Tanzania’s stolen civic elections: An urgent call to action

Tanzania’s stolen civic elections: An urgent call to action
Tanzanian President John Magufuli. (Photo: EPA / Daniel Irungu)

A strong, stable and democratic Tanzania is essential for a strong, stable and democratic East Africa. An unstable, undemocratic Tanzania with burgeoning unrest can only spell bad news for the region and the continent as a whole. The developments surrounding the November 2019 civic elections should be taken very seriously, both domestically and internationally.

For too long, regional, continental and international partners of Tanzania have sat on their hands witnessing a tragedy of despotism and abuse that could plunge East and Central Africa into chaos.

For the duration of 2019, Tanzanian opposition parties were organising and preparing for full participation in the civic elections that took place on 24 November. In these elections, Tanzanians elect their leaders for “Streets” in urban areas and “Villages” and “Hamlets” in rural areas. These community elections are a foundation of our democratic system and have signalled the beginning of the election cycle since the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1992.

More than 350,000 local leaders are elected during these elections. Village leaders run their village governments which are responsible for land distribution, land use plans, day-to-day operations of schools, primary health services and the provision of water supplies. Village (and street) leaders are responsible for matters pertaining to passport applications, national identity cards, bail applications and the approval of transactions for the sale of land. The powers and responsibilities of these local governments are both wide in scope and fundamental to the running of Tanzanian day-to-day life.

Over numerous election cycles, these civic elections have helped inculcate a culture of democracy at the lowest level. This has been in stark contrast to our Union Partner of Zanzibar where officials called “Shehas” are appointed with no accountability to the citizens they represent. What has happened this year has literally killed off democracy at the local level on the mainland as well and facilitated the de facto appointment of government apparatchiks who serve their [governing party] Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) masters and not the people.

In the 2014 civic elections, the CCM lost 30% of the streets in the whole country and about 20% of the villages. These results were a key driver of the 79 parliamentary seats achieved by the opposition during the 2015 general elections — 29.8% of the 265 parliamentary seats in the whole United Republic. This represented 43% of the vote. The civic elections of 2019 were shaping up to have a similar causal effect on the 2020 general election. This time, however, the results of the civic elections could have represented the beginning of the change of national government. And it is for this reason that the CCM government decided to interfere with the freedom and fairness of this year’s civic elections.

In August 2019, the minister responsible for local government elections announced an election date and a timetable. Voting was to take place all over the country on 24 November 2019. Unfortunately, it only took place in just 3% of the villages and streets in the country as the governing party stole the people’s civic election.

At the beginning of the year, the president and commander in chief of the armed forces summoned all ward executive officers from the whole country. At that meeting, local government bureaucrats were ordered to ensure the civic elections were managed in a way that ensured a CCM victory.

The civic election process was then rigged in three different ways, beginning during the process to nominate candidates for the election and conducted by election returning officers, who are village executive officers and street executive officers under the supervision of ward executive officers.

In some districts, returning officers opened offices for the whole week of nominations of candidates. However, candidates from opposition parties requiring nomination forms were not able to find any local government officials to give them forms. Even after protestations via formal letters and calls to the minister, forms were not provided. In stark contrast, CCM candidates had access to nomination forms, collected them, returned them and were duly nominated as candidates. According to election regulations, these candidates became unopposed and were henceforth duly “elected” as village or street leaders. CCM won about 25% of the posts using this method.

A second approach was through disqualifying opposition candidates. In many districts, especially where opposition parties are strong, candidates were allowed to collect nomination forms, complete them and return them. On 7 November, however, when the returning officers were to announce who the candidates were, many candidates were not approved for very dubious reasons.

For example, some candidates were found not to be able to read and write. Another example was the assertion that ACT Wazalendo was not registered as a party. In Kigoma, candidates who were born and bred Tanzanians were not approved because they were alleged to not be citizens. By the end of this process CCM had won 55% of the villages, 71% of the hamlets (sub-villages) and 34% of the streets in urban areas unopposed.

The last approach to rigging was after nominations. This was done via the process of “pingamizi” in which one candidate opposes the candidature of another on various grounds or from orders from district commissioners to remove opposition candidates. CCM candidates had been trained to do this in opposition-dominated areas. In Kigoma Urban constituency where the CCM has just seven of the 29 councillors in the municipal council, the district commissioner summoned all returning officers and ordered them to remove ACT candidates.

Despite the opposition uniting, boycotting the remainder of the election and calling for a complete restart of the electoral process under supervision of an independent election committee, the government continued with the election and last Monday, the minister announced a CCM victory of 99.9% of villages, 100% of streets and 99.4% of the hamlets (sub-villages).

What does this mean for next year’s general election? Quite clearly, the CCM government is running scared and we can certainly expect the tactics of the past month to be repeated in the run-up to October 2020. Moreover, lessons should be learnt from the stolen Zanzibar election of 2015 and widespread vote-rigging in by-elections at constituencies and ward levels in mainland Tanzania. It can correctly be argued that failure of the opposition leaders to mount effective protests against the stolen election in Zanzibar that was clearly won by the opposition was a licence to the CCM regime to continuously steal votes during by-elections and finally rig the whole process of the civic polls. Will CCM stop there? Not unless they are stopped.

We have announced that we will not recognise the authority of the village chairpersons and their streets counterparts “elected”. But this is not enough. We need something else to stop CCM from bringing our country to single-party rule.

Resistance is the only option available. Peaceful resistance through civil disobedience, well-organised mass protests in the streets of major parties and non-stop sit-ins until Parliament enacts legislation that ensures a free and fair election on the Tanzania mainland and in Zanzibar.

Many people in the top leadership of the opposition argue that Tanzanians are not ready for this kind of resistance. I argue that the opposition leaders are the ones who are not ready because we have things to lose. Things like our posts in parliament, time with families when we spend months in jail and other material items. But is there a struggle without sacrifice? For how long shall we observe the press being muzzled, journalists being killed or rotting in jails, opposition being assaulted and being killed, the private sector dwarfed, workers denied their rights to salary increments and peasants being shorted on the prices of their produce?

Resistance has to start now for the sake of our democracy.

But this will not be enough. Domestic resistance has to be complemented by international pressure that ensures the will of the people is reflected in October 2020.

For too long, regional, continental and international partners of our nation have sat on their hands witnessing a tragedy of despotism and abuse that could plunge East and Central Africa into chaos.

For this reason, I will soon be embarking on a programme of dialogue with the international community to ensure that the necessary pressure is placed on the Magufuli regime to ensure free and fair elections in 2020. DM

Zitto Kabwe is the leader of ACT Wazalendo.


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