Voters in Tanzania’s mainland and the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar will head to the polls on Wednesday (28 October 2020) to elect their presidents, as well as members of parliament and councillors.
It is worth noting that voters in Zanzibar vote for members of parliament and president on the island and for the president of the mainland.
Members of the Zanzibar Parliament are also represented in the Parliament of the mainland.
Before I attempt to shed some light on the elections, I want to take one step back down memory lane. For young Namibians, Tanzania is just another African country within the SADC region. However, for the older generation, Tanzania is more than that.
Tanzania was the country that produced one of the finest brains of the African soil, Mwalimu (Teacher) Julius Kambarage Nyerere. You could not talk about Tanzania without thinking about Nyerere. As fate would have it, Nyerere also died in the month of October – 14th October 1999 to be exact. Thus, October is not only significant in the sense that Tanzanians are going to the polls, but it is also significant because that was the month in which their revered Baba wa Taifa (Father of the Nation) died.
In October 1999, I was attending an International Conference on Combating Corruption in Durban, South Africa. The key-note speaker who was billed to open that conference was none other than Mwalimu Nyerere. I was looking forward to meeting one of my heroes in person; however, as fate would have it, news reached us at the conference that Nyerere had died.
A Tanzanian delegate at the conference whispered to me that they had to fly Nyerere to London for treatment against his own will. He was reasoning that Tanzania was too poor to take him to London for treatment; it was only when he was too weak to resist that they managed to fly him to London for treatment, where he died.
Nyerere was born on 13th April 1922 in Butiama, Tanzania to a local chief. He was educated at Makerere University in Uganda and later at Edinburgh University in Scotland.
Nyerere played a key role in the creation of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) in 1954 that led the struggle for independence in Tanganyika. After the independence of Tanganyika in 1961, Nyerere served as Prime Minister (1961-1962).
After the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, Tanganyika and Zanzibar came together to create the United Republic of Tanzania under Nyerere as President. He served as President of Tanzania from 1964 – 1985. In 1977, TANU was transformed to Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) - meaning Revolutionary Party in English.
He served as Chairperson of CCM until 1990. Under CCM, Tanzania was a one-party state until 1992 when multi-party democracy was introduced. However, even after the introduction of multi-party democracy, CCM remains the dominant political party in Tanzania and they have so far not lost an election.
Nyerere’s vision for Tanzania was captured in the famous Arusha Declaration of 1967 of which the central pillars were national self-reliance and African Socialism or Ujamaa in KiSwahili.
This led to the nationalisation of banks and major industries as well as the expansion of education and healthcare services.
Given that more than 80% of the Tanzanian population were peasants, a lot of emphasis was put on agricultural development through communal cooperatives. It is an open secret that Nyerere’s own children attended public schools just like the children of ordinary workers and peasants.
Nyerere also played a key role in the promotion of Kiswahili as the official language of Tanzania. This has helped a great deal in promoting national unity. Ethnicity has never been a major factor in the Tanzania body politic – thanks to the role of Kiswahili as a unifying factor. Tanzania was one of the Frontline States that actively supported liberation movements in Southern Arica, specifically in Mozambique, Angola, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. Nyerere was an articulate and a refined original thinker, an anti-colonial activist, a Pan Afrikanist and an accomplished statesman of note who left a deep legacy.
Now fast-forward to the 28th October national elections. CCM and its predecessor, TANU, have governed Tanzania uninterrupted since independence in 1961.
It has won every election since the return of multiparty politics to the country in 1992. In a bid to unseat the governing CCM, the country’s two leading opposition parties (Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo) have decided to form a “loose” collaboration and endorse a common candidate for the October 28 polls in each region.
Five years ago, at a time when public opinion started to turn against the CCM as a result of corruption allegations, many believe that Magufuli’s nomination saved the party from defeat. Since then, the party has retained the support of many Tanzanians partly due to its socio-economic policies and infrastructure development spearheaded by Magufuli since taking office. However, critics of his administration have bemoaned the alleged deterioration of human rights and a shrinking democratic space in the country over the past five years – and for many voters, these two issues are central to this year’s general elections.
This will be the most hotly contested elections since multi-party democracy was introduced in Tanzania in 1992. Opposition politicians have repeatedly alleged a campaign of harassment by the government, including the disqualification of dozens of parliamentary candidates from running in the upcoming polls. On 28th October 2020, the die will be cast and the people of Tanzania – as sovereign subjects of the republic – will speak.