The smiling face of Ndugu (relative) Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete has greeted me everyday since I arrived in Tanzania. The incumbent President’s white teeth shine brightly from the picture frames put up in every other grocery store/office/public building and from the innumerable and massive green and yellow election posters found along any big or small street. Not only do I get to see him everyday, I also get to hear about him. Buses and trucks filled with dancing and singing people, waving the green and yellow flags of CCM (Chama cha Mapinduzi, the ruling political party) drive around town (and even on our bumpy home street) seemingly without any real purpose other than showing what a great time they’re having being supporters of this particular party. Oh, and, for you to have as much fun as they do, CHAGUA CCM, CHAGUA KIKWETE (i.e. choose CCM, choose Kikwete)!
Election week is finally here, and on Sunday 31st October 2010 Tanzanians draw to the polling stations to pick their next council(wo)man and President. CCM isn’t the only political party – banish that thought, Tanzania is a democratic multiparty country! – but it’s the loudest and most visible. In power since the country gained independence in 1961, the striking green and yellow CCM has coloured Tanzania’s political landscape and will probably continue to do so after Sunday’s General Elections. What was supposed to be a clear cut case in favour of Kikwete is getting a bit more uncertain now though.
Political analysts have highlighted the failed measures taken by CCM to prevent corruption and some opinion polls have even capitalised on the growing discontent among voters by showing the opposition candidate to be ahead of Kikwete. How reliable these polls are is of course a completely different story, but even the people I’ve talked to, asking if they will participate in the elections, have said their vote will go to Willbrod Slaa, the presidential candidate for the main opposition party Chadema. Indeed, The Citizen newspaper headlines today (27.10.2010) Fear, anxiety build up ahead of Tanzania’s election showdown on Sunday with the slug “The CCM losing power – for the first time since Independence – is looking like an outside possibility”.
The political theatre here isn’t pretty – I guess it never is. But even far away Finland got a questionable role in the play here. A few weeks back hundreds of thousands of anti-Chadema text messages were sent around to different mobile phones, urging Tanzanians not to vote for Slaa unless they want the “country to turn into another Somalia”. All the messages were sent from numbers beginning with +358, Finland’s country code, and this did not go unnoticed in the press although in practice I heard no one reacting to or talking about it. I’m not sure if the identity of the sender(s) has been officially discovered, or why they picked the Finnish country code to play with, but it quite clearly is a case of political trickery by a scared CCM.
The stories are many and the tactics are sometimes questionable. But what is certain is that even though CCM might still win, Sunday is going to be an interesting day. Today I went to the National Electoral Commission’s Accreditation office to pick up my pink international observer badge. Equipped with that, a white cap and a thick white (most probably synthetic) ‘2010 General Election Observer’ T-shirt I’ll be travelling around town with colleagues, sweating away at the different polling stations seeing first hand how the day will proceed. Stay tuned.