Did you know that Tanzania is having elections at the end of October? I would assume that most people outside of the country do not. But inside this country of 45 million people, it is pretty much the only thing that anybody is talking about.
To understand this year’s elections, it is important to know a little about Tanzanian history post-independence. Tanzania won independence in 1961. Unlike many of their African neighbors, Tanzania became an independent state without any bloodshed. Documents were signed and power was handed over from the British to Julius Nyerere, who was president for 24 years until 1985.
Most rulers who hold power for that much time also tend to be brutal monarchs who are eventually forced out of power by revolutionary coups. Nyerere is controversial in this right, as he is widely considered as the archetype of a “benevolent dictator”—he loved his country and fought for its development, but did so on his own terms. Historians and progressive politicians today actively question Nyerere’s role in Tanzanian’s current economic stagnation, but the average Tanzanian worships the ground on which Nyerere walked.
Nyerere was the founder of the CCM party (Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or revolutionary party). And since he hand-picked his presidential successor in 1985, CCM has still been in power. That means that the same party has been in power for 54 years.
Tanzania is currently one of the most impoverished and aid-dependent countries in the world. And while many of their neighbors, such as Kenya and Rwanda, have made economic strides in the past 20 years, Tanzania has stagnated. And CCM, the party of Nyerere, has presided over this stagnation.
And now, in 2015, regardless of the special place that Nyerere holds in people’s hearts, many people are sick and tired of a party that has promised changes for half a century, and has failed to provide them. Several large corruption scandals in the past couple of years has just added fuel to this fire. The generally politically apathetic Tanzanian public is all of a sudden interested in politics.
The CCM primaries were contested by over 30 politicians. The eventual winner and CCM candidate is a man name John Magufuli, who is, compared to many of the other candidates, not a big name. His reputation, and his portrayal in campaign advertisements is a hard-working honest politician. Many politically-educated Tanzanians that I have spoken to have confirmed that Magufuli lives up to this billing.
The opposition in this year’s elections is Chadema, the largest of Tanzania’s opposition parties and the leader of a newly formed coalition called UKAWA, which is conglomeration of all the major anti-CCM political parties. UKAWA is an effort to build a voting bloc to take down the ruling party. The Chadema candidate is a man named Edward Lowassa, who was actually a CCM prime minister in 2005 to 2008 under the current president, and who ran in the CCM primaries this election cycle. When he did not win, he separated from the CCM establishment and became the face of the opposition. Lowassa’s reputation as a politician was tainted when he was forced to resign as prime minister due to his implication in a major corruption scandal.
So those are the facts, and here is the editorializing. Magufuli is a straight forward political candidate. He is honest and hard-working and has a track record of getting things done in his political career. And yet he is running on the ticket of the out-of-touch corrupt political machine that is CCM. Lowassa on the other hand, has a history of political corruption, but leads the opposition party seeking to take down the corrupt ruling party. So is it better to have a ruler with a history of corruption as head of a new (and so far untested party)? Or is it better to have an honest politician at the helm of the corrupt ruling party?
The word on the street of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, is change. People are tired of living in poverty while a relatively ineffective government continues to skim off the top of the national budget. And so they want CCM out. It is really all people are talking about here. Whenever the power goes out in Kariakoo Market, the darkness fills with screams of “people power!” and “change!” The stronghold of CCM is in the rural areas, but even places like the Tanga region where 2Seeds is located, which is traditionally the seat of CCM, hosted a massive Chadema rally several weeks ago.
We are spoiled by election transparency in the United States (I say that even as a strong critic of transparency in the US). But here, there is no polling, no debates, and really no way to tell who is going to win. Are there enough people who are going to vote for Chadema? Are those votes even going to count? Most people are under the impression that CCM will not relinquish power, and will miscount votes and cheat in order to remain in government. Already they have cut 1.2 million people of voting rights due to “errors” in registering. This includes all 200,000 university students in the country, most of whom would have likely voted for Chadema.
With 10 days to go until the polls, there is really no telling who will win the public vote, and then the larger question, what will happen afterward if neither party is willing to back down peacefully? Watch this space.