Three decades of ‘competitive’ politics, Tanzania is still finding its bearings

A voter casts her vote during a past general election. PHOTO | FILE


  • The ‘simple’ process of electing new leaders has proven to be a matter of life and death or life and limb-literally-in some parts of the country

This year marks thirty years since the return of multiparty politics in the country. Those who were born since then have been through three general elections. Alex de Tocqueville once noted that “among democratic nations each new generation is a new people”, as each passing generation can have different priorities or aspirations for the future and the conventions of yesteryear may not be the same in a different time.

The first general election for the ‘1992 generation’ was that of 2010 in which the incumbent president was running for reelection after the political fervor he had brought to the scene had disappeared with the turbulence of party factions.

This was not a general election with too much excitement for the presidential race. It was not one to change the country or bring completely new ideas or excitement and political activism for these new voters.

However, there was excitement on the many parliamentary races across the country after a decent run for the few opposition MPs in the parliament which had come to an end before the general election.

In this general election, like the other two which followed it, these new voters were treated to some things which have come to be a mainstay of the political scene like endless and at times dizzying numbers of ‘defectors’ from one political party to another.

There is also the violence. The ‘simple’ process of electing new leaders has proven to be a matter of life and death or life and limb-literally-in some parts of the country. There has also been the allegations of corruption during elections.

Some would say this is a product of the country’s legal set up which confines active political participation with political parties. Others would say it is due to the long ruling party enticing some opposition leaders and members to switch sides to perpetually weaken their competitive edge.

Others will point to the bitter intra-party elections as reason for this endless political migration. Still, there are those who will see the problem in the lack of political ideology which underlined political life in a previous, distant time.

The 2015 general election was remarkably different from their first general election. The long ruling party faced a real possibility of splitting up. For the first time they lived through the ‘war of the crowds’.

Those with a thing for the past might have heard a thing or two about another political figure in Augustine Lyatonga Mrema, who, back in 1995 during the first multiparty election, excited the country to no end with his huge crowds which had previously been not witnessed during election campaigns.

However, by this time Mrema’s days were long behind him.

There were some commentators who went as far as saying they were not sure who was going to win the presidency in 2015 after the leading opposition party picked a leading political figure who had defected from CCM to be their presidential candidate.

The journey to that general election was marked by countless political rallies around the country as political parties were vying to shape the narrative of that election including the new constitution and the many corruption scandals which had rolled before their eyes for a decade.

Opposition parties made incredible gains in Parliament with record numbers of them being elected. It is still difficult to put words to the political atmosphere of the general election of 2015.

Hardly a day went by without hearing some big name had defected to the opposition and they have been followed by a huge number of their supporters or members of a political party they were dumping. There was even a fledgling political alliance formed by some opposition parties.

The 2020 general election came on the backdrop of a hugely altered political scene. The frenzied atmosphere of political rallies was no longer there. Dark clouds had been hanging over opposition parties, with their alliance gone and some of yesterday’s allies had turned political foes.

There had been so many by-elections, the majority of them brought about by defections of opposition parliamentarians or councilors crossing the political divide to CCM with many of them describing their reverse destination as their ‘political home’.

The outcome of that election was not only something the ‘1992 generation’ had never witnessed before but the whole country as well since the return of multipartism. Has the journey of ‘competitive’ politics been a productive one? Like the ‘1992 generation’, the rest of the country is still finding its bearings.