from ALLOYCE KIMBUNGA in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania
DAR-ES-SALAAM, (CAJ News) – WHILE elections are supposed to be a peaceful process, across Africa, they have deteriorated in to a matter of life and death and Tanzania is no exception as the East African nation holds polls on Wednesday.
The continent’s longest-serving ruling party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM or Party of the Revolution), in power since independence in 1961, seeks to extend its reign.
Incumbent, John Magufuli (60), is seeking a second term having won a closely-fought, but at the same time disputed election in 2015.
The alleged killing of civilians on the eve of the latest exercise and the sustained crackdown on activists, civil society and the media have marred preparations for the elections in the normally peaceful country.
Nine people were reportedly killed when security forces opened fire in the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar where an opposition presidential candidate, Seif Sharif Hamad, was arrested at a polling station in the Unguja area.
He is the candidate of the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT–Wazalendo).
His party reported he was detained trying to cast his vote as polling units opened a day early to allow officials from the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) and security personnel to take part.
Police on Tuesday used teargas to disperse locals that voiced their concern with the handling of the election process.
The semi-autonomous region of over 1,3 million people holds elections concurrently with Tanzania. It is predominantly Muslim.
Voters will elect the president, House of Representatives and local government councillors. Incumbent president, Ali Mohamed Shein, is ineligible for a third term and will be stepping down as president.
Hussein Ali Mwinyi (54), the son of the former president of Tanzania Ali Hassan Mwinyi, will represent CCM. Hamad (77), formerly the Vice President, is Mwinyi’s biggest rival for the presidency of the island that is a major tourist destination.
Donald Wright, the United States (US) Ambassador to Tanzania expressed unease at the political temperatures searing before more than 29 million voters take to the polls in mainland Tanzania and the island.
“I’m alarmed by reports from Zanzibar and elsewhere of violence, deaths and detentions,” the envoy said.
“It’s not too late to prevent more bloodshed,” Wright said.
He urged the security forces to show restraint as well as the National and Zanzibar Electoral Commissions (NEC and ZEC) to carry out their duties with integrity.
“Let’s all pray for peaceful, fair elections,” Wright implored.
The United Nations (UN) is concerned.
UN Secretary‑General, António Guterres, called on all national stakeholders to ensure that the polls are conducted in an inclusive and peaceful manner.
“The Secretary-General urges all political leaders and their supporters to participate in this exercise peacefully and refrain from violence,” his spokesperson said.
The official added, “He (Guterres) further calls on the authorities to provide a safe and secure environment, which will allow Tanzanians to exercise their civil and political rights.”
The blocking of social media such as Twitter and WhatsApp has also added to the tension.
The Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) explained the move in a statement to mobile network operators, titled, RE: DIRECTIVE ON TEMPORAL (sic) OF BULK MESSAGING AND BULK VOICE CALLING SERVICES.
Engineer James Kilaba, the Director General of the TCRA, signed the letter.
Operators are directed to temporarily suspend offering of bulk messaging and bulk voice calling services from October 24 to November 11.
The letter indicated this was in consideration of the adverse impact the abuse of these services would have on the general elections.
Twitter’s Global Public Policy team confirmed there was some “blocking and throttling” of Twitter ahead of the elections.
“Internet shutdowns are hugely harmful, and violate basic human rights and the principles of the #OpenInternet #KeepItOn,” it lamented.
Donald Deya, the Chief Executive Officer of the Arusha-based Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), decried the prevailing atmosphere.
“When we shut down political space and when we shut down civic space in countries, it leads to delegitimisation of those that govern us,” Deya said.
Magufuli, the fifth president of Tanzania, faces a stern challenge from Tundu Lissu (52), the prominent lawyer, of the Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA- or Party for Democracy and Progress).
Magufuli secured 39,97 percent of the vote in 2015, the lowest margin by a presidential winner.
Lissu has bemoaned the ban on political rallies, which Magufuli ordered after assuming office. Opposition electoral observers have reportedly failed to accredit with the NEC, whose members the president appoints.
Magufuli is nicknamed “The Bulldozer”, for his work ethic.
He assumed power on a pledge to fight corruption but critics lament that he has become dictatorial.
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) believes Tanzania’s human rights record continues to deteriorate under his tenure.
While it is in East Africa, the country is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
SALC argues while Tanzania’s Constitution guarantees the right to equality, privacy, freedom of expression and assembly, authorities restrict these rights.
Some media critical of the government have been closed under Magufuli, who also is trigger happy, with the firing of several ministers and public officials.
Recently, Magufuli appealed for calm, especially among the youths, during the election period.
He appealed to Tanzanians to retain him.
“Choose Magufuli for real development so that we can continue to build a new Tanzania,” he stated recently.
CCM supporter, Mosi Kimaru, endorsed the incumbent.
“I am voting Magufuli. He has shown in his first term that corruption must be eradicated. Our manifesto is strong,” Kimaru said.
CCM’s manifesto prioritises job creation, social services, agriculture expansion and growing the economy.
CHADEMA’s campaign is premised on constitutional reforms, restoring human rights, streamlining taxes and growing the natural gas economy.
“I take this opportunity to urge Tanzanians to turn out in large numbers on 28 October to vote for Freedom, Justice and Human Development,” Lissu stated on the eve of the poll.
Before the advent of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had projected the economy to grow by 1,9 percent in 2020.
Tanzania’s response to COVID-19 has been controversial since the first case was confirmed on March 16.
In June, Magufuli declared Tanzania to be free of the virus. Then, 509 cases had been documented.
Earlier, the head of Tanzania’s national laboratory, which leads COVID-19 testing, was dismissed.
In 2015, polls in Tanzania and Zanzibar were marred by allegations of vote rigging.
– CAJ News