The Tanzanian National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced this week that general elections will take place on 14 December following the postponement of a 30 October poll due to the death of a presidential running mate. Elections did take place 30 October on Tanzania's semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, with the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (Party for the Revolution) winning the elections. The vote was marred by clashes between security forces and opposition supporters. Issa Shivj assesses th...read more
The Tanzanian National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced this week that general elections will take place on 14 December following the postponement of a 30 October poll due to the death of a presidential running mate. Elections did take place 30 October on Tanzania's semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, with the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (Party for the Revolution) winning the elections. The vote was marred by clashes between security forces and opposition supporters. Issa Shivj assesses the choices available for Tanzanian voters.
‘So my prayer to the socialist god is to get to have the American one-party system in Tanzania. ... So my hope is that you can have another party; you can have two parties in Tanzania, both believing in the essentials of the Arusha Declaration. Then try to see which is going to be more efficient in implementing it. But one socialist party, one capitalist party well, theoretically yes, but I don’t know how it can work.’
Julius Nyerere said this fifteen years ago when the debate on multi-party democracy had just begun and the Nyalali commission (The Justice Francis Nyalali Commission in the early 1990s found that only 20 per cent of Tanzanians wanted to revert to the multiparty political system) was making the rounds of the country to get people’s views. Nyerere went on to draw an analogy with the American system where, he said, there were two parties; ‘but they’re really one party!’ ‘Both parties agree on the basic national objectives. Internally, both of them are highly capitalist. Externally, both of them are imperialist.’ Elsewhere, Nyerere expressed the hope that the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) would split and that you would get two strong parties, both socialist and both nationalist.
The socialist god, fortunately for a few, unfortunately for the many, did not answer any of Nyerere’s prayers. Instead of the CCM splitting into two strong parties, it buried the Arusha Declaration itself, and with it both nationalism and socialism.
Today we have some 18 or so parties with perhaps two or three credible ones. But there is hardly any great difference in their vision, outlook or major policies. All are donor-dependent; all are driven by the neo-liberal policies of liberalisation, privatisation and the enrichment of the minority; the so-called “Washington consensus”; and none has a credible vision of constructing a national, democratic economy and polity in the interest of the large majority. So, when Tanzanians went to the polls in a third multi-party election last weekend, what was there to choose from? For the purposes of discussion we may cluster the choices into three types: the common sense, the pragmatic and the rational. Theoretically, there is also the fourth, the principled choice, based on principles and policies of a party. But this, as I said, was not available. The fourth choice did not exist.
The common sense choice dictates to err on the side of caution. This is best expressed in the old adage, ‘better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know’. Common sense, however, is not always good sense. If you continue to strengthen the devil you know, there is a likelihood that he may be further emboldened to become even more devilish. These overwhelming electoral victories or what are called “ushindi wa kishindo”, or with an even more ominous connotation, “ushindi wa tsunami”, have their consequences. Few parties, and still fewer individuals, who have got into the political seat with 70-80 per cent vote, can resist the arrogance of power. Self-control in the exercise of power is a rare phenomenon.
The second type of choice is a pragmatic one. Here the voter is moved neither by instinct nor by principles and much less by reason. The motive force is either immediate self-interest - bribes and favours - or a racial, regional, religious or gender prejudice and bias. In our current political scenario, as a matter of fact, the pragmatic choice reigns supreme. We have already seen it in the internal nomination processes of the parties and should prepare ourselves to see more of it during the elections. Supposedly, there are watch dogs like the electoral commissions who are supposed to check such practices. But who watches the watch dogs?
Then there is the third set of choices, which we call a rational choice. In absence of the availability of a principled choice, the most rational choice would be for a political configuration which assures some stability, security, basic freedoms and checks on gross abuse and misuse of power. In our situation, theoretically, it means a union parliament which would have a strong presence of the opposition, over, say, 40 per cent of the seats. As for the presidency, ideally, the winning candidate should end up with slightly over 50 per cent of the votes. In other words, “ushindi wa kishindo: should disappear from our political scene.
Since we are a two-government union, the rational choice would be that different political parties are elected to run the two governments. The constant threat and fear whipped up by some ruling circles and their spokespersons that any party other than CCM forming the Zanzibar government would spell disaster for the union is a political scarecrow. No politician, even with a modicum of political sense, would advocate, and much less attempt, complete independence for Zanzibar. The union question is, in my view, not about secession; it is really about greater autonomy. And as I have always maintained, the union question should be contextualized, discussed and debated within the larger question of the grassroots democratisation of our politics. No people can have democracy for themselves if they are denying democracy to others.
The rational choice is not necessarily a principled choice. One only hopes, that the scenario painted here would create necessary conditions and open up space for the people to discuss and determine the vision and organise themselves to realise that vision. In other words, the rational choice would create an enabling environment for a principled choice.
But the rational choice pre-supposes certain pre-conditions. One is that the elections should be free and fair; free of corruption, rigging and other malpractices. On the part of the ruling party, it means “ushindi wa kishindo” should remain an aspiration. It should not become a coded message for “ushindi wa kishindo” by any means, fair or foul!
On the part of the opposition parties, it means not only to place on offer more democratic political governance, but also, a serious, critical and persuasive analysis of the promises and performance of the incumbent government over the last ten years. It is a telling comment on the opposition parties that so far they have not even been able to tell us what has happened to our society over the last ten years and yet, we feel it in our bones that this country has undergone fundamental changes, not only in its political and economic direction but in its social character. A good political leader is one who can explain systematically what people feel confusedly.
One cannot obviously expect such an analysis from the ruling party. Self-criticism is not, and has never been, a credo of bourgeois parties. They would only provide a score-board with ticks on achievements. It is the opposition which has the duty to raise, at least, question marks. If they fail to do so, then this time around, people would be justified in raising a big question mark against the very system of multi-party politics in Africa.
© Issa Shivji. Shivji is Professor of Law at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
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