The Tanzanian poll playing field is not level, but we still could pull this one off

Thursday October 22 2020
tz campaigns

CCM and Chadema supporters during election campaigns on October 12, 2020. PHOTO | THE CITIZEN | NMG


The anatomy of any civil strife that takes on national proportions in Africa — and pretty much anywhere else in the world — will reveal that the causes of the rupture are political, that they are driven by politicians at each other’s throats, and that everyone else gets sucked into the vortex created by contesting forces locked in a grim battle, with very little appetite for conciliation.

In Africa, we generally talk of tribal affiliations, each ethnic component fighting to get for itself some advantage in the way the ‘national cake’ is cut up, and sometimes it is the clash of expressions of the main belief systems that came to us from the Middle East, basically the divide between the followers of Allah and those of Jehovah.

Subsumed under the political, tribal and confessional rivalries we find the implacable wills of certain dominant and unyielding personalities bent on achieving their purposes no matter what, when these are buoyed and pushed forward by the inebriated masses that they themselves created and which they now cannot stop if they wanted to.

That is generally the tableau hung on the wall every time we look but fail to see; it is the tableau we should be seeing in Tanzania this October, but which a lot of us may fail to see until it is too late for anyone to do anything about it.

It is fair to say that — and I have stated it often in this space — this is probably one of the most heated electoral contests since 1995 when multiparty politics was reintroduced in the country. It is made even more so because, after five years during which the incumbent President John Magufuli all but forbade politics, people have suddenly been rendered free once again to do politics, and it has become combustible.

As it was likely to be, Magufuli and his ruling party, CCM, want to portray themselves as doers who have delivered tangible development: roads, railways, airline planes and a huge power dam under construction which has been christened Julius Nyerere.


The opposition, represented by Chadema’s Tundu Lissu and ACT’s Zitto Kabwe, harp on the theme which says that true development should be of people, not things, and that Tanzanians have been rendered a lot poorer by the constriction of political and civic spaces since Magufuli took over power five years ago, and by the harassment, arbitrary arrests and disappearances of Magufuli’s opponents.

Up to this point, Tanzania presents the classical contest between two visions of politics: the development of things versus the development and welfare of people, the hard brick-and-mortar edifice versus the all-rounded, properly balanced individual in a harmonious society at peace with itself.

As luck would have it — and as if summoned by the Chadema candidate — a torrential rain drenched Dar es Salaam and its environs last week, making the roads impassable and forcing some people to spend the night at the office and in hotels, prompting Magufuli’s detractors to point out that even brick-and-mortar is done oh so shoddily.

These are all points of disagreement brought to the fore by competing political interests reaching out for the big prize, which is state power on offer to whosoever wins on October 28 and takes literally all the goodies; so the stakes could not be higher, and a tougher fight cannot be imagined right now.

One thing is clear, though: the playing field is anything but level. If you can imagine a situation of a boxing match between two pugilists taking place in a gym owned by one of the fighters, who names the referees and judges, writes the rules, calls out the fouls and in the end holds high the arm of the winner… that is the Tanzanian election under our rules:

All the members of the electoral commission — all of them well-known and respected judicial and civic minds otherwise — are named by one of the presidential candidates; that same candidate also appoints the executive administrators of the commission and all their assistants, down to the constituency.

The same candidate appoints the Chief Justice (to deal with judicial issues when they arise); picks the chief of police (to call out ‘delinquent behaviour’, when he thinks he has observed it); chooses the head of intelligence (who controls all the spooks who go around snooping in the field).

The Marquess of Queensberry, the nasty Englishman who invented the rules of modern pugilism, would have looked at our rules and electoral arrangements and adjudged them to be the most unfair he had ever seen.

Those who are charged with managing our electoral contests are enjoined to play more than fair so as to avoid the possibility of Tanzania sliding into the abyss of conflict that could easily be triggered by the traditional causes I alluded to in my opening lines.

But, more than anything else, our political operators have to avoid taking us down the path leading to sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians.

I shall discuss this phenomenon later in this space, because I see it as a most potent source of our disintegration that our rulers do not seem to care about as long as they get the votes, one way or the other.

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