19 October 2015
Serious policy must win out over parochial politics if Tanzania’s long-term future is to be secured.

Adjoa Anyimadu


Attendees at a political rally for UKAWA in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on 29 August 2015. Photo by Getty Images.
Attendees at a political rally for UKAWA in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on 29 August 2015. Photo by Getty Images.


Voters will go to the polls on 25 October in elections that will be more competitive than any other in Tanzania’s history. After over half a century of rule by a single party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), a previously disparate opposition has rallied behind a single candidate. The one thing that seems to unite Tanzania’s electorate is the desire for political change. CCM hopes to convince voters that this change can be delivered from within the party. The opposition UKAWA coalition believes the time is right to finally bring down CCM, the behemoth of Tanzania’s politics.    

But regardless of who wins, the primary future challenge will be ensuring private sector growth and better service delivery. Close to one million Tanzanians reach working age every year. The Tanzanian private sector, exposed to competition from within an increasingly integrated East Africa, needs an educated workforce. The country has the potential to be a significant player in Africa, but dividends from Tanzania’s offshore gas will not reach the government until at least 2030, well beyond the tenure of the next president. Serious policy must win out over parochial politics if Tanzania’s long-term future is to be secured.

Changing party dynamics

The desire for change is clear among the electorate. The election will hinge on which candidate most convincingly presents himself as the embodiment of this change. But, interestingly, the opposition coalition of the four major opposition parties – CHADEMA, the Civic United Front (CUF), NCCR-Mageuzi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) – have chosen a former CCM insider as their candidate, former prime minister Edward Lowassa. He could bring business connections and associated funding, as well as inside knowledge of CCM. For CCM, the hope is that the selection of Dr John Magufuli – a candidate from outside the party elite, who has called for more representation of women in government and promised to root out corruption in all parties, including his own – will demonstrate that CCM has evolved to meet the changing needs of the population.

Both Magufuli and Lowassa can claim past success in road building, water connectivity and infrastructure development during previous ministerial tenures. But the history of CCM’s past failures – including poor delivery on health, agriculture, education and repeated corruption scandals –dogs them both. And both candidates sit at the top of complex, dynamic political structures. Settling internal party dynamics will be one of their key priorities following the elections. But party political entanglements cannot be allowed to distract from the need to develop coherent policy, or to tackle the inefficiencies and vested interests that have held back Tanzania’s development.

An untested election process

In a high-stakes election, the smooth running of the process and the swift announcement of results will be key to ensuring that the final result is credible. Tanzania’s constitution stipulates that the presidential election result as declared by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) is final, and cannot be challenged in the courts, but there is no constitutional deadline for the declaration of these results. A timely announcement by the NEC and the separate Zanzibar Electoral Commission will be vital to minimizing suspicions of political interference in the counting process.

By the admission of the chairman of the NEC, former judge Damian Lubuva, inadequate funding has limited the NEC’s capacities – particularly in civic education and registering voters quickly. Allegations over the Commission’s impartiality, notably presidential control over the appointment of commissioners, have resulted in efforts to connect directly with the electorate, including a call centre for reporting malpractice at polling stations. But such measures must be accompanied by respect for electoral law, action to limit corrupt practices in campaign funding, and adherence to self-regulating codes of conduct signed by political parties.

Key issues for the future

Despite these challenges, the election is unlikely to threaten Tanzania’s hard-earned reputation for steady stability. Many Tanzanians share the annoyance of their neighbours in East Africa for the international media’s sometimes myopic focus on the prospect of violence around elections. While some rhetoric from candidates during the campaigning period has been incendiary, particularly in Zanzibar, the risk of widespread election-related conflict remains low.

Instead, the most important challenges to the country’s long-term security are slow-burning and less headline-grabbing – meeting the development needs and aspirations of Tanzania’s growing population, and making sure that economic benefits are equitably shared among Tanzanians. Outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete will leave ambitious development plans for his successor. Oil and gas revenues remain distant – though the vital challenge of ensuring Tanzania gets a good deal with production companies will be more immediate. Whoever wins the election, securing Tanzania’s future will demand the change that its citizens are calling for – action on corruption, equitable service delivery, and sustained, diversified economic growth.

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