Tanzania election: the good, the bad and lessons for the regional ‘sad’ term club

Dr. John Pombe Magufuli, of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) is the president-elect of Tanzania.

Dr. John Pombe Magufuli, of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) is the president-elect of Tanzania.

As normalcy returns to Tanzania following recent presidential election of which the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) candidate John Magufuli won by more than 58 %, it is now time to look back on the contentious exercise and identify what Tanzania got right, and wrong and what the East African country’s regional neighbours especially those with incredibly powerful and dominant ruling parties and leaders who don’t envision themselves out of power can take away.

The good

Considering the fact that it is rare or impossible for the opposition in Tanzania’s backyard to organize and seriously challenge the ruling party, the decision and the courage for Tanzania’s four opposition parties to unite under the opposition alliance UKAWA is quite admirable.

Despite the fact that UKAWA has lost out on the biggest prize; the presidency, efforts by Chadema, Civic United Front (CUF), NCCR-Mageuzi, and National League for Democracy (NLD) to work together and field a joint candidate at all levels and position, have not been in vain as the opposition performed well in parliamentary elections by capturing a significant number of seats and even beating CCM in its historic strongholds.

Also CCM might have won the election and opposition is disappointed and rightly so, but on the other hand, again judging by regional standards where ruling parties have been in power for decades, and one leader, one man has been in office, for more than 10, 20 or 30 years, CCM decision to abide by two five-year term limits is worthy some praise, at least Tanzania has a new leader who will definitely usher in some dose of change. Continued peaceful transfer of power in Tanzania is a good thing, as US President Barack Obama pointed out in his recent trip to the African Union, “nobody should be president for life.”

Last week, outgoing Tanzanian leader Jakaya Kikwete assured Tanzanians and the president-elect himself that “he will take the nation to the next level where I did not reach … you can change the country’s economy into a middle income country by 2025.” Let us hope Magufuli carries the economy forward and picks up where Kikwete left off. In Africa’s and Sub-Saharan political context, this is such an enviable thing, Kiwete has joined fellow former leaders Benjamin Mkapa and Hassan Mwinyi in retirement and there’s no doubt these statesmen still have a role to play in moving Tanzania, and the region forward.

The bad
Clearly, Tanzania’s election was marred by fraud, vote rigging and election mismanagement and police raids on opposition volunteers, at least according to opposition claims, and International election observer missions.

Also due to massive irregularities, the presidential election on the sub-autonomous Island of Zanzibar was annulled by the Zanzibar electoral Commission (ZEC), although opposition candidate and current Vice President on the archipelago, Seif Sharif Hamad of Civic United Front (CUF) and opposition alliance UKAWA has declared victory. Over the weekend, there was bomb explosions on the streets of Zanzibar and tension is still high on the Indian Ocean Island as the opposition and the current government are locked in a political impasse.

Edward Lowassa, the former premier, and opposition coalition UKAWA and Chadema candidate who came in second in the presidential race with 41% has rejected the election results citing connivance by the electoral commission and the ruling CCM.

Lowassa's motorcade squeezing through thousands of supporters in Dar es Salaam

Lowassa’s motorcade squeezing through thousands of supporters in Dar es Salaam

“Most of the results are fabricated, malicious and were plotted purposely to lift-up Chama cha Mapinduzi candidate Dr John Pombe Magufuli,” a visibly infuriated Lowassa told reporters in Dar es Salaam last week.

Lowassa and opposition’s allegations of fraud were echoed by the European Union election observer mission which concluded the recent poll was not credible and that the ruling party CCM used its influence to manipulate operations of the both NEC and ZEC.

“In the undertaking of the different stages of the electoral process, the NEC and ZEC did not provide for full transparency regarding their decision making processes and stakeholders access to scrutinize the commission’s activities was not always granted,” EU observer mission said in Dar es Salaam last week.
Likewise, local nonpartisan human rights activists have publicly condemned several police raids on their election monitoring colleagues, premises and seizure of their materials.

Armed police raided a local civil society organisation, Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) affiliate Tanzania Civil Society Consortium on Election Observation (TACCEO) offices in Kawe, Dar es Salaam Friday last week and arrested 36 human rights activists and confiscated 27 computers and 25 mobile phones.

Earlier in the week the police had also reportedly stormed into several hotels rented and occupied by Chadema’s election staff in Dar es Salaam and Njombe region, and arrested 191 volunteers releasing 183 shortly after, and later charging the remaining 8 with Cybercrime offenses.

Even before the general election, there had been reports of infighting, and lack of transparency, and meritocracy within the ruling party; subsequently Lowassa and a number of other candidates were eliminated in the first round of the nomination ‘contest’, Lowassa and dozens of his fellow CCM top cadres defected to the opposition.

All these allegations and reports clearly indicate the East Africa’s beacon of democracy might not be so democratic after all.

Lessons for Sub-Saharan Africa ‘life presidents’

1. Maintain the system, change the head

From Kinshasa to Kampala, Kigali to Bujumbura and beyond, incumbent presidents and reigning political parties that are ready to do anything and everything to stay in power can take a peek at Tanzania’s ruling party, CCM’s playbook.

Many will argue that Magufuli’s win means nothing will change in terms of service delivery, the economy et cetera and this could well be the case but at least Tanzanians will have a chance to test out “The Bulldozer,” who knows maybe he will allocate more resources to his area of interest; roads and infrastructure development.

Since Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s departure 20 years ago, every Tanzanian leader has done better than his predecessor in terms of moving the country forward and hopefully Magufuli will heed Kikwete’s counsel and lead Tanzania to a middle income economy by the time he hands over power to another leader.
Leaders and ruling parties in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, DRC and beyond ought to give their people a chance experience another leader’s approach. This doesn’t mean they are entirely out of the picture, they can still offer their guidance and wisdom to that new leader.Isn’t it fair for a thirty year-old Ugandan man or woman to experience life under another a president?

2. Ruling party will always win, teargas not a wise investment

Tanzania’s recent election has also demonstrated that it is very hard if not impossible for the ruling party to lose an election in this part of the world, no matter how well organized the opposition is.

Many (including the author) thought opposition alliance UKAWA would emulate Jubilee in Kenya and pull off an upset. Given the crowds on the campaign trail, the four opposition parties’ decision to field a joint candidate, and Lowassa’s political experience and popularity plus CCM exodus of top politicians defecting to the opposition, many had expected UKAWA to finally oust CCM or at least be competitive. WRONG!

Now that the ruling party wins no matter what, isn’t it time for the leaders in the third or ‘sad’ term club and their ruling parties to do as CCM did? Let the oppositions exercise their political rights, let them campaign freely, spare them batons, teargas and jail time, after all, ruling parties and the powerful and influential incumbents have the National Electoral Commissions.

Why teargas Kizza Besigye in Uganda, why arrest and detain him if you very well know he will lose come election day? Why beat up or undress his women supporters if you very well know their candidate has lost three previous elections and will lose the next election?

Uganda Police taking  brutality against the country's opposition to another level

Uganda Police taking brutality against the country’s opposition to another level

A few months ago when Rwanda’s Green Party announced it was going to file suit against the Rwandan government for attempting to change the country’s constitution to allow President Paul Kagame to run for the third term the Rwandan leader tweeted that the Green Party President Frank Habineza was exercising his constitutional right to challenge the state. The message behind Kagame’s tweet was CLEAR, let Mr. Habineza make all the noise, let him do whatever after all, his actions or challenges will not change the proceedings on the ground, the keys to victory belong to the ruling RPF and President Kagame, Kagame is on his way to his third term. Habineza and his Green Party have since lost in the Supreme Court and they have now appealed to President Kagame for help, STRANGE BUT TRUE!

There’s no point in arresting, or teargassing Habinezas, and Besigyes of the world, multiple defeats they suffer are enough punishment.