Peace over chaos: The Tanzanian elections

Alexander Skinner Sub-Saharan Africa

Mabadiliko. Change. One word is all it takes for a bus crammed full of passengers to descend into uproar with each person clamoring to be heard. Here in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, most people are happy to openly discuss politics and keen to explain why their party should lead the country. Talk of the elections has dominated the TV, radio and newspapers, with posters of election candidates’ faces and slogans plastered on every available surface throughout the city. Candidates even have their own songs playing on the radio, whilst their supporters proudly walk around wearing hats, dresses and t-shirts in support of their party.

This year’s election was fiercely contested between the ruling CCM party (Chama Cha Mapinduzi – The Revolutionary Party) and a coalition of the opposition, UKAWA, who united in an attempt to end what they call 50 years of CCM rule. Indignant opposition supporters have repeatedly asked whether a country can be called a democracy when only one party has ruled since independence.

Change is what Edward Lowassa, the presidential candidate of the opposition, has based his campaign on, winning the support of the youth who have backed him in large numbers, many of them wearing the red, white and blue of his party, Chadema (Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo – Party for Democracy and Progress). Lowassa has so far refused to concede defeat despite the fact that John Magufuli (CCM) convincingly won the election with 58.46% of the vote. Some of the unemployed youth want to take to the streets in protest, but Tanzanians are keen to stress that their country has always been peaceful and want to keep it this way, maintaining their tradition of safe elections. Violence has however erupted in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, where locals’ votes have been annulled by the electoral commission, despite international observers having already decided that these votes were valid.

CCM has in past elections won with impressive margins, but this election was anticipated to be the most tightly fought yet, with both candidates spending large amounts on their respective campaigns. Increasing numbers of Tanzanians are calling for a better standard of living but the majority have backed Magufuli, as he is renowned for his stance against corruption. He campaigned under the slogan Hapa Kazi Tu (Only Work Here) and will be keen to change the perception of his party which is sometimes mocked and called CCM – Chukua Chako Mapema (take yours quickly)- in a nod to the frequent corruption scandals that plague the party.image (1)

Throughout the election both sides of supporters traded insults, with Chadema supporters claiming that Magufuli was too weak to be President. He responded by doing press-ups at his rallies to the delight of his fans who in turn mocked Lowassa for defecting from CCM to Chadema when Magufuli was announced as the CCM candidate.

On election day, Dar Es Salaam was a ghost town. People went to the polling stations and then returned home as police and soldiers patrolled the streets to protect the peace and ensure that no large crowds gathered. This was in stark contrast to the massive crowds that both candidates managed to mobilize at their political rallies in the weeks and days preceding the vote. Thousands upon thousands of people dressed in their party’s colours gathered to hear their candidate speak, whilst motorbikes and buses sped up and down the motorway decked with their supporters hanging out the window and shouting their support.

Although both parties’ supporters continue to passionately promote their cause, everyone is unified in saying that peace will prevail despite disagreements about the election raging on. For now, mabadiliko will have to wait.