Tanzania, don’t be Kenya

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In 2002, the citizens of the republic of Kenya were tired of the ruling party called KANU (Kenya Africa National Union). It had been in power since Kenya’s independence in 1963. The government was overwhelmed with debts, the economy wasn’t growing at all, development had stalled, roads were bad, there was runaway corruption, high profile assassinations had not been resolved and Kenyans were generally tired of the KANU regime. They wanted change, desperately and at all costs.

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So we headed to the polls with anger and enthusiasm. We voted overwhelmingly to the opposition party called NARC (National Rainbow Coalition) that had just been formed a few months before the elections. It had the majority of members of the ruling party who had defected last minute. We sang songs of victory long before the election results were announced.

Just before the elections, Mwai Kibaki, the opposition candidate was involved in a terrible road accident. He was flown abroad for specialized treatment as other members of his coalition carried on with the campaigns. Raila Odinga, the current opposition leader in Kenya declared ‘Kibaki Tosha’ and that was the end of the ruling coalition’s grip on power. Kenya was voted as the most optimistic nation in the world soon after the new president was sworn in.

The then KANU candidate Uhuru Kenyatta who happens to be the current president conceded defeat through a national address. And for once, Kenya was united.

Kibaki was sworn in on a wheelchair before a mammoth crowd in Nairobi’s Uhuru park. The mood was electric and euphoric. The outgoing head of state was treated with apathy as the crowd sang, ‘yote yawezekana, bila Moi…

Moi had been in power for 24 years. He was feared more than he was respected. He would fire people during 1 o’clock news without any warning. Dissenting voices were crushed ruthlessly. He had managed to amass political sycophants across the nation who danced to his tunes. Yet this day, on 31st December 2002, he was being humiliated before the very same people he had ruled for over 2 decades.

On 25th October 2015, the united republic of Tanzania will be heading to the polls. In more ways than one, it resembles the same path Kenya walked over 12 years ago. It might be a bit different because the current president isn’t a dictator and the nation has presidential term limits, but CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi) represents a culture and a system that has been entrenched in Tanzania. And that’s why there is a need for the people of Tanzania to tread carefully.

The nation is headed to one of the most politically charged elections in the history of the ujamaa nation. While I’m usually excited about the change and a fresh start, the scenario unfolding in Tanzania is one that should worry many. Not to sound an alarm, but the candidates have stirred passions and whipped up emotions to the brim. The nation must be careful lest they slide into anarchy.

The two horses who are the strongest contenders in this year’s race are Edward Lowassa of the opposition party and John Magufuli who represents the current ruling party CCM. The most exciting part of this race is that Edward Lowassa was a contestant of the presidential ticket through CCM. But after he failed to make it through to the nomination stage, he jumped ship and joined the opposition. And the sad reality is that the elections have been turned to a battle of personalities.

If social media, rally attendance, and general rumors from the ground are anything to go by, Edward Lowassa seems to be the real threat to CCM’s leadership since the nation was founded. And that worries me. As a neighbor of the great republic of Tanzania, plucking CCM from power will be suicidal. Unless the opposition has structures to rule and not fall out after winning the presidency, there is a need to vote with sobriety instead of euphoria.

The ruling party, CCM has managed to hold the nation together because of its party ideologies. Umoja, ushirikiano among others are some of the adhesives that have held this nation together. While complaints against corruption and poor leadership within CCM are valid, there is no need to amputate the entire leg for an aching foot. The moment party politics are removed from the scene, ethnic ideologies will take over and the nation will be thrown to the dogs literally. Kenya managed to throw out KANU and we all became very excited. The opposition, however, wasn’t united for the welfare of the nation, theirs was a unity of vendetta. Because by the time we were going for the 2007 elections, they had fallen apart and the nation suffered the worst post-election violence in the history of our nation.

Yes we have the roads, our budget has hit over 2 trillion shillings, the economy is growing at a fast rate, we are building railway lines, vision 2030 is on course and we are doing so much more but the fabric of the society is in tatters. Negative ethnicity has entrenched itself in the fabric of the republic of Kenya. Politics have been reduced to a tyranny of numbers business instead of a tyranny of progressive ideologies. Visionary ideas have been replaced by tribal groupings. Right now, winning an election in Kenya requires ethnic numbers calculations than ideological numbers.

Kenya has only 42 tribes, but it has always battled negative ethnicity, what will happen if the same demon begins to dwell with our Tanzania brothers who have over 100 tribes? Even though there was negative ethnicity before KANU was removed from power, it escalated to monumental heights soon after the ruling party that enjoyed support across the nation was removed from office.

It only takes a tragedy or an outside influence for the spirit of nationalism to take over. In Kenya, people are keener on your second name so that they can segment you well in their minds and then treat you accordingly. Tanzania with all its many challenges cannot afford to go the negative ethnicity way. The nation must remain as one.

The allure for change can be the beginning of a downward spiral for a currently cohesive nation. If the opposition wins, and they don’t have a solid plan, the national ideals will be thrown to the dustbin as different tribes front their candidates in the next elections. Tribal leaders will emerge who will begin to bargain based on their ethnic numbers. The nation will be polarized and the party ideology will be long gone. Corruption will increase as greed driven by a desire to rule takes over. As a Kenyan, I wish that we reformed KANU from within instead of giving power to an outfit that didn’t have structures or ideologies.

Tanzania cannot afford to water down the hard-won benefits of a party ideology that the nation now enjoys. Let Nyerere rest in peace knowing that the foundation he laid for his nation is jealously guarded. Let the elections be about ideologies and not personalities.

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