top of page
  • Victor Beaume

Tanzania: Could it be a democratic example for the region?

Rod Waddington, 2013

Photograph: Flickr / Rod Waddington

Democracy in Eastern Africa has had a difficult year. In 2015, presidents Paul Kagame, Pierre Nkurunziza, and Yoweri Museveni each attempted to lengthen or abolish their term limits as Presidents of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda respectively. Totalitarian leaders reluctant to give away power seemed to continue being a major theme in the continent. However, on October 25th, the United Republic of Tanzania held its 5th multi-party election since independence, as outgoing President Kikwete agreed to step down after serving two-terms since being elected in 2005. Following the most competitive election in the country’s history, John Pombe Magufuli of the ruling CCM party became leader through popular vote, described as peaceful and fair by electoral observation missions. On top of that, cracks are beginning to appear in CCM’s hold on power as Africa’s longest serving ruling party.

The United Republic of Tanzania was founded in 1964 through the union of the Republic of Tanganyika and the ‘archipelago-state’ of Zanzibar. Following independence, attempts by former colonial powers to install Western democratic institutions failed to gain any traction. Instead, single-party states dominated most of the post-independent period in African countries. In Tanzania, it came in the shape of the Tanganyika African Nationalist Union (TANU), which merged with the largest party in Zanzibar to create Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) in 1977. The party has ruled since independence, both in its original form as TANU, and its most recent incarnation as CCM. A combination of historical legitimacy fermented by the anti-colonial struggle, a strong ideology of African Socialism, control of state resources, and the influence of its founder Julius Nyerere, as well as the rooting out of opposition through the electoral process, explains their grip on leadership.

In the 21st Century, however, the tide seems to have turned against the once invulnerable party. According to a senior analyst of the International Crisis Group, “CCM is a dominant party whose support is gradually slipping”. The numbers seem to back up this claim. Multi-party politics were introduced in 1992. In 2005, CCM’s Jakaya Kikwete had gotten a resounding 80% of the votes, 5 years later he would receive 61%. In 2015, with 58%, John Pombe Magufuli has received the lowest winning share of the vote for the ruling party. Parliament is also increasingly becoming more varied and looking less like CCM hegemony. The opposition coalition gained 70 seats in parliament. This represents encouraging signs towards a strengthening of multi-party politics and the building of civic culture in Tanzania. An alternative to CCM seems to be finally available after more than 50 years of persistent domination.

Kikwete once announced to parliament that “people will come and go, but this is the CCM government and it will remain in power whether they like it or not”, but the competitive 2015 election shows another trajectory for Tanzania’s politics. The 2020 elections may be the year a new ruling party takes over for the first time and maintains Tanzania as a leading democratic example for its neighbours.

For now, however, newly appointed president Magufuli faces various challenges.Zanzibar can be found at the top of this list, where a controversial cancellation of election results, coupled with calls for autonomy, have created a political crisis in the popular tourist island. Improvements in jobs, healthcare delivery, and an intuitive education system are also necessary in the country receiving the highest amount of foreign investment in the region ($2.14 billion in 2014).

Tanzania represents an odd case of a relatively peaceful and democratic process in a region riddled with authoritarian rulers. Will the ideals of liberty and accountability spread through borders? As the Swahili proverb goes, kila mwenye kusubiri hakosi kitu – a patient person never misses a thing.

bottom of page