Each political party claims to bring a saviour for Tanzania, someone who has heard the citizen’s cries. Yet it is in these times of prophesying change that we can clearly see the triumph of self-interest or party-interest over public interest, even in something as simple as the choice of campaign media. The streets are dirty with posters; photos of aspiring candidates on lamp posts and walls. “These are just too many posters!” my nephew told me yesterday as we neared our house, exasperated by the sheer number of posters with the same face stuck on the wall of our fence. “Why can’t they use the internet or phones, don’t they care about trees?” It is hard not to laugh at the wisdom that even a ten year old can express.

On 25 October 2015, Tanzania will have its 5th multi-party elections. Major opposition parties, CHADEMA, NCCR Mageuzi, and CUF, have joined to form a coalition called UKAWA. They have appointed Edward Lowassa to run for presidency. UKAWA claim him to be  the “peoples’ choice.” Lowassa is a former CCM powerhouse who was not nominated by his former party to vie for Tanzania’s presidency. Lowassa was former Prime Minister to President Jakaya Kikwete, but resigned due to Richmond corruption allegations, in which his office improperly awarded a contract to Richmond to provide emergency power generators, but the company failed to deliver. He still hasn’t had his day in court.

CCM has appointed John Pombe Magufuli, minister of infrastructure, known to be a hard worker, to carry their flag. His party claims him to be “God’s choice” for the presidency. ACT Wazalendo has appointed Anna Mghwira, the first female ever to run for the presidency, to carry their flag. Five lesser talked about parties, TLP, NRA, UPDP, CHAUMMA, and ADC, also have candidates, although it is Lowassa, Magufuli and Mghwira that have sparked the nation’s interest. They all promise change, a new Tanzania free of present ills. Yet as we near the finishing line of the presidential race, it is important to ask, will a new president, whoever she or he is, change Tanzania?

Photo: BBC
Photo: BBC

“Life is too hard”, one boda boda driver yells amidst a discussion with his fellows. “CCM needs to go!” CCM, the ruling party that emerged when Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and Zanzibar (ASP) united, has been in power since Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form the United Republic of Tanzania. With a poverty rate of 65.6%, an unemployment rate of 11.7% and an economic growth of 7% according to the 2013 Human Development Report, the majority of Tanzanians still live below the poverty line. After fifty years under CCM, people don’t feel like their lives have improved.

“There is going to be blood this year if my party doesn’t win,” another young man in the same groups says, and his fellows cheer him on. For a country that is deemed to be a harbour of peace, it is especially scary to hear passionate young people throwing words like blood around in conversation, as if it were nothing. Yes we want change, but what price are we willing to pay for the change? Can this change also be peaceful?

Despite charged emotions, this is the most exciting election year for Tanzania. We are seeing much stronger competition between candidates, and more women vying for different positions. We also see increased participation and activism, especially among youth. Now more than ever, leaders are aware of follower power as they plead for our votes. They play with our fleeting psyches, telling us exactly what we want to hear in the right tone of voice.

What is this change they promise? And what is the change we want? Do we want a cosmetic change; just change the party and everything will get better? Or a systematic change, a complete overhaul of the present system to a better system – and can we define what that better system looks like? Since the end of Ujamaa Socialism, Tanzania has been in denial of its capitalist present while praising its socialist past. 

Photo: 2jiachie
Photo: 2jiachie

We must also look at Tanzania, not in isolation, but as part of a globalized world and international economic order. Would these promised changes be feasible in this context? What happened to Nyerere, who had all the Ujamaa ideals and was strangled until he succumbed to the international system? In the past twenty years, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have overshadowed our national plans, such as Tanzania 2025. With the coming of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), how many of these election promises will be fulfilled if we are still a donor funded economy? How much of the change we want will be brought by this new saviour president?

As we demand change from our leaders, do we think of our own responsibilities as citizens? Do we acknowledge that leadership is a team effort; and that there aren’t bad leaders without bad followers; those who either oppose a good leader, or support a bad one? Are we prepared to be different; to take a stand for what is right even if it means going against the mob or peer pressure? We must also remember that change is not instant, that not all change is good, and that this change will happen without sacrifices or individual involvement.

Although it is only right to hope that the new president will move the country forward and not backwards, it is also important to know that the new president cannot save Tanzania, not by herself, not without our collaborative effort to make a change in our mindsets and individual lives.