Monday, January 5, 2009



By Mobhare Matinyi, Washington, DC

On January 25, 2009, the people of Mbeya Rural Constituency will elect their new MP. The by-election follows the death of their hard working legislator, Richard Nyaulawa, last November.

As usual, election campaigns have to take place. For this election, campaigns will start on January 4, and if the Tarime by-election is taken as a model, then we might say that trouble will start on January 4.

However, I would rather not be cynical. The US President during the Second World War, Franklin Roosevelt, once commented that cynical men say democracy cannot be honest and efficient.

Thus, if you are not cynical, then you should believe that this by-election will be clean and peaceful.

Now, here comes an important question: After what we saw in Tarime, which is more realistic � being cynical or not?

Three things complicated and marred the recent Tarime by-election: overzealous partisanship, campaign mismanagement, and lavish expenditure.

In Tarime, the ruling party wanted to win by all means, while the opposition wanted to retain the seat by hook or by crook. Since the people in Tarime are rather radical and combative, violence was inevitable.

But a civilized society ought to learn quickly, and it seems the ruling party has learned its lesson.

I was very impressed to hear that CCM will not use helicopters in their campaigns this time around. I think flying around in choppers is a mockery to people who don�t have enough to eat.

The opposition parties in Mbeya have started unofficial campaigns much earlier. Although it�s difficult to draw the line between normal political activities and early election campaigns, still one has to be careful.

In the same spirit, I would expect the police force to find a better way of handling things. At the end of the day, this country belongs to all of us. We need to respect the law and maintain the peace.

All this election chaos, especially in by-elections, is fuelled by money. The problem of campaign financing in our country is quite serious, and something must be done.

Look at the US, one of the richest nations in the world. People don't misbehave with money they way we do in Tanzanian politics. What is wrong with us? I guess it�s because we have decided to embrace bribery in elections.

Take the example of the recently concluded US presidential election. People didn't do what we do in elections in Tanzania. The candidates did not dish out money to would-be voters. Instead, candidates received money from willing and able citizens according to the law.

Now, it is estimated that you need at least Sh100 million to win a parliamentary election in Tanzania. I understand that you can�t run a campaign without enough funds, but to be frank, most of the money is used for bribes.

If you don't have money in Tanzania, people will consider you a loser from Day One. In fact, you may not even get the opportunity to be called a loser.

Who would discuss your name in the first place, any way?
In the US too, if you don't have money you will probably lose elections, but not in the same way we do in Tanzania. Your loss would be in a reasonable way.

Unless you are contesting in Tarime, it seems money can bring you victory. I believe the people of Mbeya Rural will uphold their standards the same way they did when they elected Nyaulawa three years ago. It is possible to get an MP without the immoral use of money.

In the US, when Barack Obama started his campaign, he was one of the "poorest" candidates, but he won the primaries and later bagged the ultimate prize, thanks to the millions of contributors who boosted his campaign war chest.

Obama knew how to inspire people to give money, not how to bribe them; you can�t buy votes in the US.

Now, do we Tanzanians know how much money each party spent in the last General Election? Do we know where that money came from? Do we know how much the rich guys contributed? Do we know how much was spent illegally? What about Tarime in the recently concluded by-election? Who paid for those CCM and Chadema choppers?

This is where we should start if we want to build a true democracy in a responsible society. I believe we have the brains to figure out the formula. We will never build a true democracy if money keeps buying our votes.

If we are careless, our political leadership will be full of idiots who have deep pockets. These fake politicians will only be answerable to their pockets and rich donors.

Mr Matinyi is a consultant based in Washington, DC.