kikwete’s successor, John Pombe Magufuli (also from CCM), swiftly moved to crack down on opposition parties and activist organisations, to rein in Parliament, and to constrain the space for dissent even within the ruling party itself.