Uneasy Calm as 29 million people vote and defy State's internet shutdown

Millions of voters trooped to polling centres in Tanzania yesterday to cast their votes in the most extraordinary elections, which were conducted away from the prying eyes of the internet.

President John Magufuli shut down the internet, blocking citizens from various regions from communicating with the outside world.

However, crafty, technology savvy Tanzanians devised ways of sidestepping the government control on the flow of information and even managed to exchange video clips, making nonsense of the internet shutdown.

When the polling centres opened at 7am, agents were barred from carrying their phones while hawk-eyed police kept on check anybody who was using communication gadgets within the polling stations.

When asked how they would communicate with their bases across the country, some of the Tanzanians we talked to said they had anticipated such draconian moves and were prepared.

In a bid to circumvent the government’s closure, some people used Virtual Private Network (VPN), a system that allows the user to route communication to a server, enabling users to chat offline.

So effective was the alternative system that voters in Tanzania were able to communicate with servers in Germany, which allowed some people to relay the same message across the world. The system enabled sending of video clips, SMS, audio and still photos depicting the situation in the “landlocked” country.

Some of the apps they had downloaded in anticipation of the shutdown enabled people in different corners of the world to chat with their contacts in Tanzania.

At around 8.30am, opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu, who is facing an uphill task of trying to dislodge Magufuli of Chama Cha Mageuzi (CCM), fired the first salvo even as he waited to cast his vote.

Widespread irregularities

The Chadema party flag bearer tweeted: “Voting reports indicate widespread irregularities in form of preventing our polling agents from accessing polling stations. Stuffed ballot boxes found in Kawe, Dar. If this continues, mass democratic action will be the only option to protect the integrity of the election.”

Earlier in his campaigns, Lissu had vowed not to contest the outcome of the election in courts even if he was convinced that he had lost unfairly, explaining that in the course of his many years of election petitions in Tanzania, he had never seen even one election nullified.

He said in the event the will of the voters, as expressed in the ballot box, was subverted, he would mobilise his supporters to take to the streets to protest the undemocratic practices of his competitor.

There were reports of violence directed at some polling agents even before the voting started, which we could not independently verify. One such post reported: “There was tension in parts of Dar es Salaam after Kawe MP Halima Mdee, who is also Chadema’s Women Wing chairperson, exposed what she described as a rigging plot. This is after finding some fake, marked ballot papers had been sneaked into a polling station”.

When she questioned National Electoral Commission officials about the presence of the ballots estimated to be 10,000, she was arrested.

Halima Mdee amekamatwa na polisi na anashikiliwa kituo cha polisi Kawe. Baada ya kukamata kura ‘feki’ zaidi ya ELFU KUMI na kuhamia kituo kingine, wasimamizi wa vituo wakawaita polisi na walipofika wakamkamata Halima. (Halima Mdee has been arrested and is being held at Kawe police station. This is after she seized more than 10,000 fake ballot papers and shifting to another polling station. The officers in charge of the polling station called the police, who in turn arrested her,” an agitated voter tweeted.

The fake ballots were allegedly found in Kilongawima at Jangwani Primary School, and had already been marked in favour of CCM candidates. Mdee was later released.

An international tourist resort in Kilimanjaro also complained that its guards had been abducted by police after they thwarted attempts to arrest some opposition leaders who had spent a night there.

A statement from Aishi Machame Hotel stated: “At 02:30am a group of people (around 20, with four vehicles) in balaclavas armed with machetes, pistols and sub-machine guns, stormed into Aishi Machame Hotel and kidnapped two guards. The attackers were led by senior government official Hai District.”

According to the statement, after bundling the guards into the cars, “the attackers accused the guards of supporting the opposition, and promised killing for that.”

Invasion of polling stations

There were reports of invasion of some polling stations in Zanzibar, where Maliim Seif reported: “Invasion of another polling centre at the Mbuyutende Kijijini Constituency by KMKM forces.”

And just before the polls closed, the vice chair of campaigns in Zanzibar for the opposition party, ACT Maendeleo, Muhene Shandrasi, called a press conference and displayed ballot papers seized from voters.

“We have noted eight major anomalies, which point to a compromised electoral system. Voters are given more than one ballot paper, and our agents were kicked out pof half of the stations by electoral officials,” he said.

He claimed some voters who had voted in advance on Tuesday were allowed to vote again.

There are a total 264 parliamentary seats up for grabs and more than 5,600 civic seats.

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