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Tanzania faces ‘mother of all elections’

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Tanzania faces ‘mother of all elections’

The October general elections are unarguably the most highly contested since Tanzania embraced multi-party democracy in 1992. Election fever has been unprecedentedly high in the build up to polling day.

Standing out the most have been high-profile defections from the once indomitable Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), to the opposition. The influential Frederick Sumaye, who was Tanzania’s 7th Prime Minister between 1995 and 2005 under President Benjamin Mkapa, ditched the CCM to join the opposition coalition Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) party. He was highly critical of the CCM’s choice of Dr John Magufuli as its presidential candidate, citing, among other allegations, corruption as to why he had left the “party of revolution”. On the other hand, Dr Magufuli promised instead to transform Tanzania into an industrial hub as well as revive the ailing national carrier, Air Tanzania. 

However, Sumaye’s defection came not long after that of Edward Lowassa, also a former prime minister, who left to join Chadema. With yet another high profile defection, that of former home affairs minister Lawrence Masha to Chadema as well, strong public sentiments that the once all-powerful ruling CCM has lost ground to a more formidable opposition and could be in trouble, have understandably been rife.

Campaign tactics

In what political analysts called desperate times for the CCM, facing a disconcerted electorate, Minister for Transport Samuel Sitta announced in early August that the government was in the “final stages” of absorbing the more than Tsh133 billion ($63 million) of Air Tanzania’s debts. He said the move was aimed at cleaning up the airline’s balance sheet, making it a creditworthy entity in the long run. 

The opposition on the other hand has been unrelenting in its accusation that the ruling party has taken advantage of its status to misuses public resources to woo voters. To prove the point that it lacked state resources, Edward Lowassa went on the campaign trail, visiting lowly market areas such as Kariokor – using public transport – to identify himself as the “man of the ordinary people”. Lowassa, once a powerful CCM member, is the presidential candidate for UKAWA, the four-party opposition coalition consisting of Chadema, CUF, NCCR and NLD. 

As October 25, the election date, approaches, so the pressure is piling on CCM to go the extra mile to recapture its past election glories.

“It has always been a walkover for them in political contests. Not any more. The CCM is dying slowly, the same way our neighbour’s Kenya African National Union (KANU) went bust. It may not be now, but the outcome of the coming elections will corroborate my argument,” a CCM insider who sought anonymity told New African.

No easy road

With such unprecedentedly strong opposition, it has not been plain sailing for the governing CCM during the election campaigns, to the extent that it was even accused by the opposition and other critics of being heavy-handed against opponents, in desperate moves designed to hold on to the status quo by frustrating the competition from using different methods. For instance, UKAWA cried foul in August when CCM denied them access and use of the famous Jangwani grounds in the country’s capital for campaign rallies. There may have been some legitimacy in the idea of the CCM being jittery about the newly-found vim of the opposition. In the October 2010 elections, CCM’s presidential candidate Jakaya Kikwete (now the outgoing president) saw his vote drop to 61 per cent as compared with 80 per cent in 2005. The opposition, Chadema’s candidate Dr Wilbroad Slaa, got 26 per cent while the presidential candidate for the Civic United Front, whose main strength is in Zanzibar, Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, came third with eight per cent of the total votes.

In that election, the ruling party lost 55 parliamentary seats while Chadema made a massive 19 seats gain to 24, a sign, critics say, that Tanzanians were yearning for a strong opposition party in parliament. Indeed, this time, the opposition has appeared even more aggressively to be eating into CCM territory. There is no doubt that come election day, the opposition is intent on solidifying and broadening its base, if not going the entire mile to State House. Indeed, political observers say the defection of Sumaye gives credence to a purportedly under-the-table deal, in which politicians from northern Tanzania (where Chadema enjoys a strong following) are planning to join the UKUWA. The CCM torchbearer on the other hand, comes from the lake region of Mwanza, which has about 10 million out of the total 23 million registered voters.

However, the worry with voting on ethnicity lines is that it risks dividing Tanzanians into tribal cocoons, as happened with their neighbours in Kenya. Such a proposed voting bloc may not go down well with many Tanzanians who have minimal appetite for tribal politics. An ethnic and obviously religious segmentation of the electorate risks negatively affecting Tanzania, a country that has over the years been one of the most stable in Africa.

The CCM party has told Tanzanians that any opposition leader should not divide them along these lines. The ruling party is on record saying such a situation “may sink the country’s economic gains” and implored the electorate to learn from and avoid what happened in Kenya in the 2007/2008 post-election violence, which claimed innocent lives and seriously depressed a thriving economy. University of Dar es Salaam lecturer Dr Benson Bana concurs and fears that ethnicity and religious issues could tear apart the tightly-knitted fabric of unity that Tanzania has enjoyed since independence.

“We may not want to talk about the issues openly but their effects may be detrimental as we make decisions on voting,” he says.

But also a core determinant in these elections is the bane of corruption, which critics of this rather unassuming country say is quietly endemic in some high places, and has for some time now been pervasively choking what would be thriving businesses and other sectors of the economy.

A year ago, international donors suspended about $500 million in budget support to Tanzania after allegations that some senior government officials had siphoned funds from the Bank of Tanzania (BoT), the country’s central bank, under the guise of energy contracts.

And in 2008, the governor of Tanzania’s Central Bank, Daudi Ballali, was fired after an independent international audit found the bank had paid out more than $100 million to local companies, some of which allegedly did not exist.  Soon afterwards, the then Prime Minister Edward Lowassa and two ministers resigned following a huge public outcry over their reported involvement in awarding a big contract to a ghost US electricity firm. They have all maintained their innocence, but the so-called Richmond affair almost brought Tanzania to its knees.

The outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete took office in 2005 with a strong promise to tackle endemic corruption in public offices. However, his critics and the opposition have accused him of failing to live up to that pledge. The CCM is not, however, letting the opposition steal the show using this apparent hot topic.

Special court on corruption

During the launch of his campaign, Dr Magufuli talked tough about corruption, saying that he will establish a special court on corruption to hasten all corruption-related cases.

But the C-word aside, a study by Twaweza, a non-governmental organisation, says that 46% of Tanzanians think that the policies of different political parties will affect the outcome of the elections.

Tanzanians also believe that the elections will be free and fair, and that their choices and priorities will be respected. Despite the optimism, the report says Tanzanians are concerned about election violence. Worryingly, about 54 per cent think that there is a high risk of violence around the elections.

Yet, according to programme coordinator of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation in Dar es Salaam, Richard Shaba, after almost half a century rule by the CCM, and because of the natural generational change, Tanzanians feel ready for change. However, he says, the desired change has not yet been clearly defined. “For the first time in this country’s history, we cannot tell with confidence who the next president will be. It will be a tight race and this is generating anxiety,” he says.

Other analysts say parties with pro-poor policies are likely to emerge victorious given that the income gap between the poor and the rich is wide, and keeps widening by the day. Indeed, Tanzania remains one of the world’s poorest countries in terms of per capita income.

The sustained average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 7%, double the average rate of the 1990s, still masks great disparities across different sectors. Most people living in rural areas remain extremely poor due to their high dependency on agriculture, a sector that is yet to benefit from the extension services, fertiliser, seeds and agrochemicals subsidy enjoyed by farmers in other East African countries. 

The agriculture sector is Tanzania’s chief economic contributor, accounting for about 25% of the GDP, providing 85% of exports and employing about 80% of the total workforce, translating to about 40 million people. The country has 95.5 million hectares of land. Out of this, 44 million hectares are classified as arable. However, only 27% of the arable land is under cultivation. 

But agriculture’s potential has not been fully met due to the lack of affordable inputs besides erratic weather, which has severely affected crop and livestock production. It is not all gloom, though. There is an impressive performance in export crops such as sugar, tea and tobacco, which have in the recent past recorded annual growth rates of almost 10%.

Gold exports have also featured prominently, helping to boost GDP. Unfortunately, rising imports have kept Tanzania’s balance of trade in deficit.

The CCM is also under close scrutiny for its failure to better people’s lives. On the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme, Tanzania was ranked 163rd of 170 countries in 2000. In 2013, it was better; 152nd of 187 countries. Critics say the ruling party’s poverty reduction plan has been slow, and unevenly shared due to different vices – favouritism and corruption among them – in the public sector. No wonder, the opposition says the target of halving the 1990 poverty levels by this year has not yet been met.

Due to this economic and human development instability, Tanzania has been labelled a donor-darling country that chiefly depends on aid handouts and grants for survival. However, the government stated earlier this year that it was weaning itself off the conditions-tied donor purse by moving towards mobilising more domestic resources. 

Finance Minister Saada Mkuya says donor aid accounted for only 10% of the 2015/2016 fiscal year financing.

“Tanzania has the potential and capacity to finance its spending without asking for external support,” she said.

“Through the application of existing and new measures, the government plans to collect $10.88 billion in 2015/16. Total grants and concessional loans will be $1.12 billion, equivalent to 10% of the total budget.” 

Mkuya added that the government’s approach is being achieved through increasing domestic revenue collections and tax revenues besides checking on funds spillages and extravagance.

It is relevant to recall that in recent years, the outgoing Kikwete government faced difficulties in implementing its budgets due to

aid unpredictability and donor failure to honour their pledges in time.

But for Morogoro resident Mzee Juma Matano, a 65-year-old father of eight, the ultimate remedy to poverty in Tanzania is the devolution of resources. This, he says, should have been achieved through the proposed new constitution, famously referred to as Katiba, which has been put on hold until after the elections.

“A new constitution would have ensured that my children can access affordable healthcare, education, better housing and security. However, this may not come to fruition soon as political parties have failed to agree on the best approach to giving the country a new constitution,” says Matano – who believes the new constitution will also better the country’s governance structures.

Checks and balances

By separating local and national powers through the proposed new set of laws, Tanzanians believe the new centres of power will provide new checks and balances.

The most important aspect, if it goes through, is that people will have opportunities for participating in public affairs, including the budget-making process and effective provision of services. Relevant government agencies will also be closer to the people, and their officers will become more responsive and more accountable. 

“Tanzania has a huge chunk of land and abundant resources which need to be exploited,” says Paul Mnyanyika, a Dar es Salaam resident.

“This will be easily achieved through the enactment of a new constitution,” he stresses. 

It is left to Hassan Shah, a manufacturer of soft drinks in Arusha town near the Kenya border, to proffer a way forward for the next government after this month’s elections. He stresses that paying attention to East African Community [EAC] integration is a crucial key.

He criticised the fact that, for the last two years, no major steps have been made as far as integration of the ECA is concerned due to the unfounded and baseless views among Tanzanians that the free movement of labour, goods and services within the five East African countries trade bloc will make Tanzania worse off.

“There is synergy in integrating the Tanzanian, Ugandan, Kenyan, Burundian and Rwandese economy. We already have a Customs Union and Common Market Protocol in place. The next president should be quick in pushing forward the establishment of an East African Monetary Union and a political federation,” he said.

Come the end of October, Tanzania will be judged on how much further it has entrenched its democracy.

Mark Kapchanga

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