As Tanzania goes to the polls for the most contested national election since its return to multiparty politics in 1992, it is imperative that the elections are credible, not just for the stability of Tanzania but of the sub-region and Africa. Many elections in the continent have become crises in themselves. In many instances election management resembles crises management. This is simply because of the huge significance of elections as access to national resources and power; the personalization of state powers by elected officials and the reluctance of politicians to play by the rules.
The implication of this state of affairs is that across Africa, electoral controversies have destabilized countries. East Africa has had its fair share of electoral challenges that have led to violence and political instability. Implicitly any further destabilization in Tanzania due to electoral conflict will gravely undermine the stability of East and Central Africa and by extension Africa.
The general election coming up on the October 25, 2015 is unique in so many ways. For the first time in its more than 50-year post independence history, the outcome of the elections in Tanzania and specifically Tanzania Mainland is difficult to predict. The opposition parties have coalesced behind the candidature of Edward Lowassa, a very popular defected member of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and former prime minister. Analysts believe that the election is a more open race this time around.
An outsider’s impression of Tanzania is often that of an oasis in a desert of political turbulence. Recent political histories of Tanzania’s regional neighbours: Burundi; Kenya; Rwanda; and Uganda give credence to such an impression. Yet a closer look at Tanzania’s electoral environment reveals that the upcoming plebiscite is susceptible to the same factors that are undermining the integrity of elections across the continent. Generally elections in Africa are failing on any one or a combination of the following factors: ineffective election monitoring resulting in low levels of accountability; those responsible for running elections don’t know how to run them or they simply don’t have the capacity or they are unwilling to run them well; electoral stakes are so high and have become such a zero sum game, creating huge incentives to cheat; and the political, social and economic environment emasculates meaningful exercise of popular choice.
Voter registration and the credibility of the voters’ register is one of the most contested aspect of elections in Africa. The delayed biometrics voter registration (BVR) process has seen a huge outpouring of voters who stood in line for hours to register. Coming after the poor voter turnout in 2010 (42%) which was the lowest ever in Tanzania’s multiparty elections, this is something to cheer. However, there has been a lot of concern that the enthusiasm for voter registration is simply for people to have a national identity document which the voter’s card provides and not necessarily for voting purposes.
While it is commendable that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) is reporting 96% of eligible voters having been registered through the BVR, the system has faced challenges that hopefully will not impact negatively on the credibility of the process. Concerns have been raised about multiple registration of voters, malfunctioning of BVR machines, incorrect data on voter registration cards, exclusion of secondary school and university students from registering, attempts by non-citizens to register, and registered voters not appearing on the voters’ roll.
Monitoring of elections by domestic election observers is becoming an increasingly important contributor to the integrity of elections. The unprecedented collaboration amongst the two key civil society coalitions in Tanzania is one of the highpoints of this election. Tanzania Election Monitoring Committee (TEMCO) and the Tanzania Civil Society Consortium for Election Observation (TACCEO) have come under the Coalition on Election Monitoring and Observation (CEMOT) to work jointly towards engaging the electoral process. This is huge given the huge potentials of leveraging their collective footprints across Tanzania to protect the credibility of the electoral process. They will be pioneering for the first time in Tanzania the election situation room which will allow for real time engagement of the electoral system and a close collaboration with the election management bodies. Members of CEMOT have been exposed to experiences from other African countries such as Malawi and Nigeria where the election situation room model of civil society election monitoring has recently been implemented.
A key precept of a democratic election is that the process is predictable while the outcome is not. That the country is going into an election with an inconclusive constitutional process is a hugely missed opportunity that would have brought certainty and predictability to the electoral framework and processes. The ruling CCM party is to be blamed because of their inability to allow the process to transparently run its course. Its attempted effort to unduly influence the outcome of the process resulted in its stillbirth. Questions around the relationship of the mainland with Zanzibar, independence of the National Electoral Commission, absence of judicial oversight on the elections, exclusion of independent candidates from contesting and the contentious simple majority rule in presidential elections are still unresolved and will have significant impact on the election and the credibility of the processes around it.
With respect to Zanzibar, while the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) instituted the BVR much earlier, the recurring electoral challenges, including violence which rocked the Isles in 2000 and 2005 may be compounded by the generally unhappiness over the failed constitution making process. In the eyes of many islanders, the draft constitution promised a better power and resource sharing formula for the union. As has been the case in Zanzibar’s election history, there will very likely be contestation over the quality of the voters register amid allegations of mainlanders who reside in Zanzibar having been registered as voters on the island’s roll. The dispute over eligibility for or exclusion from registration for the Zanzibar ID which played out in the Zanzibar House of Representatives in 2015, may also affect the integrity of elections. The Zanzibar ID is a requirement for registration on the Isles voters roll. The saving grace for Zanzibar, however, is that thanks to the 2010 constitutionally entrenched Government of National Unity provision, whatever the outcome, power will be shared between the top two parties and presidential candidates.
The importance of getting the upcoming elections right and ensuring political stability in Tanzania cannot be overstated. This is more so in a region and continent that has seen some recent reversals to democratic gains and resurgence of violent armed conflicts. World Food Program estimates indicate that Tanzania is currently home to more than 80,000 refugees from Burundi following the illegal third term bid of President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi and the ensuing violence related to challenges to the legitimacy of his re-election. Sadly the Nkurunziza bug is catching up in the region triggering a wave of ‘sit-tight’ syndrome and manipulation of the constitution to give presidents indefinite terms in office.
From Uganda to Rwanda, DRC to Congo Brazzaville the story is the same. Tanzania is one of the few countries that has seen change of leadership albeit within the same ruling party. Since returning to multiparty politics, power has changed hands between three different presidents. This is largely due to adherence to the constitutional limit on presidential terms. It is important therefore that elections in Tanzania produce a legitimate outcome. This will allow Tanzania to have a positive radiating effect on the sub-region and the rest of the continent.
The African Union and the East Africa Economic Community have not been effective in addressing challenges to democracy in the region. The response to the Burundi situation has been quite embarrassing and did little to force the hands of Burundi President to do the right thing nor provide any credible platform for reconciliation. While this failure obviously undermines the credibility of the regional bodies, Tanzania offers another opportunity for the regional bodies to support the democratic process by providing a credible channel of communication between the various political parties to ensure effective and proactive conflict resolution. The regional bodies should work closely with government to address any lingering issues that may negatively affect the outcome of the elections.
Perhaps the major constituency that can play a significant new role of interrogating the electoral process every step of the way is civil society. Across the continent- from Malawi to Nigeria, Senegal to Liberia, civil society groups have engaged the electoral process and by their dedication and creativity protected the mandate of the electorates. They mobilized citizens and amplified citizens’ voices. Tanzanian CSOs can do the same. First they need to get their houses in order. It is great that TACCEO and TEMCO are coming together to implement the election situation room but they must put behind individual interest and unnecessary turf protection and come together and save Tanzania. It will be unfortunate if CSOs are not able to work effectively together to be the watchdog of the electoral process.
Even with only a couple of weeks to go before elections are held, the government must make sure it acts in a way that builds confidence in the system and does not fuel perceptions that it is interfering with or manipulating the process. The recent ‘promotion’ of the former NEC Executive Director to the High Court in the middle of the elections preparation does not augur well with the perception of independence that the NEC requires to command credibility.
Recently the continent celebrated and the world applauded the success of Nigeria’s election that saw transfer of power to a different party. That success is owed to the vigilance of the Nigerian citizens, the creativity and dedication of civil society, the strategic support from international community and the patriotism of the political class to accept the outcome of the result. Tanzania will have a lot to learn from Nigeria especially as it relates to putting the country first. Of course the dynamics are different for these two countries but the lessons are fundamentally relevant. Tanzania election cannot fail. The continent is in dire need of democracy success stories.
About the authors:
Udo Jude Ilo heads the Nigeria program of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) based in Abuja.
Ozias Tungwarara is the regional manager with the Africa Regional Office of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) network based in Johannesburg.