DAR ES SALAAM: Last week’s Tanzanian General Election is likely to change the East African nation politically forever.
For the first time, Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) faced its stiffest challenge since introduction of multiparty politics in 1992.
Weeks to the polls, there was anxiety that the opposition could turn the tables on the ruling party that has enjoyed unfettered access to power for over half a century.
Along the streets, there was open hostility between supporters of the ruling party and those of the Opposition. The opposition had come together under the banner of Umoja wa Katiba ya Wananchi (Ukawa) to sponsor one candidate, Edward Lowassa.
Fears of violence drove away tourists and there were reports that hundreds of Asian businessmen had fled the country fearing an outbreak of political violence.
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“We want change. If this election won’t be free and fair, Tanzania will go the Kenya way. We are tired of CCM, because nothing in our lives has changed since independence,” an opposition supporter told The Standard on Sunday just before the election.
Although John Pombe Magufuli of CCM has already been declared winner with 58 per cent of the votes, the opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema), through Lowassa has disputed the outcome.
The close contest, in the eyes of some observers, has severely tested the unity of the Tanzanian nation, and for the first time, even the most hardened of Afro-optimists fear something may have given way.
“Being fiercely competitive and perhaps the most divisive politically, the Tanzanian election has certainly eroded the fabric of a united nation that has for long been stable under CCM’s dominance and near monopoly. Whether the tensions endure and divisions broaden is another matter altogether, but the healing process, if it happens and if necessary, will depend largely on how the new leadership deals with perceptions that the electoral process was not free and fair,” said Dr Michael Orwa, a lecturer on Africa and International Relations at the United States International University in Nairobi.
“What made this election such a close contest is that there was a new political re-awakening. It is true there was a time one felt that things may go wrong. This is Africa and there are situations where things can go wrong,” said Tanzanian don, Dr Allan Simba.
“But what is important is for us to forge a common destiny,” added Dr Simba.
Tanzania is ranked among the poorest countries in the world, and moving through some of the country’s villages, the levels of poverty are palpable.
But it is in these poor rural villages that the ruling party received most support, and not even the 2.5 million votes in Dar Es Salaam that the opposition had banked on could save it from the CCM juggernaut.
Many people calling for change view the ‘blind’ loyalty to the ruling party as being responsible for the poverty and misery of Tanzanians. But they blame the state even more for ‘brainwashing’ the rural poor with founding leader Julius Nyerere’s name to keep CCM alive.
“What has CCM done for you in the last 50 years? “youths ask each other in the streets.
Luckily for Tanzania, unlike its neighbour Kenya, political fissures are along party lines. So, if ever there was to be political conflict in Tanzanian, it would not be on tribal lines, but a protest against state and backers of its policies.
Prof Rwekaza Mukandala, the vice chancellor of the University of Dar Es-Salaam said although he does not see any immediate threat to the stability of the Tanzanian nation, it will take time before the political temperatures generated by the elections cool down.
“Ties that bind a country can be tested because we have different constituencies bound by interests and candidates try to appropriate these constituencies, but the biggest task for the new President will be to take care of all Tanzanians,” said the Professor of Political science.
To many opposition supporters, including Ms Anna Elisha Mghwira, the only female presidential contestant in this year’s election, only a new constitution can save the county from a social meltdown.
“We want a new constitution which will be a pillar for all other changes we want in this country,” said Ms Mghwira.
The 1970’s constitution which is currently in use in the East African country makes the electoral commission virtually ‘infallible,’ It is a situation that bothered observers from the East African Community.
“There should be a resolution mechanism in case there is a dispute,” said Mr Peter Mathuki, a member of the East African Legislative Assembly, who observed the elections.
“Tanzania is where Kenya was in 1992,” a journalist who covered the elections said.
Kenya’s ambassador to Tanzania Ali Chirau Mwakwere said: “At this point, it is difficult to gauge the extent to which the poll has affected the unity of Tanzanian people.”