I’d recommend Kenya’s voting system for Tanzania — with adjustments

Sunday August 14 2022
Voter identification.

An Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) official verifies a voter's details on the Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) kit in Nairobi on August 9, 2022 during Kenya's general election. PHOTO | PATRICK MEINHARDT | AFP


Comparing Kenya and Tanzania is a whole industry in and of itself for media as well as academics. I usually resist this because, while they are useful as a tool, I find inter-country comparisons limited beyond the broad strokes perspectives that they offer.

And even then they are done poorly, for example, when someone talks about GDP per capita without discussing the Gini coefficient, or population without discussing densities, arable land, other indicators that give context.

I know we are meant to popularise knowledge but making things “simple” beyond a certain threshold doesn’t work in favour of your cause or your audience so much as against them.

Which is to say I was not in the mood to be receptive as people got triggered by the elections and started with the usual fiddle-faddle about how Tanzania should be more like Kenya.

How? I always ask how, exactly, we are supposed to pour our particular Nation Building Project ingredients into the bespoke Kenyan mould? How, honestly, is such a statement converted into a useful piece of advice?

Interminable count


The answer is information. As I stewed silently through the day Kenya voted and the interminable count afterwards, I happened upon a number of election observers from Uganda and Tanzania as well as their accounts of what they had seen.

They convinced me that yes, in fact, Tanzania would benefit from being “more like Kenya” by adopting their election technology, quite specifically.

At last, a use for all the biometric information that governments force us to concede to them. Also in Kenya, you see, there is a tendency to learn from past mishaps.

I think that Kenya’s neighbours are well aware of how the state has noted the perils of using an internet kill switch in a society creative enough to have gifted the world with the concept of mobile money.

Likewise, past insecurities in the ballot count and storage, and access to “final results” have been addressed with a rather rigorous process of registration of voters through to voting machines that are believed to remove the tampering problem.

A whole systemic shift in how data is handled around the elections from registration through to voting, through to the count and reporting that will lead, hopefully, to a solid result that is as close to reality as possible.

I respect that.

This is far more interesting to me than answering queries as to which presidential candidate has my favour. A Kenyan president is like any EAC president, an American president, a Chinese premier or a South African president.

I tend to consider them through the quiet and clinical lens of Tanzanian self-interest. The question as I hear it sounds like: which presidential candidate would I choose for Tanzania greatest benefit?

None of us would be served by my providing an answer. In the event, when it comes to presidents the proof is in the pudding so to speak. Time will tell us all just how well Kenya chose for herself.

The voting system, however? That, I would like to lift wholesale and apply to the Tanzanian electoral process, with a few adjustments. I hate biometrics in the hands of my government; there is no reason to trust technology that the West and China have proved, to my horror, can be used very effectively to create dystopias. My primary concern is that voters can be tracked in terms of how they voted and that this may have consequences for them.

Large numbers

In Tanzania we know what vindictiveness looks like when a CCM majority government decides to “punish” citizens with large numbers of opposition voters, mine is not an idle concern.

And if you think I am paranoid, wait until I tell you some of what we Tanzanians are saying about the upcoming census to be held in two weeks’ time. The idea of giving our government household-level information seems to be anathema to many of us, which will make our statisticians sad.

Think of all the fear we could conjure up imagining what our government might do with household-level information paired with biometric information and voter registration?

Not to worry, though, not right now. We hardly have the wherewithal to force all the people within our borders to have a “kipande,” as in carry formal ID cards, something that our northern neighbours have been doing for generations.

There is a certain wilderness to being Tanzanian that I personally revel in, a balking at confines of any kind that make governance — as well as life — a little bit chaotic and a lot more art than science.

Pleasantly surprised

To preserve that free spirit, it is imperative that as we strive to “be more like Kenya” in our electoral processes we don’t go and tag people by their vote. And kill the internet kill switch while we are at it.

For now, I am pleasantly surprised and grateful. It is nice to see Kenya voting in peace, with rumours that people might even have been decent to each other at polling stations.

Is someone taking some advice on how to be “more like Tanzania?”

If so, good. Good.

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