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Chance for historic change in Tanzania

Mohammed Abdulrahman/shSeptember 4, 2015

In October Tanzanians go to the polls. Many members of the governing party have crossed over to the opposition. Experts expect a close finish - and a test of the strength of East African democracy.

Members of the UKAWA opposition party
Image: DW/M.Khelef

October 25 is election day for 24 million eligible Tanzanians. It is already clear that it will produce a new head of state for the East African country. Unlike many other presidents on the African continent, Jakaya Kikwete is not seeking a third term, since, as in other countries, this is not permitted under the constitution.

Everything points to a close race, with victory far from certain for the governing Party of the Revolution - Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) - that has been in power since 1977. The reason: after prominent party members left following internal disputes, the opposition saw its chance and welcomed the renegades with open arms.

One result of this is that former CCM Prime Minister Edward Lowassa - once described by the opposition as one of the country's most corrupt politicians – is now standing as a presidential candidate for the UKAWA alliance.The Kiswahili acronym stands for "Union for the Defense of the Constitution," which unites the four most important opposition parties. The alliance can now hope for a first election victory since the introduction of a multi-party system in 1992.

Opposition candidate Edward Lowassa
Former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa is now a candidate for the UKAWA opposition allianceImage: Getty Images/AFP/T. Karumba

Failing to fight corruption

Lowassa's rival in the ranks of the ruling party is John Magufuli. He has been a cabinet member for 15 years and is the current minister of works. His election campaign focuses on fighting corruption, but experts doubt that the CCM is really prepared to tackle the problem seriously. "The political will is lacking," Richard Shaba, program coordinator with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Tanzania, told DW in an interview. Anyone who does not have a clean vest himself cannot take effective action against the problem, Shaba said.

Many cases of corruption have been uncovered in the past. In 2014, Housing Minister Anna Tibaijuka had to resign after a bribery scandal. However, for observers like Richard Shaba, this did not go far enough. One can hardly speak of a victory for the anti-corruption movement, Shaba said. "They have caught a couple of small fish but not the really big ones."

John Magufuli of the CCM party standing at a microphone
John Magufuli of the CCM party is Lowassa's main rivalImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/K. Said

Security forces 'hindering opposition campaign'

According to opposition leader Freeman Aikaeli Mbowe, the camp of challenger Lowassa should also be dealing with other problems. In a guest article for the US online newspaper Huffington Post, Mbowe - the leader of the Party for Democracy and Progress (CHADEMA) - accuses the government of deliberately sabotaging the election campaign of UKAWA's main candidate. CHADEMA is the largest member of the UKAWA coalition.

Mbowe wrote that the police were "blocking our campaign's travel route and disallowing our campaign plane from using airports." Appearances by Lowassa had been banned without any real explanation.

"We all applauded President Jakaya Kikwete, who after serving two terms, is freely stepping aside, as required by the constitution. But we call on him as head of the government to allow free and fair elections, and if CCM is voted out, to allow a peaceful and orderly transition. A real multi-party democracy demands nothing less," Mbowe wrote.

Gender equality still far off

One area where both sides have failed to fulfill expectations is gender equality in politics. According to women's rights activist Ave-Maria Semakafu, year-long campaigns have failed to make any real inroads into the patriarchal structures.

Under the present political framework, women function only as election campaign assistants for men, Semakafu told DW. "From our perspective, democracy in Tanzania has not developed at all."

German President Joachim Gauck with President Kikwete on a visit to Tanzania in 2015
German President Joachim Gauck (left) with President Kikwete on a visit to Tanzania in 2015Image: Reuters

For years Tanzania has been the "donor darling" of development aid donor countries, not least because the post-1992 democratization of the country has been relatively successful and peaceful. But it has not yet been able to boast a smooth transition of power, since up to now the CCM has won every election. This could now change with the October election, which could prove to be the first real test of the stability of democracy in Tanzania.