(Let me start by saying that I am — IN NO WAY — trying to minimize or make fun of PTSD (Post Traumatic stress disorder) I recognize and understand its severity and the devastating effect it has on people.. My aim here is to point out what I, as an armchair psychologist, observed of the psychological effect that a violent election has had on Tanzania’s citizenry.
Ok, so now that I managed to catch your attention, I want to discuss the 2020 elections in Tanzania (though it cannot be called that by any stretch of the imagination). It has taken me a while to get back to write anything substantive about politics in Tanzania because what had transpired wasn’t anything that me or my fellow Tanzanians had thought or imagined would or could happen.
Where to start? The shenanigans of the registrar of parties, NEC, and ZEC were not unexpected. In fact, the “Saba Saba Nyeupe” initiative had been about trying to avoid anticipated negative outcomes. Obviously, demanding for an independent electoral commission became irrelevant as soon as the main opposition parties announced their participation with the existing commissions in place. No criticism here; they had a difficult choice to make between boycotting the election and trying to participate and win despite the hurdles biased and partisan agencies would throw at them. They chose the latter. Well, they, and us all, paid the price, as NEC and ZEC announced Magufuli, Mwinyi, and CCM absolute majority winners based on numbers they pulled out of thin air (actually based on numbers preset to serve an agenda beyond having Magufuli and Co. win, but that is a topic for another day). Point in case, here we are nearly two months after the results were announced, Magufuli and Mwinyi have already formed their cabinets, but NEC has still not published the results. Clearly, the patent fallacies they had announced are beyond massage. For instance, given the videos and images from the campaign trail (on social not mainstream media), how could Lissu have gotten a mere 10% of the votes that Magufuli had. What breakdown by constituency and polling station could possibly support such a ridiculous final tally? Furthermore, according to independent estimates on voter turnout, some 5–6 million Tanzanians had voted on the 28th. So, what massaging of the numbers can support that Magufuli got some 12 million votes.
The comedy of the regime’s attempt to stuff the ballots, for me at least, had been unexpected. Not in that they tried, but rather in its extent and the blatant way in which it had been carried out. As the images and stories were coming in, on pre-ticked ballots having been found in back and gunny-bags on ‘voters’ and in police vehicles, as well as entire boxes under the tables of election officers, I had been laughing and fuming simultaneously.
When I saw the image of the woman trying to push a thick brown envelop (presumably full of fake ballots) through the narrow opening of the ballot box, I nearly fell off my chair. On this matter I generally went from laughter on the ridiculousness of it all, to anger over it happening and the blatancy with which it did. Why would she, and so many others, be complicit in such pathetic thievery? Mental relief, at least on this matter, came much later, when it dawned on me that this woman and tens of thousands of her ilk, mostly civil servants like teachers, were threatened with dismissal from their jobs and offered a few thousand shillings as incentive. They were victims. Poor woman, she had been so scared, she had wanted so badly to be done and get out of there she had tried to push in the fake ballots as they had been given to her, in the brown envelop.
I also realized that this whole tragicomedy had not been about us, not us being gullible or stupid, but about them, the regime. This is who they are; stupid, incompetent fools who come up with ridiculous plans and implement them absurdly. Unfortunately, all this clowning around may be comic, but the consequences are very tragic.
However, what really traumatized me, and many others, is the extreme violence that had been meted out by security forces just before, on, and after election day. Internet shutdown did little to hide the atrocities that had been committed.
As photos and videos trickled in, we were horrified and left shell shocked. Wanton violence, beatings, torture, and murder, never seen in Tanzanian elections. Weirdly, even though I cried again and again, I cried and was affected the most by an audio recording of the harrowing wails of a Zanzibari man as he asked for God’s help. I do not think I have ever felt as helpless as at that moment.
Thankfully, eventually, that feeling of helplessness, of futility, turned into anger and outrage that I channeled into collecting evidence and documenting atrocities and filed a submission at the International Criminal Court. Even though hearing testimonies and reviewing audio visual evidence had been painful at times, it had been well worth it. These atrocities will not be forgotten, and one day, those who gave the orders and those who executed them, will be held to account.
Yes, we are all shocked and traumatized by what transpired on and around October 28th. Also, many of us feel betrayed by opposition politicians who chose to compromise and accommodate scoundrels. And though we may feel we have “lost”, I believe the real losers are Magufuli, Mwinyi, and their CCM cohort. All these “winners” who look broken while claiming victory. And why would not they be. There are no more illusions left, no lies to hide behind. Despite all the plotting and manipulation, despite all the threats and arrests, despite biased commissions and agencies, despite endless illegal and unjust acts, despite tear gassing and ballot stuffing, at the end of the day, it took extreme violence to keep Magufili, Mwinyi, and CCM in power. They know this, we, citizens, know this, and they know that we know this. Isaac Asimov said: “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”. Well, these are our incompetents, our “kings” naked for all to see, committing extreme acts of violence because they have run out of ideas.