Tanzania: A quietly divided nation

Erick Kabendera – a journalist based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - discusses the dynamics of Tanzania’s recent national and Presidential elections, highlighting divisions that national political leaders have more many years sought to obscure.

The outgoing prime minister struggled to persuade voters to support a parliamentary candidate on the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) ticket in Sumbawanga constituency in southwestern Tanzania hardly a day before the polling last week.

Over 99 percent of the voters in the constituency are Christians who had accused the candidate Aeishi Halfan Hilal of offending Christianity when he used the doctrine of the Trinity to liken CCM presidential candidate Jakaya Kikwete with Father and himself a Holy Spirit at a previous campaign rally.

Despite premier Pinda assuring voters the party had met Roman Catholic clergymen and apologized for the candidate’s “misuse of words” the gathering seemed unconvinced as they quietly infuriated, in anger.

After the elections were held and final results announced, CCM lost the seat to the main opposition party Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema).

Religious biases in Tanzania’s elections started with the church’s reaction to a budget proposal to re-examine tax exemptions enjoyed by churches as there were reports of widespread abuse, like importing luxury vehicles by private individuals, probably friends of senior clergymen, and denying revenue to the government early this year.

Despite the government finally removing the proposal, the bitterness endured as in the final analysis it sounded as if the church believed that President Jakaya Kikwete and immediate former finance minister Mustafa Mkulo were taking one step back because it was election time.

The issue of not choosing candidates basing on their religious affiliations in the country needs to be stretched wider than what President Kikwete said – that voters should not choose candidates basing on their religion affiliations, which he said, would endanger peace and unity the country has enjoyed since independence – in his final address a few hours before the elections.  Despite the feeling but the election principal in relation to religion over the years has been that the candidate should meet standards and criteria for being supported or elected as President.

However, there was a mixture of ideas on the issue by religious leaders during the campaigns with Sheikh Mohammed Iddi Mohammed and Bishop Sylvester Gamanywa who issued a declaration against canvassing for Chadema’s presidential candidate Dr Wilibrod Slaa on religious grounds, much as they did not cite him by name.

On the other side, bishop David Mwasota of Pentecostal Churches of Tanzania (PCT) was apparently credited with a circulating e-mail of bringing all votes to ‘a Christian,’ while a radio program over a Muslim station (Radio Heri 104 FM), with Sheikh Mohammed Idd present, raised critical issues on the Christian clerics. He pointed out that their manifesto had singled out the need for an honest and God-fearing individual as leader or one that could be voted for, and no such evidence was available in relation to Dr Slaa, but clearly the churches were canvassing for him.

That was before unconfirmed reports started travelling across the country that the President, who is a Muslim, was quietly awarding key positions to his fellow Muslims. The claims led to the publishing of an article in a newspaper owned by businessman-politician Rostam Aziz – a close associate of the President - showing the number of non-Muslim senior civil servants in the government and parastatals. But as it was on the final day of campaigns, it is hard to say how much this swung voters on the side of the president.

When it comes to the final tally, from 10 million voters in 2005 to 8 million voters this time –  it is evident thatPresident Kikwete was the big loser. It was his votes which came down, that is 6 million and 80 percent of the vote to 4 million and 61 percent of the vote. Dr Slaa (standing in for Freeman Mbowe who contested for Chadema in 2005) changed places with Prof. Lipumba, who now took Mbowe’s 0.6 million votes and Dr Slaa took the professor’s 2.8 million votes of 2005. That seemed to be a clear structural repetition of 2005 voting!

But the general mood - clearly visible during this time – is a big contradiction, with the widely touted belief that Tanzania is a country of unity where people’s religious beliefs and tribe have never been a dividing factor like in its neighboring countries such as Kenya.

Religion has always been a silent factor on the Mainland, but was diminished by first President Julius Nyerere’s ties with clerics of the Muslim side, and natural support from his own Catholic and Christian quarters. As Nyerere was in office for a long time, and his repressive manner of rule removed critics like Sheikh Suleiman Takadir, this homogenous affinity with Nyerere across the religious divide became something of a national culture.

But the issues had not been resolved underneath, partially owing to the lingering effects of the Zanzibar Revolution, and the latter being a hotbed of anti-Nyerere sentiments (which even the late Prof. Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu (an Afro-Shiraz Party brain) entertained. Despite that, Nyerere probably saved him from certain execution by Isles authorities had he been returned there instead of being detained.

The issue about church influence is less religion than policy but that was actually exasperated by Dr Slaa in the presidential race that seemed tough for the ruling party. It was evident that the ruling party felt that his candidature would swing Christian voters to his advantage, as most religious leaders from key denominations/churches came out to show their support for the Dr. The general presidential campaigns also put the ruling party and its presidential candidate on the defensive especially on issues related to graft, free education and free health care.

But the basic issue and running theme of the exhaustion with the Kikwete presidency wasn’t the free education and free health care issues in the first place but quite simply the hard conditions of life, owing to currency depreciation that has been continuing over time. On top of that, is the condition of high taxation – VAT of 20 percent that was lately reduced to 18 percent but it is still higher than the general level in East Africa of 15 to 16 percent.

It seems in recent years Tanzania Revenue Authority is seeking to tax everything; even bread sellers are supposed to place machines that ensure that each piece of bread is taxed separately, and guest houses are invaded at 2 am or thereabouts for taxmen to check exactly how many rooms are occupied.

Inflation is the core issue. Pricing of goods is high owing to a public sector dominated economy where competition is irrelevant in costs of production for the main inputs like electricity, landline telecommunications, water and lack of railroad facilities for cheapening the transportation of goods.

The opposition have tied all this to the basic misconception that development comes out of optimal levels of taxation to ensure good social services, whereas high taxes ruin people’s ability to make ends meet, cut what people have in the pocket, make investment more risky and heightens the level of corruption.

Lack of integrity in the civil service (whereby most civil servants have tried so hard to loot the national coffers) - and impunity – has clouded those who have been indentified for involvement in high- level corruption scandals and have been left unprosecuted also became a major issue in the campaigns.

For example, the CCM government was widely criticized at campaign rallies for protecting top party officials who are linked to the looting of more than $100m (£66m) from the Central Bank, which is believed to have funded the 2005 elections. The civil society and opposition also expressed concern over lack of independent electoral commission since the current commission seems to be under control of the state since its head is elected by the President.

While announcing the election results, however, the commission in response to reporters’ questions said civil servants have to obey the government of the day, stating that even a commission filled with nominees of political parties would not function anyway as they would always fail to agree.

It was at that time when the opposition warned that the ruling party was planning to misuse the intelligence and security services officers to rig the votes around the country. The ruling ignored the allegations but then the opposition again accused the first lady Salma Kikwete for misusing public resources to campaign for her husband.  The State House distanced itself from the allegations but the European Union observers’ preliminary report has expressed concerns over the use of public resources such as government vehicles in the campaigns.

Dangers to press freedom were hovering over the media for the past month on account of the widespread enthusiasm which started dominating headlines of newspapers once Dr Wilibrod Slaa stepped into the campaign. In a way, this enthusiasm could have been predicted as the campaign was just picking up the torch of the anti-graft campaign from the batch of CCM MPs currently in a running battle with the government over major scandals. The point is that it appeared that the two newspapers – a daily Kiswahili newspapers with the highest circulation and a political tabloid Mwanahalisi found it altogether easy to give signals of what the ruling party interpreted as contempt – for instance in the story about a lorry carrying large amounts of fake ballots already marked out with a ‘yes’ for the incumbent.

But that was when the country was still recovering from the shock experienced after the government owned Daily News published an editorial on its front page, saying “Dr Wilibrod Slaa will not become the fifth president of the United Republic, and the press behind him can quote us on that.”

Without seeking to play the devil’s advocate, it was altogether understandable for the Daily News editor to move the proposition. It was similar to sentiments former editors of government-owned newspapers have expressed. In other words, to prevent that outcome, which is logical in an environment where one fears a mess arising from failing to protect the interests of the rulers.

To find out more about Tanzania click here

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