Update: As of Tuesday, October 27th, the BBC is reporting that some high-profile government ministers from the ruling CCM party have lost their seats to the Ukawa opposition coalition. Results are still being counted and are expected to be announced this week.
Tensions are running high in one of Africa’s most stable countries this week. Tanzania is bracing for the results of its fifth multi-party elections, held on Sunday, October 25th. Secretary of State John Kerry has called it a “decisive moment for democracy in Africa”, and the results could mean important changes for Tanzanian women and youth.
The Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has been in power since 1992, but Tanzania’s growing population of youth—who make up 60% of registered voters—are looking for change. Lenin Kazoba, a coordinator for the Tanzania Youth Coalition (TYC) has said: “The most important issue for the youth in this election is the issue of the unemployment.” Dissatisfied with the status quo, younger voters have been looking to Ukawa, a new coalition of opposition parties, to shake things up.
In a surprise turn of events, the ruling party selected John Magufuli, the Minister of Works, as its presidential candidate. Magufuli has a reputation for diligence but not for political clout. Concerned about being seen as weak, Magufuli dropped to the stage during a recent rally and did a series of knuckle push-ups as the crowd roared. He has pledged to empower more women to become political leaders and has so far kept his word: in an historic move, Magufuli chose Samia Hassan Suluhu, a Member of Parliament from Zanzibar, to be his running mate. Should they win, Suluhu would become the first women vice president of Tanzania.
Magufuli faces stiff competition from the opposition leader Edward Lowassa, the former prime minister and an indisputable political heavyweight. Lowassa’s leadership of Ukawa has been another bizarre twist: he was a favorite nominee for the ruling party before he jumped ship to joined the opposition. Throughout the dramatic race, observers were concerned that the campaign had devolved into a contest of personalities instead of advancing a national conversation on issues of gender equality, healthcare, regulating the emerging oil and natural gas sector, and the katiba, or constitution.
“The atmosphere in Dar es salaam is very tense,” said Kazoba. The urban center has historically been a CCM stronghold, while Ukawa and its constituent parties draw a great deal of support from the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. It’s no surprise that this is the case: the archipelago has been unhappy with the CCM’s neglect of constitutional reform that was meant to broaden Zanzibar's political autonomy. These areas, as well as the lake and border districts, could see outbreaks of violence in the coming days. Kazoba is worried about the safety of the youth observers he has been training, and says that some parties have been trying to convince the youth to stage demonstrations when the results are announced.
Although Tanzania prides itself on being one of Africa’s most stable democracies, it still struggles with obstacles to the democratic process. In the lead-up to Sunday’s election, voters balked when the government decided to implement biometric voter registration. The system, which requires electronic fingerprint readers and special kits, is extremely expensive and dubiously successful. Tensions also rose when the government pushed back the start date of the university term—a change ostensibly made to help keep the peace but which predominantly affects younger voters, many of whom were registered in their university districts but were then told to stay home.
Tanzanian women who want to become political leaders face significant challenges. The Tanzania Women's Cross-Party Platform (T-WCP) coordinator Dr. Ave Maria Semakafu has said that a culture of marginalization has been their biggest obstacle: “Women are seen as supporters and not as leaders and therefore do not rise to leadership positions within their parties,” she said at a recent conference. T-WCP is concerned about electoral violence against women and the intimidation of women voters. While it’s unlikely for women to be targeted at public polling stations, there are other ways for their votes to be influenced; for example, illiterate women are legally allowed to enter the voting booth with helper (usually a husband or male relative), but it is then difficult to say whose choice is really being registered.
Independent groups like the T-WCP and the Tanzania Youth Coalition deployed large cohorts of election observers to polling stations on Sunday, watching for instances of corruption, harassment, intimidation, or violence. Election officials have said that they plan to announce preliminary results today.