Why Tanzania's democracy in 2010s had mixed record

Thursday January 9 2020


By Khalifa Said @ThatBoyKhalifax ksaid@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. The previous decade, the 2010s, can be said to have begun with a steady glow of optimism but ended with a pessimism as far as Tanzania’s political development is concerned.

Some have even described what has transpired throughout the decade on the political front as a story of triumphs turned debacles and misfortunes. Were it not for the first half of the decade, so the analysis goes, it may well have qualified the designation of a lost decade.

As the 2010s came to the fore -- and in fact a few years before its commencement -- the nation was brimming with the hope of the birth of robust political institutions and culture whose inextricable link with the improved the people’s living standards cannot be overstated.

Not for nothing that people held strong views that if the country would stick to the trajectory embarked to cement the culture of, say, political pluralism in the psyche of its people, the future would be nothing but promising. Now, however, there is a totally different feeling. “We expected that much would be done in an attempt to increase the ability of the people to hold their government to account but what we received was something quite the opposite,” says Denis Konga, a lecturer of political history and philosophy at the Open University of Tanzania.

“The fear on the part of those in the government turned the progressive type of politics that the country saw emerging to a reactionary one built on the foundation of fear of people expressing their opinions. I honestly am disappointed with what it’s happening and I really do not know where we are heading to.”

Dawn of a new era


But where did it all start? Analysts and observers of the country’s political scene are almost unanimous, with few exceptions, in their conviction that 2015 may well have been the dawn of a new era in the country’s political development.

This is the year that Tanzania saw one of the most contested elections in the country’s entire history of multi-party politics which in itself has been described as one of the most significant political events of the previous decade.

It was during the 2015 election that the country’s opposition, for the first time in history, came to a realisation of the well-known but until then ignored fact that with them divided the notion of removing the incumbent CCM from power would remain as elusive as it is impossible.

The opposition coalition, Ukawa, was thus born against the backgrounds of the movement to demand a new constitution, an ambitious but so far unsuccessful effort for the Constitutional Review Commission formed to deliver was disbanded before it even produced the much-desired document.

Like the General Election which took place amidst this movement, the project to write the new constitution was as well a notable political event of the last decade and its failure to materialise, as will be shown in this article, has to a significant amount shaped the current political scene.

That the new constitution was not achieved is a key blackspot in the 2010s deserves no overstatement.

The coming together of the opposition notwithstanding, it was not successful in overwhelming the power of CCM and thus its attempt to remove it from power failed. The result was another five years for the latter to steer the country towards the path it thinks it deserves with Dr John Magufuli at a driver’s seat.

With a fervour, President Magufuli embarked on an ambitious project to transform the country, touting a slogan of Tanzania ya Viwanda, which loosely translates to an industrial-based Tanzania. He made various impromptu visits to public offices, firing people on spot for alleged irresponsibility. He declared war with corruption and mismanagement, crying, several times, that “Tanzania has been played with for a long period of time.”

Mr Magufuli said Tanzania had “bent” and thus needs some “straightening.” In this straightening, however, the Head of State also took some measures which, intentionally or not, defined the country’s political landscape and shifting it away from its path towards actual political development.

Soon after President Magufuli banned live coverage of parliamentary meetings – a great initiative of his predecessor aimed at making people aware of how their representatives were performing – saying it reduced people’s time to work – trying to be consistent with his campaign slogan of #HapaKaziTu. President Magufuli also imposed a ban on political rallies, saying that MPs should only do politics in their respective constituents. The Magufuli administration has made sweeping amendments into political parties and non-governmental organisations legislations that stakeholders in the areas say have seriously affected their relationship with the State, with the latter ending up with more control over the former.

These steps, and others like them which have been repeatedly covered by human rights reports, have generally redefined the country’s political scene and transformed it from the optimistic one at the start of a decade to the pessimistic one at the closing of the 2010s.


One of these people is of course Mr Hezron Mwakagenda, the chairperson of the Tanzania Constitutional Forum (TCF). He thinks that the foundation of reactionary politics seen today was laid down by the Jakaya Kikwete administration by its failure to provide the people with the new constitution.

“There is where the downfall started,” says Mr Mwakagenda whose membership platform of 200 organisations works to advance citizens’ constitutional literacy. “What this current administration is doing is just exploiting that mistake for its own good. All of what is happening today in the way the government relates to the governed are due to the mistakes committed by the Kikwete administration to deny the people the constitution of their choice.”

The point of a new constitution raised by Mr Mwakagenda is an interesting one and perhaps nothing makes Tanzanians as despairingly nostalgic for the 2010s as the Constitution Review Process, whose course started in 2011, does.

The process was, as the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) states in its 2018-expert analysis on its impasse, “upheld with jubilation and anticipation.” It was seen as a significant step towards the realisation of a just and equitable society in Tanzania until when, of course, it came to a standstill and the jubilation turned to despondency.

Among the reasons which have led to the deadlock of the process, according to LHRC, is the Magufuli administration’s resolve that the issue is not one of its top priorities.

The other factors are the unrealistic timeframe set for the referendum and factional infighting, in the Constitutional Assembly, between members associated with the ruling CCM and their opposition counterpart.

But observers have repeatedly pointed out that these are not as significant a reason as they appear to be for they believe that if there was a political will the country would have since has its new constitution.

GNU, CUF tumble down

The decade that witnessed the repeatedly-failing attempts of building consensus in the deeply-polarised Zanzibar comes to fruition saw the very achievement crumbling down within only five years of its existence.

For a long time, key political actors in the Isles, especially CCM and CUF, were at loggerheads over the repeated claims of vote-rigging and fraud. These loggerheads exploded into violence in 2001 where several people died and hundreds of others injured after CUF claimed fraud in the earlier polls.

Efforts to resolve this conflict led to the formation of the Government of National Unity, or GNU, as it is commonly known, where the winner-takes-all system was done away with. For the first time, from 2010 to 2015, both parties participated in the running of the government.

But the hope for civilised and inclusive politics was not meant to last longer it appeared. Soon after 2015, a whole different story emerged and although the GNU still remains legally, politically that cannot be said to be the case.

This is thanks to CUF’s boycott of March 2016 elections re-run after the controversial annulment of the earlier one which the party claimed victory. Mr Mohammed Yussuf, executive director of the Zanzibar Institute for Research and Public Policy (ZIRP) explains why he thinks this whole experience is a disappointing one:

“GNU was decided upon by the people for the sake of laying down a system that would help Zanzibar get out of the political deadlock that pitted Zanzibaris against themselves for so many years. We did not deserve what happened after 2015 and it is very difficult to rule out what can happen next,” said Mr Yussuf.

The 2010s was actually full of significant political events that would shape the country’s political trajectory for many years to come. Take the fracas within the once leading opposition party CUF and its subsequent disintegration, for example, which gave rise to ACT-Wazalendo as a new opposition force to be reckoned with.

After almost three years of a tug of war within the party following a fallout between its national chairman Prof Ibrahim Lipumba and its then secretary-general Mr Seif Sharif Hamad, CUF came down crumbling like a house of sand.

Mr Hamad, and almost the entire top brass of CUF Zanzibar, joined the then little-known party whose only recognition before the masterstroke came through its sole member of parliament, the firebrand politician Mr Zitto Kabwe.

The whole incident has been described as a loss for CUF and a victory for ACT-Wazalendo which at present is said to have taken the position traditionally held by CUF mainly in Zanzibar and in some other parts of Tanzania Mainland like the Southern regions. Analysts agree that the incident will be an important mark for the 2010s and will go down in history as the most significant political development to have ever occurred in the history of Tanzania’s multi-party history.

Mass defections of politicians from one political party to another are as well regarded as a significant political development for the 2010s deserving to be put on records.

While it will be an overstatement to claim that it was the first time for Tanzania to witness as such the wave of defection as this one in its entire history, the 2010s witnessed historic defections of politicians and the incident has immensely influenced the country’s politics.

In addition to the defections by senior CCM politicians to Chadema during 2015 general elections, the past three years have experienced a series of cross-party movements with the opposition, especially Chadema, tending to be the biggest victim of the phenomenon. The situation did not just define the politics of the country, which many analysts thought was opportunistic, but also had a chilling effect in the constituents’ psyche in the whole undertaking of participation in public affairs, like voting, and politics in general.

And then there is the rise of violent extremism as one of the major political developments of the 2010s. In the previous decade, especially in 2017, Tanzania experienced a series of suspected terrorist attacks in the coastal region, primarily on police and low-level ruling party officials which, to its credit, authorities have managed to contain at least until now.

But the 2018- Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 by United States Department of State expressed concern with the police’s heavy-handed approach in the region, saying that though may have helped deter further attacks in the region, “the Tanzanian government failed to adopt a whole-of-government approach to address the underlying dynamics of such attacks.”

Taken for granted

A political scientist with the University of Dar es Salaam Dr Muhidin Shangwe describes the 2010s as a decade that “had many challenges, politically, but also, I think, provided very valuable lessons.”

In fact, the don is of the views that the previous decade might have had some important lessons more than any other in the history of Tanzania’s political-pluralist history.

Sharing what he considers to be the biggest take away from the decade, Dr Shangwe says: “In the wake of what transpired after the 2015 General Election, is the fact that we cannot take for granted some freedoms that we may today be enjoying. If anything, the past four years have shown how rapidly these freedoms can be taken away from us.”