I have always stated that our elections usher in a period of temporary madness during which we hand over our brains to a safe-keeper until the fracas is over and we come back to reclaim them, hoping they have not turned into protein or eaten by rodents.
Unfortunately, nothing has happened in the few past elections to prove me wrong; on the contrary I realise that even I did not fully comprehend the enormity of what I was trying to describe. It is simply much — much worse that I have made it out to be.
Such a period is once more upon us and the manifestations of the customary lunacies are self-evident, from the incendiary speeches to violent actions of candidates and their backers punching and kicking one another as a substitute for a reasoned intercourse among contestants.
What gets you is the fact that the regular, unschooled political thug whose low cultural level one could point out as the cause of the lowly behaviour of the riff-raff is in no way distinguishable from the so-called ‘educated’ individual with a bachelor of this or master of that other nonsense.
A former minister in President John Magufuli’s government took serious exception to the fact that the then Dar es Salaam regional governor had invaded a TV station accompanied by armed police — uniformed violence — that he took a public stance against it and sacked as minister for his pains, before being confronted by a plainclothes security agent — uninformed violence — and stopped from holding a press briefing.
During that whole saga, what you may want to call right-thinking members of the public stood in the corner of the sacked minister, seeing as he had tried to defend what was right and had been met with naked threats of violence. Is it even imaginable that the selfsame deposed minister would today be seen and heard at a public rally for the ruling party saying that he would use ‘the boot’ against opposition contestants?
Is there any conceptual difference between that boot of the former minister and the guns that invaded the studio or the one pointed at him? Such is the measure of the society we have built that at times such as these anyone can say pretty much anything without fear of repercussions.
And we are not alone in this; it is done in all the elections in Africa, so much so that it is assumed that every election has to be fraudulent and violent, and it is the balance of violence, real or latent, that determines who ‘wins’. That is why, essentially, there is very little real value that can be placed on an African election except what works, that is, what the people will tolerate, albeit half-heartedly, as a rotten situation they can live with.
Nor should Africa feel embarrassed at the ugly scenes we seem capable of producing every time there is an election somewhere in our neck of the woods. Look, the Americans started voting some 300 years ago, and they still make such horrible mistakes as electing a Donald Trump as president.
And now they are saddled with a very African idea in the form of speculation as to whether the man they elected four years ago will refuse to leave office if he loses the election in November. Seriously, who would have thought of this as even a possibility in the electoral processes of the US?
Well, we know that he was beaten by Hillary Clinton by some three million popular votes, but we have to respect their electoral system because that is what their founding fathers intended to achieve, but from there to the point where people are worried they have such a person in the Oval Office that would contemplate refusing to leave if defeated, well, that is rich.
Our elections will be a week before the American ones, and by the time the Americans are filing to the booths, we in Tanzania will be arguing about how fair and free our elections will have been, who stole whose votes and how much rigging, ballot stuffing and false tallying and reporting were allowed to determine the results.
The arguments and the court cases — not allowed for the presidential election, imagine — will go on for another six months or so, sometimes ending inconclusively because the next elections in 2025 will be drawing close.
The lunacy and idiocy I alluded to at the beginning of this piece will likely subside a little after the dust has settled, waiting for another election season in the not-so-distant future when the tempers will flare up again, and we shall trade insults and blows once more, until we come to discover one day that the janitor we entrusted with our senses has disappeared with them, and there is neither plan nor faculty for recovery.
What we will have thought a passing madness with which we could have a little fun will have mutated into a monstrous system of utter destruction.