Thursday, September 30, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

September 30, 2010

My interest in Tanzania’s impending elections is obvious. I am a Kenyan and an East African. I claim both nationalities by birth, inheritance and history. Nobody can deny me this claim to belong to this region. Very soon I will claim my rightful heritage in Burundi, Rwanda and in the not too distant future, South Sudan and the DRC.

The reason Tanzania’s elections this year interest me is because I can see many similarities with other elections held in Kenya and Uganda in the last two decades. The parallels are too real to be ignored.

In a recent article published in the Guardian of Tanzania by Roger Luhwego, Dr. Wilbroad Slaa of Chadema is quoted as having hinted that once elected the President of Tanzania under Chadema, he would provide equal opportunities for business to thrive unlike the current practice where business people supported CCM to safeguard their business interests.

This is the kind of promise that most popular opposition leaders usually give to a disgruntled electorate in order to convince the poor and the suffering masses that the opposition was keen to bridge the gap between the super rich and the lowly members of society. It is an argument that appeals to our basic instincts with the good intention that a new government other than the ruling party will safeguard our national wealth and practice equitable national resource distribution among the citizenry.

The challenge here will be whether the voters will buy such a promise from any politician when they have come across such promises time and time again in their past with very little change in their lives.

Slaa’s presidential ambition has been boosted by rumours circulating in Tanzania that a recent Synovate poll which is yet to be made public had indicated that Slaa’s Chadema was leading with 45 per cent in the polls followed by CCM at 41 per cent. This claim was made by none other than the Chadema national Chairman who strongly advised the Synovate Group to release the results. And to make it worse, the Chadema boss claimed that the failure by Synovate to release the opinion poll results was as a result of political intimidation by the ruling CCM.

Chadema claims aside, the history of political contests in East Africa have been with us for a long time. In Kenya, whenever an opinion poll result is released that ranks various parties and their candidates, the losers always claim bias and influence as the victors go into a celebration.

We as the political class have never embraced opinion polling as part and parcel of the process to gauge political performance either by our parties or party leaders.

A few years ago, it looked like Dr. Bessigye of Uganda was the most popular presidential candidate after he fell out with Museveni’s NRM in early 2000s. When he finally lost the vote, there was a claim of a rigged election before he fled to South Africa claiming that his life was in danger only to return to Uganda in 2006 to contest another election. Ten years later, Dr. Bessigye is still leading the opposition with no prospect of ever wresting power from the NRM leader. His popularity seems to have waned with time.

Here in Kenya, we witnessed an epoch in our political history two decades ago when some of the most colorful and charismatic political icons teamed up to throw KANU out of power. The opposition party FORD was a spectacle to behold when Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenneth Matiba, Kijana Wamalwa and the then young Turks teamed up to dislodge KANU from power. The biggest rallies in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and other towns in Kenya were all pointer to the demise of Daniel arap Moi and KANU. It was not to be. Petty rivalries, individual greed and ethnic chauvinism broke the FORD movement apart before KANU hanged them separately.

As things stand now, Dr. Slaa’s Chadema may be doing well in terms of popularity and all that. All he needs to remember is that an old party like the CCM may be having a number of tricks up its sleeve. As a party that has been used to power for close to 50 years, with state resources and machinery at its disposal, it will take more that rhetoric to defeat it at national elections. When a ruling party faces a real threat of losing an election in this part of the world, it will stop at nothing to win the contest.

In Tanzania, just like in Kenya and Uganda, the business community may not be overtly visible in determining the outcome of an election; but because they are a crucial part of the establishment, any development that may seem to disturb the equilibrium of things will not sit well with them. Remember, they are already in the comfort zone and would rather things remain the way they are.

This is the group that Slaa should be convincing to see the light as he woos the masses of Tanzania to vote for him because again, this small group has the where-with-all to finance his campaign.