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As Tanzania concludes its fourth multiparty elections, Richard Whitehead considers the victory of the CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi) – the long-time incumbent party – and the changes in the country’s political composition revealed by the elections.

Tanzania’s fourth multiparty elections – held on 30 October – were, in some ways, not significantly different from the first three, held in 1995, 2000 and 2005. As before, the ruling party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), routed the opposition parties and emerged as the dominant force in the country’s legislative and executive branches. Similar to the campaign themes found in earlier elections, the CCM’s 2010 campaign theme centred on its status as the ‘defender of the nation’ against the ‘disorder’ and ‘chaos’ that would prevail in the aftermath of a sweeping opposition victory, while the opposition parties for their part attacked the CCM’s poor record on fighting corruption and advancing development. And, like those verdicts bestowed upon previous elections, the 2010 elections were evaluated by international and domestic observers as somewhere between ‘free and fair’ and ‘free, but not fair’, only to be topped off with metaphors like ‘tranquil’ and ‘peaceful’. All in all, it appears that once again the long-time incumbent party in Tanzania has managed to reproduce its dominant – some might say hegemonic – position, while escaping the sort of international condemnation levelled against some of the continent’s other long-time incumbents.

Yet this election was also radically different from those held in 2000 and 2005, to the extent that, in this election show-down, the leading opposition party – the Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) – made some sizable election gains. While the CCM’s presidential candidate, Jakaya Kikwete, was re-elected in 2010 by an impressive 38.4 per cent margin over the next runner-up, President Kikwete was first elected in 2005 by a margin of 68.6 per cent over the runner-up. His predecessor, Benjamin Mkapa, was re-elected in 2000 by a 55.9 per cent margin. As Jenerali Ulimwengu notes in his recent article in The East African, given the fact that the opposition parties won more than 50 constituencies and the fact that the leading opposition candidate, Dr Wilbrod Slaa, has managed to ‘reinvigorate’ an otherwise waning opposition party and change the political landscapes throughout many of the country’s urban areas, this election, when compared to the previous two, has illuminated the possible limits of the CCM’s capacity to comfortably and continuously dominate elections.

To be sure, some additional developments borne out during this election can be read as signposts for the welcomed emergence of a more competitive polity. However, these developments, along with the prospects of a more competitive polity generally, should not necessarily be taken as an indication that Tanzania might be en route to a deeper democracy with the potential for broader citizen empowerment.

The first development – one potentially challenging to the CCM’s prospects in the 2015 election – is the growing significance of the youth vote. Indeed, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, people between the ages of 20 to 40 make up about 31 per cent of the Tanzanian population. Within the voting age population, young people up to the age of 40 account for approximately 68 per cent, versus the 18 per cent old enough to remember the euphoria of independence in 1961, brought about by the CCM’s antecedent parties, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and the Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP). As recently pointed out by Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala, a high youth turnout could easily be responsible for CHADEMA’s improved election fortunes. The battle over the youth vote will certainly define the campaign themes of the 2015 election, where the CCM will face the added disadvantage of having to deal with an internal power struggle over Kikwete’s replacement.

Secondly, and related to this, is the increased use of the internet generally, and social media particularly. The Jamii Forums, Facebook and Twitter have grown into some of the more vibrant hotspots for exchanging views and information about the elections. And this widening social media sphere has proven to be a world far more sympathetic to the opposition, especially CHADEMA. As clearly reflected in a Mwananchi online pre-election poll – where respondents favoured Dr Slaa by a 60 per cent margin over President Jakaya Kikwete – participation in the internet, and by extension online activism, is overwhelmingly dominated by opposition supporters. This is probably a reflection of the fact that young people are generally more tech savvy and also more likely to back an opposition party. Moreover, folks with professional backgrounds living in urban areas are both more likely to have internet access and more likely to back an opposition party.

Finally, and tentatively, this election might also illustrate a loosening of those mutually beneficial exchanges that sustain the CCM’s rule and enrich the fortunes of a budding commercial class. Indeed, as I pointed out in some of my earlier research, the CCM’s ability to secure such wide victory margins in the face of multiparty elections is found in the party’s ability to pair its ‘guardian of national unity’ status with a rising commercial class that trades political support in exchange for favourable treatment by the state. Simultaneously, the massive levels of corruption that accompany these exchanges serve as opposition focal points that are gifted with salience when high-level scandals – e.g., the Richmond and Central Bank scandals – provide powerful evidence of opposition claims. Moreover, as the CCM’s ability to win elections becomes less certain, commercial elites will undoubtedly try to hedge their bets by diversifying their political networks. This might explain the July 2010 decision by Mustafa Jaffar Sabodo, a prominent business tycoon, to donate some Tsh 100 million to CHADEMA’s coffers while still proclaiming his loyalty to the CCM.

These three developments might strengthen the capacity for opposition parties to pair winning messages with the financial, network and human capital for spreading those messages. While the growing strength of the opposition may provide the incentives for the CCM to take issues like ‘good governance’ and ‘accountability’ more seriously, there are, however, a few reasons as to why recent election developments should not necessarily be celebrated as evidence of a coming democracy. First is the fact that voter turnout (as a percentage of registered voters) in this election was an appalling 42.8 per cent, compared to 76.7 per cent in 1995, 84.4 per cent in 2000 and 72.4 per cent in 2005. While reasons behind this abrupt decline are unclear, one Jamii Forum post speculates that low voter turnout might be caused by problems ranging from poor voting infrastructure to the fact that people simply have not seen any changes in their lives since the start of multiparty politics. Declining voter turnout might be seen as a step away from rather than toward democracy, especially if this decline is a reflection of dissatisfaction or feelings of alienation.

Secondly, despite the promises of liberal democracy generally, and multiparty elections specifically, parties throughout Africa often emerge as vehicles utterly incapable of translating broader societal needs into actual public policy. Whereas campaign messages look so sincere during the heated campaign battles, in the times between elections, parties and politicians generally fail to cultivate durable connections with those that lack the financial backing to offer something in return. This of course, is not just a problem in Africa. But, the shear level of poverty throughout the continent, coupled with the disproportionate influence that powerful international actors have on domestic policy affairs, makes this disconnect between new or long-time incumbent parties on one hand, and the continent’s largely poor majorities on the other hand, more pronounced and more challenging for deepening democracy’s reach.

In reality, this disconnection plays out during election campaigns as well, where competition requires parties to play the game according to the tune of those that hold the keys to the fortunes for financing an election war-chest. Co-joining electoral competition with enormous wealth asymmetries and widespread poverty incentivises behaviour that pays mere lip service to the plights faced by poor people, while taking the interests of economic elites more seriously. As elections in many of Tanzania’s neighbouring cases demonstrate, multiparty competition amid conditions of massive wealth inequalities and poverty is not enough to ensure that the promises of democracy are fulfilled for the majority of the citizens. While ruling parties like the Movement for Multiparty Democracy in Zambia (MMD) and the Party of National Unity (PNU) in Kenya face rather stiff competition, the ability of electoral competition to truly translate into broader citizen empowerment is questionable. This point has been echoed in a recent article in The East African, which essentially depicts the political environment in Tanzania as one where elites compete for the spoils of victory, while the vast majority of Tanzanians are completely sidelined in the political process.

The disconnect between broader citizen empowerment on one hand, and the terms of conflict in multiparty politics on the other, is also manifest in the widely celebrated digital social networking venues. Without a doubt, social media forums can serve as a democratising force by facilitating the exchange of ideas and information between ordinary people and by allowing social movements to gain broader sympathies in their struggles in the face of human rights abuses. However, it must also be remembered that participation in social media throughout much of Africa represents a small and significantly affluent segment of the population. In Tanzania, data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) show that only 520,000 Tanzanians, or 1.3 per cent of the population, managed to use the internet at least one time during 2008. While ITU data shows that 31 per cent have mobile phone subscriptions, only a small margin of these are likely to be those devices capable of connecting to these internet-based fora. These trends are not likely to change rapidly anytime in the near future.

None of this should be taken as suggesting that greater electoral competition in Tanzania will produce no real net benefits. Indeed, the watchful eyes of a robust election competitor might provide the necessary pressures that entice the country’s leaders to take issues like corruption more seriously. Social media offer venues that, in the absence of extreme poverty and asymmetries in wealth and education, might act as a force for broader participation and empowerment. Likewise, competition between political actors might facilitate the inclusion of society’s poorer members. However, where poverty is pervasive and resources confined to a select few, one might also wonder about whose terms this inclusion might reflect. Given the high levels of extreme poverty and resource asymmetries in Tanzania, paired with the tendency for resources to determine the amplitude of political voice, recent election developments should not by themselves be taken as synonymous with the movement toward a democracy that meaningfully relates to the everyday lives of ordinary Tanzanians.


* Dr Richard Whitehead holds a PhD in comparative politics and has extensively researched political parties and elections in East Africa. He currently works as a private research and publishing consultant.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.