NAIROBI: Among the residents of the East African countries, Tanzanians have long been deemed less excitable, politically. For as long as Tanzanians were comfortable, their political rallies were not the rumbustious type like those experienced in Kenya or Uganda.
For a taste of political ruckus, the joke went in Tanzania's social places, most tuned into Kenyan TV stations where this is served daily. Political dissent is unheard of in Tanzania.
That was until the latest bout of electoral contest that climaxes with elections on Sunday.
It is safe to conclude that Tanzanians have felt uncomfortable going by the boisterous nature of the current political campaigns. Indeed, the voters deserve better.
Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the longest reigning ruling party in Africa, has ruled Tanzania since its formation in 1977. It now faces a credible challenge from Chadema, a collection of opposition parties. Tanzania has a chance at last to change for better. Indications are that John Magufuli of CCM will win. His fiercest challenger is Edward Lowassa, a popular former prime minister who defected from CCM earlier this year.
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Compared to Kenya and Uganda, Tanzania has little to show for all its peace and stable political history. Uganda has had a bloody past, the worst of it during the reign of Idi Amin Dada in the 1970s. Kenya, on its part, though relatively peaceful, has suffered bouts of tribal violence, the worst being the 2007/8 post-election violence.
CCM's hold on Zanzibar, a collection of islands autonomous of the mainland's government, is weakening with the main opposition party, the Civic United Front, an ally of Chadema, holding sway.
Because of its very nature, governing Tanzania is easier than say, Kenya, which has diverse interests. Thanks to its past leaders, Tanzania has been saved the political gangsterism that is prevalent elsewhere in Africa.
Its founding President Julius Nyerere's embrace of socialism, popularised under the Ujamaa Villages, is credited for Tanzanians' love for country and the laid-back nature of the citizens. And this is what has undermined Tanzania's progress. With 51 million people, Tanzania is the most populous of the three countries.
Tanzania is mineral-rich; boasting gold, diamond, Tanzanite and other pricy minerals. At independence, it had one of the best universities in Africa. Kenya's former Attorney General and at least three former Cabinet ministers are alumni of the university. But alas, Tanzania has punched below its weight. Its Gross Product of $49.2 billion is less that of Kenya ($60.94). Rwanda with a population five times less has a Gross National Income of $700, compared to Tanzania's $930. Kenya's is $1,290.
It is heartening that issues like poverty, education, corruption and political patronage are openly debated in political rallies now.
One would wonder why Tanzania matters to Kenya. A Tanzanian growth miracle would be a great feat not just for Tanzania, but for East Africa and Africa. The knock-on effects on the economies of the region cannot be underestimated.
Yet Tanzania faces serious challenges. Tax compliance is weak. The World Bank warns its low performance in tax collection collection threatens fiscal stability. Other challenges include poor infrastructure, unfriendly business environment that hobbles the growth of private sector (a key ingredient in job creation), unreliable and inaccessible power.
The winner of the vote has a lot to do to fix the land of Julius Nyerere.
All indications are that CCM might not lose the election, but this election, if nothing else, gives Tanzania a reason to hope. Whatever the outcome, Tanzanians will forever be saved the agony of flipping through Kenyan TV channels for a taste of political drama.