Changing electoral body’s name does not add independence to it

Sunday April 21 2024

An election official arranging ballot boxes ahead of voting exercise. PHOTO |THE CITIZEN | NMG


During the American presidential campaign back in 20008, Senator Barack Obama remarked that you may put lipstick on a pig but it remains a pig, and kicked off a minor furore, especially among the PC brigades and sundry feminists, because it concerned a woman.

Turns out that this expression is a pretty regular one and, in this context, it was speaking to the inexperience of John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, who was such a greenhorn in politics at any level and was obviously a novice, and soon the storm set off by Obama’s remark quickly subsided.

Recently, right here in Tanzania, I thought someone was trying to put lipstick on a pig in another context, but the underlying meaning of the metaphor is quite the same.

For some time now, the Tanzanian political class has been haggling over what needs to be done in order to craft some sort of level playing field before two major electoral exercises slated for this year and the next, respectively, the local government elections and the general election.

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Since former president Jakaya Kikwete scuttled his own constitutional review process in 2014, there have been many, and sometimes cacophonous calls, for doing something about the stalled constitutional review, seen by many as essential if we are to go into a meaningful electoral exercise this time round.


There is a reasonably general understanding that the last electoral cycle was a travesty, and that we should not allow it to happen a second time, lest we push the country closer to the brink. If what happened in 2019 and 2020 is allowed to happen often, we may as well start reading literature about how states commit suicide.

This was well understood by President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who set up a number of advisory bodies to help her guide the country through the choppy waters of electoral processes in a country which has not agreed on a constitutional dispensation, in an atmosphere of mistrust and wariness.

Soon enough, there emerged talk of “minimum reforms” in the areas most crucial for the organisation of the two elections this year and the next, it being understood that thorough negotiations would be undertaken thereafter, insha-Allah!

For this to take place, the country needs most clear thinking heads motivated by a sincere desire to save the country from a potential calamity that some elements in he ruling party are bent on enacting.

In fits and starts, Samia has taken laudable efforts, such as getting expert advice from the best brains in the country, but she seems unable to get rid of the most conservative forces in her corner, and as she looks like wanting to prioritise her electoral victory next year, she is likely to get lost in the management of her political ambitions juggled with her lieutenants’ crass intransigence in the face of the necessary reforms that could secure her legacy as a true reformer; the alternative is for her to exit, when her time comes, as another continuator of a moribund order that has taken a long time on life support.

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So, in the interim, government has rushed a couple of Bills through parliament falling seriously short of effecting the “minimum reforms” acceptable to the opposition in order to make the upcoming elections tolerably credible, with special emphasis on the composition of the electoral commission to make it independent in its constitution.

Our (rubber-stamp) legislature passed the Bills into law and, poste-haste, the President gave her approval over vocal protests. Before the protests could die down properly, the current electoral commission thought it would help matters somewhat.

Seeing as the situation was becoming one between the devil and he deep, blue sea, and wanting to help matters along in tandem with Samia’s apparent commitment to reforms — some people still believe she means well — a prominent young opposition politician publicly called on the members of the serving, and discredited, electoral commission, to voluntarily resign to allow for a new process to seat a new commission.

The proposal seemed reasonable, as it would not have necessitated any cumbersome process of termination of their tenure; the members of National Electoral Commission (NEC) would be showing good faith and altruism and patriotism by eschewing their allowances in favour of a greater good.

Instead, the said NEC simply decided to rename their outfit — the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Now, how is that for genius! Where others spend sleepless nights scratching their heads trying to craft a working arrangement that will take on board the main issues brought to the fore by the divergent points of view of a polity, our own sages have found a way to bypass all those troubles simply by changing the name of the thing, nay, simply by adding one word, nay, 11 letters!

I suspect it is this kind of genius has been deployed many a time when we have been confronted by problems, major or minor. It is an attempt to make our people believe they are foolish enough to put lipstick on a pig and declare her a beauty queen.

Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]