“And the truth is that Dr. Willbrod Slaa will not be the fifth president of Tanzania…he will, indeed garner some votes in October, just like Augustine Mrema in 1995, but that will be it, and the media behind the former priest can quote us on that” (Daily News, Thursday, September 23, 2010).
“Dr. Slaa, who is also Secretary General of CHADEMA said that they were taking such measures (precautionary and security measures) after his party’s security department had trapped secret information indicating a plot to rob them votes…
“He said they had trapped a government letter to all regional security officers, regional and district commissioners and all directors instructing them to make sure that CCM wins at all cost” (Tanzania Daima, Wednesday, September 29, 2010).
The first is government-owned newspaper; the second is pro-CHADEMA daily publication. Caught in the middle are the Tanzanian citizens, whom no longer know what to believe.
To start with, the Daily news editorial was obviously reckless, if not vitriolic. The paper boasts the government’s mouthpiece, reflecting official policies and the government’s stand on domestic and international issues. But the cited editorial, if not the personal feelings of its writer, is tantamount to a declaration by the government that the October 31 presidential poll results were already pre-determined.
Imagine: “He (Slaa) will, indeed, garner some votes in October, just like Augustine Mrema in 1995, but that will be it…”
During the 1995 general election Augustine Mrema was the most popular opposition presidential candidate. He garnered about 20% of the popular vote, and this was after CCM, faced with an unprecedented likelihood of defeat, asked Mwalimu Nyerere to intervene. The Father of the Nation then went on campaign sprees to ensure the victory of CCM’s flag bearer, Benjamin William Mkapa.
This year round, Kikwete seems to be battling it out alone, amid uncertainty of clear victory, following Dr. Slaa’s popularity surge. The CHADEMA presidential candidate’s rallies are attracting mammoth crowds. His anti-corruption crusade seems to be resonating across the land; buttressed by his performance record in the last parliament, all casting him as a credible leader in the minds of a cross-section of the populace. They may not be the overwhelming majority, but nonetheless they are not a minority.
These are not “cooked up” stories but the real facts on the ground. Pretending to be an ostrich would not help. The situation has to be seen at it is—at least so far—and the fact is that Kikwete and Slaa are almost running neck-and-neck in popularity contest so far. That’s why Daily News’s prediction of “just like Mrema in 1995” has been denounced by many as an outrageous attempt to “cook up” election results prematurely.
Further concern is now being raised following Dr. Slaa’s claim that his party has intercepted or trapped “secret information” in the form of a letter, presumably from high echelons of government instructing security organs and regional and district administrators to employ whatever means to ensure CCM’s victory.
By the time of writing this article there was no word yet from the government to discount the seemingly damaging Dr. Slaa’s claims. The Daily News has not retracted its premature prediction; the National Electoral Commission (NEC) has not reassured the public that there would be no tampering with the poll results, or the polling activity itself by whoever might be inclined to do so. So everybody is left to believe what they think.
One may therefore be excused to ask, are the results of the forthcoming general election already pre-determined? Are the campaigning and expenditure of resources and time all wastage, an exercise in futility?
Nobody would like to believe that is, or should be the case. And that is the need for giving proper explanation on controversial issues being raised during this period. If left unexplained or simply swept under the rags, these controversial issues sooner or later would form the basis of tension and conflict that could be otherwise avoided.
A reader of THIS DAY once asked me why democracy and national reconciliation in many African countries only come after civil wars, coups, violent conflicts and bloodshed, inevitably followed by the intervention from outside. He had in mind countries like Ghana and Nigeria (military coups); Uganda, Ivory Coast and the DRC (civil wars and conflicts); Zimbabwe and Kenya (intervention from outside). There are so many other similar situations on the African continent, where peace comes only after civil strife or violent conflicts.
As Tanzanians what have we learnt? A common thread running through Africa’s troubles was obviously the lack of the rule of law (the existence of laws not withstanding) and an attempt of the ruling class to cling to power by whatever the cost, thereby marginalizing large sections of the population. There are certainly many other reasons, historical and contemporary.
Where election is the issue, there are always the inevitable complaints that the elections have been rigged, often in favour of the incumbent, and the refusal by other contestants to accept the electoral verdict. The result is always a stalemate, leading to civil strife or even violent confrontations, sooner or later. It does not mean that the countries afflicted by conflicts did not have electoral laws to guide them; the laws in themselves might have been superb, but respect to the law is always another issue altogether.
In our situation, apart from Dr. Slaa’s reported claim about a “plot” to sabotage the will of the people in the forthcoming election, there have also been unconfirmed reports of some people trying to buy voter’s cards from some gullible members of the public who do not fully understand their voting rights.
Also last week, there was a debate on East Africa Television where a group of college and university students were questioning the “true motive” behind the Ministry of High Education’s decision to postpone the commencement of the new academic term for high learning institutions to November, after the general election.
The decision means thousands of university students will be denied their universal suffrage, after having registered themselves to vote at their respective campuses. The leave extension means the students will not be able to return to their campuses before October 31, and according to law, they can only vote where they had been registered.
The ministry was reported to have given shortage of funds as the reason for the postponement; however, the students argue that election expenses were obviously budgeted for in advance, along with other government expenditures, and that it was not clear why the government decided to divert some high education funds to meet election expenses. “It beats the logic,” charged one student during the debate.
To the authorities, these may seem to be minor complaints; but for any keen observer they contribute to building the foundation for future tensions and conflicts. It becomes worse when things are not thoroughly explained.
However, our picture is not yet all gloom. When in Bukombe district during the ongoing campaigns, the CCM presidential candidate, who is also the party’s chairman, Jakaya Kikwete reportedly encountered a situation where the local people openly told him that, for some reasons, they would not vote for CCM’s parliamentary candidate in that constituency.
President Kikwete was reported to have told the people of Bukombe: “Vote for the person whom you want; provided you maintain peace and harmony”.
The security organs, regional and district administrators as well as all the rest entrusted with elections supervision in one way or the other should borrow from Kikwete’s words and try their uttermost to ensure free and fair elections.
Another issue is that, instead of instilling in people’s minds that change is impossible, by whatever means, as a nation we should espouse the idea that peaceful change is possible. It would help to build our quest for continuity as a nation if we accepted that we can make changes and still continue to survive and even prosper as a nation.
In 1985 when Mwalimu Nyerere was considering relinquishing his job as president of the United Republic of Tanzania he made a moving speech in parliament in which he said:
“The honour of the presidency belongs not to me but to our country…
“I will continue to work for our country and its people with all my heart and to the best of my ability; and that as an individual and as chairman of our party I will give my unstinting loyalty, respect and assistance to my successor according to the Constitution of our nation…
“To pass the tong is to sustain and perpetuate the blacksmithery..”( Speech by J. K. Nyerere to Parliament, 29th July, 1985).
If Tanzanian and African rulers believed that the honour of leadership belongs to the people and changes in leadership are merely “to pass on the tongs” there would be less strife, conflicts and bloodshed. Peace and democracy would not necessarily need to flourish only after periods of tensions and conflicts.
We would no longer need to deny some people their rights to vote; or rig the elections in order to “serve” the people. For, rigging or tampering with people’s will is a defilement of their honour.
Finally, we should accept that changes, when necessary and the time is apt, are inevitable. The secret lies in purposefully discovering and harnessing change for a better future.