Tanzania: A Model Democracy for Africa?

Last month, Tanzanian president H.E Dr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete (JMK as he’s popularly referred to in Tanzania) bade farewell to African leaders at the AU summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In his moving Kiswahili key note speech, Dr. Kikwete pushed for good governance and rule of law in the quest to help end conflicts that are a major deterrent to development in Africa.“I am retiring to join my fellow Tanzanians to build our nation … I am leaving as a person but Tanzania, which you are used to is here to stay,” he said.

Dr. Kikwete has served his two terms in office and technically, the constitution bars him from vying for office due to the set two term limits. His exit comes in the backdrop of a political turmoil in neighbouring Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunzinza has angled to remove presidential term limits so that he may vie for a third term.

The West has always hailed Tanzania as a “model democracy for  Africa” alongside the likes of Ghana and Botswana. While most neighbouring states have gone through violent conflicts, Tanzania has managed to implement extensive reforms without armed political conflicts in its 54 years of Independence. This year’s quinquennial elections will be held in October as per the National Electoral Commission (NEC).
Works Minister John Magufuli has clinched CCM’s presidential ticket after elbowing a record 38 aspirants in the process.

On the other hand, the opposition among them economist and perennial candidate professor Ibrahim Lipumba seem to be working  towards an alliance, Umoja wa Katiba ya Wananchi otherwise known as (Ukawa). All eyes are now set on the opposition to see who their flag bear to wrestle Mr. Magufuli will be.

Reality Check
So is Tanzania really a model democracy as claimed or it’s just a case of a “darling of the West”?

To answer this, the question we need to pose is what makes an ideal democracy? It's not rocket science that an ideal democracy is one that adheres to democratic principles such as respect to government and the rule of law, respect to dissenting political ideologies, inclusion of the opposition and civil societies in matters of national interest such as constitution making, accountability to the citizenry, and last but not least, setting a level playing field for free and fair elections.

In order to understand if Tanzania is anywhere close to achieving these, let’s have a critical step by step analysis of the status quo: The fact that President Kikwete is leaving office means he’s indeed heeding to the set terms limits. That’s a big score considering in Africa, some presidents have scrapped term limits to declare themselves eternal rulers.

Tanzania should be hailed for having a smooth transition from one president to another. This virtue was instilled by the nation’s founding father the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere who voluntarily retired in 1985 despite there being no term limits for presidents then–something seldom heard of in motherland Africa-Mandela would be the only other Africa president to quit the presidency after just one term even though he still had another at his disposal.

Respect to dissenting political ideologies, inclusion of the opposition and civil societies in matters concerning national interest, is however an area where Tanzania has scored miserably. More so, the constitution making process has almost single handedly been manipulated by the ruling party attracting criticism from the opposition that CCM is nothing but a “dalali” (Swahili for broker”).

A section of CCM sympathizers have often equivocally responded to this by terming the opposition as being nothing but “chinga” (Swahili for hawker”), desperate to sell anything and everything to attract the electorate.

Violent disruption of opposition rallies by the police and state machineries in Tanzania is nothing new. The notorious military youth wing of CCM has from time to time attacked opposition supporters in regions perceived to be opposition strongholds under the watch of the government; from CHADEMA’s stronghold in Arusha region, to CUF’s political tuff in Zanzibar. This party militia is renowned for election violence and intimidation of those with dissenting political views.
On the other hand, the civil society is hardly as vibrant as it would be in ideal democracies-the ruling party has connived to develop sophisticated mechanisms to muzzle this fundamental constituency and the media. Similarly, transparency and accountability has remained a fleeting illusion to be pursued. The perpetrators of the Escrow scandal for instance are still scot free.  This 2014 multi-million dollar corruption scandal saw over 400 million U.S dollars transferred from the Bank of Tanzania, the country’s central bank, and distributed illegally among government officials.

The opposition’s vehement outcry on this biggest scandal in Tanzania’s history was simply wished away, with the government deliberately choosing to look the other way until international donors froze 558 million dollars in funding. This move startled the government prompting the president to make a swift action and sack the top ministers implicated in the quest to acquire this vital foreign aid.
As the race to clinch the nation’s top seat starts shaping up, the other challenge is whether the elections will be free and fair. The electoral body, NEC is the most critical institution in helping CCM suppress the opposition. This CCM’s side-kick guarantees an overwhelming CCM majority in parliament through questionable election formulae that seem to a lot the ruling party more than its proportional share of seats. On the other hand, CCM employs dirty tricks, through legal and illegal procedures to ensure total disenfranchisement of those not in agreement with their views.

Final analysis
The West seems to present a skewed picture about Tanzania for reasons best known to themselves. Perhaps they should be reminded to read Penelope Dyan’s satirical book “If You Put Lipstick on a Pig-You Will Have A Beautiful Pig”. In the publication “Democratization in Africa: Progress and Retreat” (Tanzania’s missing Opposition), Barak Hoffman, and Lindsay Robinson note “Tanzania today is not a democracy, but a one-party hegemonic regime under CCM rule”.

If the founding father Mwalimu Nyerere were to make an advent today, would he be proud or utterly dismayed at the state of events in his beloved country? 

Well, your guess is as good as mine.

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