Under Threat in Tanzania

September 1 is an important day for democracy in Tanzania. The political opposition party Chadema (Party of Progress and Democracy) will hold demonstrations across the nation against the growing dictatorial tendencies of the ruling government party CCM (Party of Revolution). Since last fall's controversial elections, Tanzania's new president, John Magufuli, has undertaken a series of crackdowns on political activities increasingly threatening Tanzania's move to multi-party democracy, free and fair elections and economic development.


Tanzania is popularly known for its wonderful landscapes including beautiful white beaches and the snow-capped majesty of Mount Kilimanjaro. It also contains some of the earth's greatest remaining wild areas including the endless, rolling, animal-filled plains of the Serengeti, some of the largest remaining populations of elephants and several of the last strongholds for threatened chimpanzees such as Gombe, made famous by the studies of the biologist Jane Goodall.

Tanzania has also long been both a cornerstone of East African and global trade. For over 1,000 years, the island of Zanzibar and the Tanzanian coast have played an important role for African trade with the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Swahili, the lingua franca of East Africa, developed in Zanzibar of an old Bantu dialect is mixed with Arabic, Hindi and today English. With plentiful natural resources a population of 50 million people, half of whom are under 18, Tanzania represents an essential development story for the world in the 21st century.

Since independence in 1962, Tanzania has been ruled by one party, CCM. Two years later, Tanganika and Zanzibar, formed a united republic, with Zanzibar also electing a separate president and assembly. For half its existence, the new republic was led by Julius Nyerere, who was one of the leaders of the Cold War's global Non-Aligned movement and initiated an independent socialist development model. After a decade of stagnation and growing corruption, Nyerere introduced multi-party democracy in the mid-'90s, which has fitfully grown over the past two decades leading to last October's controversy filled elections.

Last year, after CCM initiated and then halted constitutional reform, the main opposition parties formed the Ukawa coalition. Initially formed to bring about constitutional reform, Ukawa evolved into an election coalition led by Chadema and CUF (Civic United Front) the main opposition party of Zanzibar and the Tanzanian coast. The former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa left CCM and became Chadema's candidate for President of Tanzania, while Seif Sharif Hamad became CUF's presidential candidate for Zanzibar.

The election campaign was relatively free, though the government harassed opposition operations throughout. The real problem came with the vote count. On election evening, the government raided Chadema's three vote-tallying centers in Dar es Salaam, arresting a 170 people, including campaign staff and 150 college students, making an independent vote count verification impossible. Based on government released figures, CCM won the election with 58% to 42% of the vote.

However in Zanzibar, Ukawa coalition member CUF was able to independently verify the vote count and claimed victory. Faced with defeat two days later, the government called-off their official count and instituted a new Zanzibar election several months later. Neither CUF or Chadema participated or recognized the CCM victor in this do-over election.

Since the elections, things have gone from bad to worse for democracy in Tanzania. With the Ukawa coalition now having almost a third of the parliament, President Magufuli and CCM banned television coverage of the parliament. With Chadema gaining control of 18 district councils and three of the biggest cities—Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Mbeya—the government seeks to remove local power including tax collection and budgeting from the localities and place it instead in control of the central government.

Adding to last year's egregious Cyber-Crime law, making it a potential crime to conduct political activity on the internet, the government seeks now to make it a crime, punishable by 20 years imprisonment, to share government information. In addition, several months ago, the government banned political rallies and demonstrations, using active police enforcement.

As the the threat to political freedom grows, corruption continues, needed economic development curtails, and crucial wildlife conservation falters, most importantly Tanzania's ignominious leadership in elephant poaching. Chadema called an emergency meeting two weeks ago and called for active resistance against growing autocratic rule of Magufuli and CCM. Announcing the launch of a program called Ukuta—Swahili for wall—to build a political wall between the people of Tanzania and dictatorship.

Chadema will lead a series of demonstrations across the country on September 1 and the world needs to pay attention. Tanzania remains an important country both in Africa and the world; with a healthy and vital politics it can lead necessary development and reform across the region. As the president of Chadema's Youth Wing, Bavicha, stated in support of Ukuta, “Freedom and multi-party democracy are not gifts from the rulers, they are part of the constitution.”

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