Here’s hoping that the numbers of the uncommitted voters will grow and grow

Saturday November 15 2014

Elsie Eyakuze. PHOTO | FILE

Elsie Eyakuze. PHOTO | FILE 

By Elsie Eyakuze

Twaweza has been polling a statistically representative sample of Tanzanians for the past three years on a variety of subjects. One set of questions addresses who respondents would vote for for President, which parties, et cetera. This week the results from the 2014 poll came out.

Since the establishment has been quite uninterested in permitting a full-blown discussion of the potential President Number 5, media and political commentators have been nibbling around the edges.

Now, thanks to a self-professed independent study we can kick that door open a little further, in spite of the fact that the topic clearly irritates the powers that be.

You will be as surprised as I to learn that the most popular contenders are all men of a certain age. In the lead is Edward Lowassa, followed I believe by Wilbrod Slaa/Mizengo Pinda depending on how the data is read.

In the case of President the Fifth to be, it’s pretty much sealed: No one with a uterus or direct personal experience of the Twitterverse is going to get within sniffing distance of the office. The people have spoken. What bores.

By far the most interesting finding of the poll was that a full third of the respondents, if asked whom they would vote for today, replied that they “don’t know.” Let us take a communal moment to celebrate uncertainty.


This suggests that a significant portion of the votership that was polled is willing to step away from the strong man formula of politics, even if only in the form of opinions, and consider alternatives such as a better government per se. A grimmer interpretation could be that we’ve got indecision paralysis because the options all look a bit unwelcome.

To be optimistic about this third of undecided voters, they might be part of the ever-elusive “Third Way.” There is only one political debate that takes over most discussions of what kind of leader is desirable: The age-old pendulum swing between a craving for benevolent authoritarianism and a wish for an alternative that diffuses power into institutions rather than the individual person of the president.

The legendary Third Way remains elusive because it is actually revolutionary. What if withdrawal were the best an individual can do to throw the entire system into question?

No matter, the beefing has already started. These kinds of statistics always make people angry, especially if they are nowhere near being mentioned in the top three category.

Mind you, this is a fair complaint: We don’t deal in numbers so well. They are very malleable things here, whether they are representing educational achievements (a national pet peeve) or being employed to guesstimate the number of people living on the land via national census. Say what you will about Tanzanian operators, but we have never let a number get in the way of an agenda.

So while the undecideds look for a viable alternative to our business as usual approach, or hoard their opinions for a last-minute change of heart resulting in a landslide, let us take another moment to empathise with those individuals we call upon to lead us.

You know, African presidency is a terrible thing to wish upon anyone. Look at what it does not just to the leaders, on whom a horribly unrealistic burden of salvation gets shoved, but to the led, who then have to suffer the consequences of it all.

One of the main issues raised that doesn’t bear arguing with in the proposed constitution was the reduction of presidential power, and it got nowhere.

While we get sung to and harangued about national identity cards and what “uzalendo” means at any given moment, it is hard not to go back to the idea that if there is anything more dangerous to an African polity than the certainty of embracing one male saviour, it is probably malaria.

Which is why the people who don’t know are the ones I am going to be hanging on to, to guide us in the common sense of proceeding to grow this ever so delicate representative democracy of ours. Here’s hoping that the numbers of the uncommitted will grow and grow over the next few months.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, E-mail: [email protected]