Tanzania’s Contested Election Results May Threaten Years of Unity

Tanzania’s official election results suggest little room for dispute: John Magufuli—candidate for the conservative ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or CCM—won 58% of the popular vote, defeating opposition candidate Edward Lowassa’s 39%. Still, the results were contentious enough to garner a security crackdown, with officers and materiel deployed across Tanzanian city streets.

Kerry Martin UVM Tanzania School For International Training
From left: President John Magufuli, former President Jakaya Kikwete, and Tanzania’s first female Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan (Source: Monitor.co.ug)

In what was widely publicized as the closest election in the country’s 54-year history—and the biggest threat to CCM, one of Africa’s best-oiled political machines, which has ruled Tanzania under one name or another since independence—CCM’s apparent victory has incited rage and disbelief from the opposition party, Chadema. Since the vote on October 25th and the announcement of results on the 29th, Chadema has already called for the recognition of Lowassa as winner, threatened protests if Lowassa is not recognized, and allegedly filed international charges of election fraud against CCM. The ruling party, guilty of fraud or not, swore in Magufuli as president on November 5th, formally dismissing these accusations while bracing itself for public outrage.

For local voters and distant observers alike, the stakes are high: Tanzania is East Africa’s most populous country, with 50 million people and counting. Its relative peace and stability have earned it international praise and aid but little direct investment, particularly in its vast oil and gas reserves; it remains among the poorest countries in the world. If instability were to result from this election or ripple across the region, years of development could be unraveled, adding East Africa to the list of major contributors to international migration.

For some Tanzanian opposition supporters, indignant at Lowassa’s alleged loss, instability seems like a fair price to pay in exchange for political transparency and accountability.

Tanzania Kerry Martin UVM School For International Training
Military vehicle in streets of Moshi, Tanzania soon after the election. (Source: Environmental researcher cited in article)

“CCM did not win, and there is no democracy in this country,” said a Tanzanian environmental researcher and Western-educated consultant, who requested not to be named for this article. “A day after election, the government released troops and military equipment all over Tanzania…We did not start the chaos, but the president is going to have a bad experience with this nation…I am so sad. I hope that strong nations like the U.S.A. might help. We don’t want to get into the war, but if necessary we will.”

Yet for other Tanzanians, violence must be avoided at all cost. The shadow of neighboring Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence, which broke out across ethnic lines and left 1,000 or more dead, looms over Tanzania, a warning of the ill-will that multiparty democracy can enable.

Tanzania Kerry Martin UVM School For International Training
Days after the election, heavily armed soldiers patrol the streets. (Source: Environmental researcher cited in article)

While international observers and journalists have raised little alarm about foul play in the election, incidents of intimidation and potential vote manipulation were reported, including the arrest of 40 Chadema polling station volunteers the day after the election. During the campaign, Chadema also reported to have been shut out of several major public spaces for campaign rallies. Even a new Tanzanian cyber-crime law was deployed: passed in May, the Cybercrime Act forbids the sharing of information that the government deems “false, deceptive, misleading, or inaccurate.” In October, eight Chadema staff arrested and three charged and sentenced under the law.

But in terms of political sway, these incidents pale in comparison to the CCM tradition of vote-buying via its “balozi” or ten-house cell system. One of CCM’s most effective tactics for maintaining influence—particularly in rural areas—every ten houses has a local party representative, who can offer “kitu kidogo” or “small gifts” in exchange for votes and kickbacks.

“The problem is the system is made by CCM,” the Tanzanian environmental researcher continued. “It is too strong to break out of. Some uneducated villages can be easily bribed by just a t-shirt, cap, and 5000 Tanzanian shillings [about 3 USD] to vote for CCM.”

Mounting frustrations with the CCM status quo led to the unprecedented decision that mounted this election’s threat to the party: for the first time, opposition parties formed a coalition, called UKAWA, united behind one party, Chadema. Though kept from the highest office, the UKAWA coalition performed better than expected in parliamentary elections, winning 14 of the 23 available seats in Tanzania’s largest cities.

Kerry Martin UVM Tanzania School For International Training
Edward Lowassa: because every disgruntled electorate needs a corrupt loudmouth in a baseball cap complaining about the rise of China. (Source: VOANews.com)

But UKAWA’s chosen presidential candidate, the corruption-riddled Edward Lowassa who only defected from a career with CCM three months before the election, muddled the platform of a coalition that had campaigned on busting corruption. “The fact that the opposition spent so much time blaming Lowassa for corruption and then turned around and supported him as its flag bearer didn’t make any sense,” said Reverien Mfizi, a doctoral candidate in Political Science at State University of New York at Buffalo. Without this glitch in UKAWA strategy, the race may have tipped the other way.

Newly elected President John Magufuli was also a historical exception as well, not in the method of his election but in the substance of his career and character. Minister of Public Works under outgoing CCM president Jakaya Kikwete, he was nicknamed “the bulldozer” for his ability to complete large-scale public projects and highways, and often told stories of jumping from the backs of trucks to catch corrupt cops accepting bribes. Three days into his presidency and flanked by the country’s first female vice president, he is already following through on promises to robustly curb corruption, which “may win him some public support, but may put him at odds with some of the members of his own party,” Mfizi said.

Kerry Martin UVM Tanzania School For International Training
CUF, opposition party in semi-autonomous Zanzibar, celebrates its presidential victory before CCM annulled its election results. (Source: UNPO.org)

The situation in Zanzibar, Tanzania’s semi-autonomous archipelago that voted in regional and national elections on October 25th, may forebode mainland instability yet to come. Zanzibar’s opposition party CUF won the island’s presidential election, but CCM declared the entire Zanzibari election fraudulent. Police reportedly fired teargas on a group of CUF volunteers, turning victory celebration to chaos and outrage.

Zanzibar, which united with the recently-independent Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964, does not enjoy the same stability and ethnic unity that the rest of Tanzania has become known for. Dozens were killed in post-election violence there in 2001, and the island has been a site of terrorist attacks. Soon after CCM’s scrapping of Zanzibar’s election results, two bombs went off in the islands’ capital, but no one was harmed.

Timothy Longman, Director of African Studies at Boston University, expressed alarm about the situation in Zanzibar. “The annulment of the Zanzibar results is very troubling…In Zanzibar, religious identity interacts with national and racial identities in a potentially volatile mix. Many Zanzibaris would like to see the islands become independent. They see themselves as Arab or Shirazi rather than African, and they believe that the Tanzanian state discriminates against Muslims. Not only the denial of the election results but also a heavy police presence in Zanzibar could lead to unrest.”

Kerry Martin UVM Tanzania School For International Training
Zanzibari protesters tear-gassed after the election annulment. (Source: The Guardian)

Whether the opposition’s outrage on mainland Tanzanian brings similar risk of civil strife is yet to be seen. The mainland’s history has a number of factors working in its favor: the common Kiswahili language, the relative unity between Christians and Muslims, and the shared historical identity forged by Tanzania’s first president Julius Nyerere and his (expired) socialist revolution. Such advantages have given it a level of stability such that many observers are not too alarmed. Of post-election mainland Tanzania, Mfizi believes that “the risk of civil (or ethnic) strife is very low.”

However, some evidence suggests that Tanzanians are reaching a tipping point that their peaceful legacy may not be able to stifle.

Lawyers from the opposition are rumored to be filing case in the ICC against CCM, indicating that the opposition is not giving up any time soon, but also that the civil strife may play out in court rather than in the streets. But an Africa increasingly disillusioned with international justice may not be satisfied with a legal battle in The Hague, no matter the outcome.

CCM knows this; that’s why the military is patrolling the cities.

The country is also desperately poor. Its average income remains among the world’s lowest. While most students complete primary school, secondary education is cripplingly limited, let alone higher education. A lack of jobs and opportunities for urban youth has them clamoring for big change.

Some even suggest that a transition to multiparty democracy would fracture Tanzanian power while leaving in place its problematic means of spreading and maintaining power; the opposition party may be forced to adopt the very power tactics that it campaigned against. Pitting these tactics against each other may trigger civil strife.

Tanzania Kerry Martin UVM School For International Training
Fraud in Kenya’s 2007 election sparked violence and persecution across ethnic lines; some estimate as many as 1,500 were killed and 600,000 displaced. (Photo Source: Human Rights Watch)

When the Kenya African National Union, or KANU, was voted out of power in 2002 after ruling the country since its 1963 independence, it was celebrated as the birth of Kenya’s democracy. Its multiple incidents of horrendous election violence since then have made democracy seem a less rosy prospect to some.

Mexico was long home to Latin America’s most powerful political party, the PRI; while many consider the 2000 election of an opposition president to have marked Mexican democracy, many also attribute its ongoing drug violence and gang warfare to the fracturing of Mexican political power, since gangs no longer have a united (albeit corrupt) party to negotiate with.

Throughout its history and particularly in the past two decades, CCM has proven undeniably corrupt, largely ineffective, and at best semi-democratic. But Tanzania may be gaining more from CCM than the party’s opponents realize. Tanzanians deserve a better government than what the CCM has so far offered them, but voting out the ruling party in the name of multiparty democracy and unspecified change may be a counterproductive method of reform. Without the economic development and state security to ensure the secure and just implementation of multiparty democracy, then transitioning away from a one-party system may be more of a liability than a step forward.

Tanzania Kerry Martin UVM School For International Training
I can’t tell which more false: connecting greater oil and gas investment to reduced corruption, or to promote said investment with pictures of the country’s wildlife. (Source: Global Pacific & Partners) (Source of this post’s featured image: Al Jazeera)

Allowing this election’s disagreements to spiral into violence will only postpone any transition to democracy. Whether they have been cheated or not, the opposition’s best move is to pressure CCM and John Magufuli to deliver on their promises to garner investment and weed out corruption, so that the opposition can campaign again in 2020 with a firmer platform, vying for presidency of a fairer government.

But perhaps the greatest threat to Tanzanian unity is the paradox that each party’s platform relies on: anti-corruption and pro-investment. Troublingly, it is investment that fuels corruption. “Under Nyerere, corruption was very low,” Longman said. “But as the government has implemented liberal economic policies and international investment has expanded, corruption has increased…The new oil and natural gas exploitation is likely to worsen the situation.”


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