Tanzania’s election: Time for urgent action

Election 2020 is fundamental to the future of Tanzania and the prospects of the East Africa region. Any attempt to frustrate the will of the people will be met with public resistance.

Tanzania’s election (28 October 2020) is now just 47 days away. It has been 16 days since the start of the official campaigning period on the African mainland, while campaigning has just opened on the islands of Zanzibar.


The first two weeks of the campaign on the mainland have been characterised by disruption, sabotage and physical intimidation, all of which threaten the freedom, fairness and credibility of the poll.

The bodies responsible for overseeing the elections and maintaining national peace – the National Electoral Commission (NEC), the Zanzibar Electoral Commission and the police – are all carrying out activities aimed at undermining and preventing opposition parties from being able to challenge the governing CCM freely and fairly.

The effects of the actions of these state bodies are such that the peace and stability of the nation is endangered. Together, they hold the future of Tanzania in their collective hands.

A destabilised Tanzania is bad news for East Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. If the elections are deemed to not be free and fair and the will of the people is frustrated, an already tense situation will erupt. The consequences could be severe for democracy, stability and growth in the region.

In November 2019, following a civic elections debacle which opposition parties boycotted, I warned that unless urgent action was taken, both domestically and internationally, similar tactics would be employed by organs of state to frustrate the democratic will of the people. One of the key tactics employed in the civic elections was the disqualification of opposition candidates. It is no surprise that this has proven to be the main tool used by the captured NEC to try and guarantee a CCM victory next month.

In the process of nominating candidates for parliament and councils, the elections superintendents and supervisors, most of whom are CCM deployed cadres, have been used to ensure that our candidates and those of other opposition parties are not nominated.

In Zanzibar, out of 50 constituencies, only 14 of our candidates have been shortlisted. On the mainland, of the 169 candidates we fielded, only 104 have been confirmed as legitimate by the NEC. Our colleagues at Chadema have been similarly affected: of 244 nominations submitted, 53 parliamentary candidates have been disqualified. At the local government level, both Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo have had thousands of candidates disqualified.

All the reasons given by the NEC in disqualifying candidates are flawed. The reasons for opposition candidates being blocked from standing varied:

  • In Zanzibar, election supervisors forged objections.

  • Election officials refused to accept photographs of candidates and then dismissed nominations on the grounds of a lack of photographs on the relevant forms.

  • Election officials refused to provide or receive appeal forms.

  • Election supervisors formulated objections other than those set out in the electoral code.

  • Election administrators closed their offices preventing candidates from picking up or returning forms.

  • Election supervisors unilaterally changed the text of our candidates’ forms.

  • Election administrators rejected some of the sponsors of the nominations despite those individuals being on the Permanent Register of Voters.

  • Election supervisors did not nominate some candidates on the basis of the party “not being registered” in the respective district, which was false.

  • Election administrators rejected valid court stamps.

  • Election administrators rejected valid party seals.

Furthermore, election administrators have not given reasons in writing as to why the nominations of certain candidates have been disqualified. In addition, there were numerous instances of election supervisors receiving and processing objections after the deadline for objections had passed.

On behalf of ACT-Wazalendo, I have demanded that the NEC reinstate all our candidates for both the mainland and Zanzibar. We will not allow any of our candidates to be disqualified.

The reasons for the NEC’s actions could not be more transparent: they are trying to remove any threat of an opposition victory and furthermore want to do all they can to help President John Magufuli obtain a two-thirds majority to change the constitution and remove term limits.

From the outset, we at ACT-Wazalendo have made it clear that we use all legitimate means, including public mass action, to resist any acts of disruption and sabotage. This remains true and we will have no choice but to take to the streets should the NEC not uphold our appeals in respect of the candidate disqualifications.

Against this backdrop, Inspector General of Police Saimon Sirro visited Pemba in Zanzibar on 4 September for what he called “talking to peace stakeholders in Pemba”. Instead of creating a peaceful environment, Sirro used the visit to intimidate and start harassing our leaders.

After he left Pemba, ACT Wazalendo members and leaders were arrested, interrogated and detained by the police. One cannot call for peace while at the same time trying to intimidate and harass opposition members. This is pure hypocrisy.

While we and our opposition colleagues pursue all domestic avenues available to us, it is incumbent on the international community to put increasing pressure on the Tanzanian authorities to ensure a free and fair election.

While we welcome the recent announcement of a “Panel of Eminent Persons” by the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and civil society bodies, we expect EAC and SADC at the very least to take active steps to ensure the conditions exist in October for the democratic will of the people to be respected.

The current Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible for international observer missions to be present in Tanzania next month. This should not prevent the regional and international community from intervening to ensure due process. Regional organisations and the international diplomatic community must move beyond just words and take urgent action using all available means.

Election 2020 is fundamental to the future of Tanzania and the prospects of the East Africa region. Any attempt to frustrate the will of the people will be met with public resistance. The NEC, ZEC and the police force can save the country from chaos by doing what is right and operating in a just, fair manner in accordance with the constitution. We hope that the regional and international community will help them to do just that.

Zitto Kabwe is leader of the ACT-Wazalendo party.

This article was published by Daily Maverick.

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