Storm clouds gather in Tanzania ahead of elections

(Photo by Suparerg Suksai from Pexels)

I fret about our nation, Tanzania. I am not sure whether I am alone but I suffer from a lot of anxiety like never before. I worry that the actions of those who should be uniting us, will divide us like never before. In my view, the 2020 elections will be a watershed moment in our history, allow me to elaborate why I believe so.

I think that the ruling clique has a difficult choice to make in this election — peacefully transfer power now or retain it and face a popular uprising soon. It is not an obvious choice. A priori, for a group slavishly served by a lackey party and a lackey state, handing the reins of power over willingly would seem ludicrous because it would mean losing benefits and privileges, as well as opening itself up to being held accountable. On the other hand, a long brewing storm of mass discontent is at the cusp of erupting. When it does, the punishment it would levy on the members of the clique would be much, much worse.

The massive crowds that the opposition has been consistently attracting on the campaign trail, both at the presidential and parliamentary level, on the mainland and in Zanzibar, is, at its core, fueled by extreme dissatisfaction. Yes, Maalim Seif and Tundu Lissu are charismatic contenders with engaging backstories, who have seized the moment and utilized it brilliantly. And yes, they, as well as Zitto, Heche, Jussa, Halima and the others, have become the “champions” on whom the masses have pinned their hopes. But they are effect, not cause. They are sail, not wind.

The injustice that the clique has been meting out on opponents and critics, the climate of fear it has attempted to create and maintain, the absurdly biased shenanigans of NEC, ZEC and the registrar of parties as well as the brutish meddling of the police has not only failed but has been counter-productive. Jubilant and defiant crowds chanting “Corona is better than CCM” and “shoot us, bomb us, we will not vote for CCM” have become mantra at opposition rallies and gatherings. And most Tanzanians today online and on street corners are convinced that the ruling clique has already lost the election. And, precisely because of that, the perception is that the ruling elite is pulling out all the stops to keep itself in power.

It must be understood that unlike previous elections, the jubilation surrounding opposition rallies is not simply election fever that will evaporate once the polls close. Rather, it is a case of masses, with deep and wide grievances, putting their hopes for relief and redress into the electoral process, into opposition parties and candidates. The poll is a stopgap to the storm of discontent, a predictable, peaceful way to get relief and redress. It gives hope. When it fails, hope turns into despair, jubilation into rage and the storm clouds grow and swell exponentially.

It could well be that the ruling clique announcing its candidates the winners could unleash the storm. Or it will add thunder and clouds to the swelling storm, that will hit us a week, a month, or a year from now. It will be an angry, violent, vengeful reckoning by a hopeless mass. This was the nightmare scenario Mwalimu Nyerere foresaw when he justified the need for multiparty democracy. I share this belief today.

The ruling clique is better off with the justice that, once in power, the opposition will dispense through the legal system. They will get a much more just deal than the above alternative. In fact, they would get much more justice than the opposition got in the current system, because the opposition will be out to prove that they are better at governing.

Unfortunately, we know of the insatiable thirst for and blind faith in power of this clique. I believe they will choose to stay on for one more week, one more month, one more year. Even at the cost of almost certain chaos. This is what keeps me awake at night and I really hope that I will be proven wrong.