Today, October 25, 2015, Tanzanian adults all over the country are taking part in what is undeniably the country’s most important general election. The different presidential and parliamentary candidates have traversed every corner of their constituency explaining what they intend to do once given the mandate to occupy political office for the next five years.
The focus for many has obviously been on the presidential context that is expected to bring forth a new leader now that President Mrisho Jakaya Kikwete is leaving office after serving two terms from 2005 -2015. Before Kikwete, there was Benjamin Mkapa, Ali Hassan Mwinyi and of course, Baba wa Taifa, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
All the men who have led Tanzania since independence have been from one party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and that is why this particular election has raised expectations more than ever before. For the first time, CCM is facing a formidable challenge from the opposition party CHADEMA led by Edward Lowassa who was until a few days ago a senior member of CCM and former Prime Minister.
Lowassa is facing off with John Pombe Magufuli a rather unexpected choice from the ruling party, CCM. Magufuli is better known for his incredible work ethic and clean record as far as corruption is concerned. There are six other candidates in the race but none seems to have drawn enough attention beyond the nomination day.
I have tried my best to keep tabs on the election campaign in Tanzania and I must admit it has not been as easy as I had anticipated. The juiciest and most nuanced Tanzanian political discourse occurs mainly in Swahili sanifu and yet my level of competence in this language is nothing more than the survival level. Yes I can ask for food, love and forgiveness.
I have had to make do with the rather mild commentary in their English media and from what I have gathered; this election has raised a lot of expectations from different quarters that need to be managed appropriately for Tanzania to move forward like the humble giant it is. The biggest expectation that has come out strongly is the need for change.
There seems to be an expectation for change in Tanzania. On one hand there are those who want change from CCM that has ruled the country since independence to another party. This is why the opposition has generally tried to unite under the UKAWA umbrella backing Edward Lowassa.
However since Lowassa was part of the core CCM leadership for ages, others want change in form of a leader not tainted by corruption. Magufuli is seen in this light considering that he is a relatively new face on the CCM table and is not your typical rich elite CCM member. His report card is mainly his work ethic while serving as a minister.
Both the Lowassa and Magufuli camps feel victory is in their midst and such expectations ought to be properly managed to avoid the discontent that often breeds chaos when one group feels it did not deserve to lose the election. This scenario was partly responsible for the chaos that followed the 2007 elections in Kenya.
Like other countries in the region, Tanzania has a lot of young voters many of whom will be voting for the first time. This particular demographic is much less tolerant of the romanticism around good old days and ideals of Nyerereism. They have more urgent concerns like solutions to their unemployment. Politicians both at national and parliamentary level must be willing to listen and address their concerns from now on.
As East Africa, we have already seen what disputed elections can result into and hope that this one will be conducted in a decent manner and all parties will accept the outcome gracefully. Already this year has seen Burundi go through a controversial election that has left us with dead bodies strewn along streets each day and thousands of refugees in Rwanda and Tanzania.
Another key expectation that cannot be ignored is the template that media loves to use on us during such times.
Journalists from all over the world are already in Tanzania (particularly Zanzibar where they hope to balance business and pleasure) some with drafts reading “chaos erupts…” Please do not give them horrific stories of election violence. Tanzania is not only the biggest country in the region; it is also the one with the biggest potential for growth. May the best candidate seize victory.