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Tanzania on the edge ahead of elections

I deliberately avoid politics in my articles but I am compelled to break my rules and narrate the political happenings I saw last week in Tanzania.

The country is pregnant with tension. Tanzanians, neighbours whose politeness we have always joked about, are not polite anymore.

Like it happened in Kenya in 2007, people have convinced themselves that the party they support will win the October 25 elections and are not willing to consider any other eventuality.

“If Lowasa (the Chadema candidate) does not win, we shall fight the Kenyan way,” my taxi driver tells me.

I tell him that fighting is not the wisest thing you can do. If in doubt, I tell him, ask the Kenyans. It will divide the country for many years to come, I add. “No, no,” he cuts me short.

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Then he raises his voice. “I can stop the vehicle by those boda bodas (motorcycle taxi operators) and you can find out by yourself who they will vote for,” he says. There is not a single person I know who plans to vote CCM, he concludes.

“The polls say that Magufuli Pombe, the CCM candidate, is leading,” I tell him. He stops the car as though he will throw me out. “Don’t believe that,” he says. “It is a trick meant to facilitate theft of votes, but we are watching.”

These sentiments were echoed by at least three other people who felt that tension is rising in this ever-peaceful country. The slightest trigger, like unnecessarily accusing the opposition of any disruptions during the electioneering period, could send Tanzania into a pogrom.

Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) has dominated Tanzania like a colossus and the country has never seen a closely contested election like the one it is facing at the moment.

Against all expectations, the often-fractious opposition has united. CCM is facing a real battle for the very first time. Politicians are also making it worse by making lofty promises. A CCM billboard reads Ajira Ni Sisi (employment is us).

Just like many sub-Saharan African countries, Tanzania’s population is skewed towards the younger generation. To create employment for all is nothing but a miracle. Many of these youth are desperate and are trying to eke a living from hawking.

I believe that the Tanzanian authorities have sufficient information that any slight mistake by any political party could cause unnecessary chaos. They must make security arrangements like they have never done before.

They have time to consult with other countries on preventing such an eventuality. If the leading candidates have the interest of their country at heart, they must begin to tell their supporters to respect others and conduct themselves with civility.

Africa must find the key to holding peaceful elections. In the Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and in the African Union, elections must rank high in the agenda. It is perhaps cheaper to spend money on ensuring a peaceful election than hoping to reconcile disagreements once a country has been torn apart like is happening in South Sudan.

The belief in Africa that votes will always be stolen is the bane of our development. We are devoid of any value systems that even the complainants themselves are complicit to stolen votes. The difference being that they were out-stolen.

In Africa, we perhaps need to find out what the Italians did to prosper amidst dysfunctional governance. Their economic development was largely unaffected by political shenanigans.

From Benito Mussolini to Matteo Renzi, the current Italian prime minister, Italy has had 45 prime ministers averaging about one-and-a-half years in office.

As Forgacs and Gundle (2007) noted, in the period after World War II, Italy was transformed from a poor, mainly rural nation into a major industrial power, but also a period of momentous change in society and culture.

In Tanzania today, the economy is at a standstill and the shilling is on a free fall. As in other African nations, politics holds us to ransom. In Kenya, politicians are forever strategising their next move.

Of greater importance is to find a solution to maintaining peace at every election. Our solution to this challenge may lie in technology and this is where we must seek innovations to deal with our governance.

There is wisdom in what Pope Francis said: “Every man, every woman who has to take up the service of government, must ask themselves two questions; ‘Do I love my people in order to serve them better? Am I humble and do I listen to everybody, to diverse opinions in order to choose the best path?’ If you don’t ask those questions, your governance will not be good.”

Let us take note of the Pope’s wisdom.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s Business School.

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