Digital battleground: Social Media and Multi-Party Politics in Tanzania

Thursday July 25 2019

Aikande Kwayu, Banita Lal and Yogesh K. Dwivedi

Aikande Kwayu, Banita Lal and Yogesh K. Dwivedi 

By Aikande Kwayu, Banita Lal and Yogesh K. Dwivedi

In our article last month, we discussed how social media can be used as a tool to measure political polarization in the country.

This article builds on that by explaining how social media has become a battleground for political parties in Tanzania. The starting point of political polarization is often in relation to partisan feelings.

In Tanzania, the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has been in power since independence, first as TANU and later on in 1977 as CCM following the merger of TANU (from mainland Tanzania) and ASP (from Zanzibar).

Out of its foundational ethos, CCM was, for a long time, a national institution - a national movement beyond a mere political party. This was also due to the fact that from 1965 to 1992, Tanzania was a single-party state.

There was almost no boundary between what national/state is and what the political party is.

Following the constitutional amendments in 1992 that allowed for multi-party, a number of political parties have been registered and participated in consequent elections. The competition against CCM has been on the increase with its vote share declining from over 80.28% in 2005, to 61% in 2010 and 58.5% in 2015. Electoral competition has clearly intensified.


Electoral studies across the world show an increasing use of social media and technology in elections. Technology - and social media specifically - appears to be a double-edged sword for democracy.

Scandals such as external interference in the 2016 USA elections and the recent Cambridge Analytica interference in the Brexit referendum are cases that demonstrate the negative impact of social media on democracy.

Nevertheless, social media appears to have enhanced democratic activities: it has increased access to political leaders subsequently making them more accountable, it has facilitated organizing capacity for democratic activists and has provided more access to information and space for political participation.

Due to its organizing and communication potential, political parties across the world have embraced and adopted social media.

In Tanzania, this includes CCM and opposition parties - in particular Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) and Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) ACT-Wazalendo.

As noted, the main activities of a political party include mobilization and organizing, and communication and campaigning. It is for the same purpose that political parties in Tanzania are using social media for.

Analyses have identified different party practices on social media platforms. For example, in comparing the use of Twitter by CHADEMA and ACT-Wazalendo, Kwayu & Kwayu (2019) have shown how ACT-Wazalendo deploy a systematic and coordinated social media strategy for communication, organizing and mobilizing, while CHADEMA uses social media mostly for communication and focuses its organizing and mobilizing activities on the ground.

CCM uses social media mostly for communication – its organizing and mobilizing is also largely on ground. Reasons for this include resource capacity, the size of the party, age and also the leadership preference on social media.

ACT-Wazalendo is only 5 years old with a leader who actively uses social media, while CHADEMA is a relatively old party with a national presence in terms of representation, branches and also membership.

CCM is the biggest and oldest of all: it has a strong ground base, state support and has continued to use that as its mobilizing and organizing strategy.

Even with different practices, parties compete through social media. In Twitter, all three parties mentioned have a significant number of followers: CCM, CHADEMA and ACT-Wazalendo have 316,000, 200,000 and 128,000 followers respectively.

The bigger the party, the more the number of followers it has. However, when you look at them from a proportional perspective in terms of membership and size ACT-Wazalendo, the smallest party and newest amongst the three, has more followers.

This is also a reflection of its deployment of a systematic social media strategy since its registration. We observe similar trends in India, where the amalgamation of social media and election campaigning redefined the face of political movements.

Emerging discussions reveal that social media can be used effectively not only to contest elections, but also as an instrument to celebritize politics (Rai, 2019) if deployed strategically (Kapoor and Dwivedi, 2015; Rai, 2019).

However, the focus should not be to solely create followers, but to engage them to act as campaigners and agents for information creation and diffusion.

Both mainstream Indian parties had a large followership on all main social media channels, but engaging tactics and interesting content differentiated their outcomes. The Indian Prime Minister Modi and his party created ‘Brand Modi’ and a specific political affect by distinctly combining the use of marketing, public relations and social media to determine the outcome of national elections twice in his favour (Kapoor and Dwivedi, 2015; Rai, 2019).

To understand how social media has become a battleground for political parties in Tanzania, it is important to identify aspects through which competition among the parties manifests. Here we will identify two.

First, proxy fights that are done by members or sympathizers of different parties and second, politics of image (Kwayu 2014). These two aspects are important because political parties are heavily regulated institutions and in need of portraying a professional image so may not be willing to deploy straight attacks on each other via social media.

In addition, attacks by political parties against other political parties are usually informed by covert strategies; thus, going public on social media may not be attractive. We focus on the first aspect today.

Different party officials, politicians, members and sympathizers engage in heated debates - each supporting their party’s stance on certain issues.

As noted above, the line between CCM and the government has historically been blurred thus making CCM sympathizers defend the government’s actions against any criticism. This reflects polarization.

At times, issues that are of a national nature do not get nationwide support due to the feelings of the government as a CCM party. For example, current infrastructure projects such as Standard Gauge Railways (SGR), The Stigler Gorge electrical dam and the expansion of Air Tanzania have been receiving support from CCM sympathizers whilst sympathizers of opposition parties have posed serious criticisms on social media. Important to note is the fact that CCM claims that whatever the government does is an implementation of a CCM manifesto.

This approach has intensified the “battle”. Another example is the division that occurred during the AFCON whereby members, politicians and sympathizers of opposition parties stopped supporting the national team, Taifa Stars, following the statement by a senior government official that in playing at AFCON, the national team was actually implementing a CCM manifesto.

Proxy fighters are arguably the main tool for parties on social media. They have followers and cheerleaders and are ready to attack and react. Some use parody accounts whilst others use their real names.

The parody accounts are on both sides - ruling party and opposition proxies. With the use of parody, the question arises – can social media facilitate real and sustainable political association? This is the question that will be addressed in various ways in our forthcoming articles in this series.

Aikande C. Kwayu is an honorary research fellow at the Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin Madison

Dr Banita Lal is a Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Management at Bedfordshire Business School, University of Bedfordshire

Yogesh K. Dwivedi is a Professor of Digital Marketing and Innovation Swansea University, Wales