We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Election Fever in Tanzania

Today, we got caught in the middle of election fever during a quiet cup of coffee after errands in town. As the crowds gathered outside and police and men in black gathered around us inside, we realised the Presidential hopeful had been sleeping upstairs and was about to depart. The noise was unbelievable (see the video clips below!) The crowds were tightly packed on the streets and highly excited, but peaceful. Tim and I waited by the red carpet, and as Lowassa came out, I managed a "Shikamoo" and shook his hand. So, have I shaken hands with the next president of Tanzania?

Tim with Edward Lowassa (right)

Huge crowds gather around Gold Crest Hotel

Lowassa Comes to Mwanza from Rachel Monger on Vimeo.

Lowassa Supporters in Mwanza from Rachel Monger on Vimeo.
(The crowds are shouting "Rais" which is Swahili for "president")

Election fever is rising here in Mwanza as October 25th approaches! Flags are flying the colours, larger-than-life photos are in your face at every turn and deafening music and chanting voices blare out from speakers balancing with bodies on the back of pick-ups. People are parading with piki-piki cavalcades (motorbikes) and the streets are busier and crazier than ever.

Driving through Mwanza
This 2015 election is a close contest, highly competitive and controversial. It is also a significant political event not just for Tanzania, but also for the watching world.
For the first time since Tanzania gained its independence from Britain over fifty years ago, there is a real possibility that the ruling party which has operated in essentially a one-party system could be ousted by another party. So for the first time in Tanzanian history there are two candidates with a realistic chance of winning.

So who’s up for election? The dominant ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) (Party of the Revolution) has nominated John Magufuli to run, replacing the incumbent president, Jakaya Kikwete, a Muslim who has served 2 five-year terms. Magufuli was an unexpected choice which came about because an expected front-runner, Edward Lowassa, was side-lined in the nominations. Lowassa subsequently defected to the opposition party, Chadema (Party of Democracy and Development). So now the charismatic and popular Lowassa, who also happens to have been an ex-Prime Minister who left in scandal, labelled by some as one of the most corrupt figures in Tanzanian society and others as a scapegoat, runs against Magufuli. Lowassa has unified a confederation (Ukawa) of opposition parties, which has increased his chances of gaining in the race.
And what are they saying? Magufuli, in an effort to look clean and able in comparison to the dirt attached to his opponent and the reputation of his own party, emphasizes he is serious about work and demonstrates his fitness to lead with public press-ups! He says he will address issues of poverty, unemployment, security and corruption. Lowassa, as a popular man for the masses, emphasizes better education for all and promises to revamp Tanzania’s economy and infrastructure. But both candidates seem to be promising what voters want to hear… water, roads, electricity... and I’m not sure either is very convincing.

Since its independence in 1961, Tanzania has been one of the most peaceful countries in Africa. Tanzanians often view themselves as a Tanzanian first and of their tribe second which has contributed to the peaceful nature of the country where different tribes and religions live together in harmony.
But the controversy surrounding this election has led some to feel this peace is threatened. The tight, close race and perception of rigging outcomes (particularly accusations against CCM for replacing the Director of Elections with an easily manipulated novice chief, and consistently obstructing the opposition) has sparked concerns about post-election violence. There was a report last week about the kidnapping and attack of a Chadema MP candidate and we have heard of several occasions in Mwanza where rallies have turned riotous, resulting in a few deaths. Some of the parties are reported to have organized militias which could be mobilized to stir up trouble after the count. Universities and schools are closing and this adds to the fear that young radicals will be looking for trouble on the streets, especially if they feel the count is corrupt. For this reason, a good number of expats are leaving the country for the election, more particularly, for the results announcement 3-4 days following the voting. Embassies are advising people not to travel during this time and to avoid crowds and rallies. We will be lying low at home, avoiding town while being well stocked up on supplies and fuel.

Yet it seems that although most Tanzanians desperately do want change, the majority of Tanzanians value peace too highly to resort to the kind of violence seen elsewhere in African nations. And indeed when Lowassa came to Mwanza on Monday, crowds reported to be as many as 50 000 gathered on the field not far from our house and, from what we have heard, all was peaceful.
We pray and trust that this election will as peaceful as it is interesting. We have an unexpected CCM candidate trying to distance himself from the name of his increasingly unpopular party. And we have a charismatic, wealthy politician trying to make a name for the Chadema party despite the fact that just a few weeks ago he represented the other party. After over fifty years of a single-party government, one that has held a monopoly on power for so long, Tanzanians seem ready for change. Although Lowassa (who appears to be playing the parties for his own gain) may not be the greatest leader for change, if he did manage to win, it would be an amazing demonstration to the watching world of a successful transition of power from one party to another. A rare event in African politics!

Kikwete and Magufuli

I have not included in this post the danger that is posed to people with albinism during the election period. Body parts of people with albinism are in demand for good luck charms and during this electoral period at least 4 have been killed. Pray for the peace and safety of people with albinism as the election draws closer.

This is simply my own interpretation, gleaned from what I have heard in conversation and read during the complicated and rather convoluted build-up to this election! Please post your comments to add or correct anything!


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