Month: October 2015

A Complex Situation…and maybe a legitimate election?

Most of the votes have been counted, and all in all it seems that the Tanzanian government has managed a passionately contested election with professionalism and wisdom. That is not to say it was a smooth process, nor an altogether transparent one. In addition to low-level disturbances across the country, the Zanzibari election was completely annulled and will have to be re-run within the next three months. Most suspect mere ruling party machinations for continued control here, but I’m not sure it is as simple as that. The annulment of the Zanzibari election may have been a favor to the opposition candidate, but it may not be seen that way by the Tanzanian people.

As a general rule, people believe that any delay in announcing final results is a sign of ruling party efforts to steal the election. The process in this election has actually been very hard to undermine. Polling totals are posted at polling stations as soon as the counters and the representatives of the different parties at each station approve the results. So various outlets have been posting polling station counts continuously since the night of the election. There are over 65,000 polling stations, and it would be difficult for any party to manipulate the vote at all of these stations, and a lot the counters and the party representatives are basically honest people. To have placed loyal party hack to steal the election at all these stations seems almost impossible to me.

But, police did arrest several hundred opposition party youth who were collecting and compiling polling station results; and there were various incidents of missing ballot boxes; suspect ballot boxes that were burned by opposition party members; dubious results announced at some voting stations; contested results elsewhere that may end up in the courts. With so much suspicion, and so much precedent for vote rigging, these sorts of incidents are inevitable, and it is likely that there was some vote rigging on behalf of both of the major parties. But, as I said before, I think the process was transparent enough, that I doubt that vote rigging was on such a scale as to swing the election to either candidate.

Here in Iringa for example, the polling station results were posted, and it quickly became evident that the opposition party candidate, who was the popular incumbent, was the winner. He was an opposition candidate in 2005 and lost, and promptly congratulated the ruling party candidate for her victory. He won in 2010 and many around town credit him and an opposition-dominated city council with overseeing continued improvement of infrastructure around town, a low crime rate, and a growing local economy. An active middle class of educated people and small businesspeople have been the electoral pressure behind this seemingly competent governance.

However, the final results for Iringa took a couple days until they were announced. On Monday, crowds gathered around the market place and post office near the district offices and city council to celebrate the initial results, and eventually military police dispersed the crowd with a loud concussion grenade fired over the crowd around midnight. Concussion grenades make a loud boom, and startle people, but do no other damage. They are mostly intended to give warning that greater force can be used if necessary. On Tuesday afternoon opposition party loyalists filled the streets again to await the announcement of official results, and were anxious that the delay was because of attempts by the ruling party candidate to manipulate the final results in his favor. Rumors were that he had spent a lot of his own money on the election, and had put his house in hock, and that there were big businessmen who had funded him encouraging him to fight for a victory even at the last minute. But the police did not disperse those crowds until ruling party loyalists showed up in a combative mood. At that point, seeking to avoid a confrontation, the police began dispersing the crowd. They closed off several streets, they may have fired off a couple tear gas canisters, and they began firing concussion grenades into the air. The crowd dispersed and the police calmly walked the crowds down the main street and got them to disperse. They made a few arrests but no injuries or deaths that I heard of. It seems that the military police, who are under national command, acted to maintain the peace. They did not attack either party, but arrested members of both parties as well as non-party observers who happened to be in the crowd. Within an hour of dispersing the crowds, the official results were announced and the opposition party incumbent was the winner, and his loyalists then paraded from the downtown area back to party headquarters cheering and singing.

It seems that the military police have been out in force across the country and have basically acted the same way in all the major cities. Most people are thankful that the election has been managed without violent street demonstrations. Opposition candidates seem to have increased their seats in the parliament, and consolidated control in several major cities. But the ruling party still won the majority of the seats and dominated the rural areas. So far the ruling party candidate is leading in polling station totals by 54% to 41%. So the main election seems to have gone smoothly and the result will mostly likely be accepted by most people. Some losing candidates (including some ruling party candidates, and probably the opposition presidential candidate) will probably contest the results in courts, but it is unlikely that courts will change results without clear evidence of wrongdoing.

The real wrench in the whole works is in Zanzibar, as to be expected. As one radio commentator noted, "in Zanzibar there are still people who revolted, and those who were overthrown." This remains a very divided population. The Zanzibari opposition is not the same opposition as the mainland opposition, even though they are both under the same umbrella party this year. Zanzibar was an independent sultanate in the 19th century, and then became a British colony in the 20th. In December of 1963 it became independent under a parliamentary system dominated by a party allied with the interests of the former sultanate and the Arab elite. In January 1964 that government was overthrown in a populist revolution that resulted in the killings of hundreds, if not thousands, of the former ruling class. A nationalist government soon took over and within a few months they signed a treaty to join Zanzibar to mainland Tanganyika in an awkward union that has lasted until today. Under the union there is a president of the United Republic of Tanzania, which is dominated by the much larger mainland; and then there is a separate president of Zanzibar who serves as one of two vice presidents to the union president. Zanzibar was ruled as a police state until the 1980s, and continues to be dominated by the ruling party despite a number of elections that were highly questionable. The main opposition in Zanzibar has been built on a call for human rights and more autonomy for the Zanzibar. So this year there was great expectation that the opposition candidate, who had run in all the recent elections in Zanzibar since 2000, would finally win.

On Monday, the opposition candidate for the Zanzibari presidency announced that based on polling station results, he seemed ready to win the election. The announcement didn’t technically break the law, since he was not announcing final results (which is illegal for private citizens), but only his sense of the polling results. But he did break the spirit of the law, which seeks to control the announcement of final results by reserving that right to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on the mainland, and the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) on the islands. However, as more polling results rolled in, it looked as if the ruling party was winning the majority of the constituencies, and took a 57% to 41% lead. This led to ongoing demonstrations, businesses on the islands remained closed, and a couple people were shot by police. Polling results were dubious, as in a small place like Zanzibar it may have been possible for the dominant ruling party to arrange to stuff the ballot boxes in enough constituencies to swing the election. An announcement of a ruling party victory after the opposition announcement the day before would have brought demonstrations in the streets, and probably violence. Caught in this difficult position, the ZEC delayed the announcement for several hours and then finally announced that the Zanzibar election was being entirely annulled because of irregularities.

By law, the electoral commission can annul an election for irregularities and schedule a new election within 90 days. So that seems to be the situation now. Some have raised the possibility that the annulment of the Zanzibar results should lead to the annulment of mainland results. But the mainland electoral commission has assured that this is not the case, and the reality is that there are unlikely to be enough votes in Zanzibar to swing the national presidential election. So, most likely the national union president, who will probably be the ruling party candidate, will be installed as national president, even as the Zanzibari election awaits its re-run.

Most people assume that the reason for the annulment of the Zanzibar election was to ensure a ruling party victory, despite the announcement by the opposition party candidate on Monday. This is a reasonable assumption given the recent history of election irregularities and ruling party dominance in recent years. But, given the strength of polling results on behalf of the ruling party over the last few days, whether they were legitimate results or not, it seemed that the ruling party was waltzing in for another win in Zanzibar. Such a result would certainly have brought on demonstrations that would likely have led to violent clashes with police and party loyalists. So, if the ZEC has annulled the election, they have not necessarily done the ruling party a favor, at least in the immediate term. The ruling party will now have to steal another entire election, and to the extent that there are institutions ready to observe and ensure a fair election, they will no longer be distracted by the 65,000 mainland voting stations but only the stations in Zanzibar, which number less than 1,000. So a re-run of the election is just as likely to be even more transparent as it is to be an opportunity for a ruling party walk-over. The annulment does not mean an assured ruling party victory at all.

So did the ZEC just do the opposition candidate a favor? It seems to me that it has. And, given the circumstances, I have to admit it was a wise decision. Riots in the streets of Zanzibar would have done nobody any good. A well-administered re-run of the election actually gives the opposition candidate a better chance to win. In and of itself, annulling an election because you don’t like the results, even if the goal is to undermine the corrupt dominance of one party, still undermines expectations of legitimate process. But in this case, the state interest in seeing this erstwhile opposition candidate win, may outweigh their interest in stealing (perhaps even legitimately winning) the election. The opposition candidate is a decent, reasonable man, who has suffered the indignity of repeated losses to the ruling party, who has been willing to negotiate with the ruling party for a power-sharing government in order to reduce tensions and lead to slow reform. He is 71 years old, and it is unlikely that he’ll be able to run again in 2020 if he loses this year. There are many sensitive issues with Zanzibar, and this candidate has the strong backing of many in Zanzibar. The ruling party will not find a better negotiating partner, and whoever follows him will not have his sense of history, and is unlikely to be so reasonable. The ruling part would be wise to let him win. And, with their candidate assured a victory on the mainland, it is possible that they arranged the annulment the Zanzibar elections in order to stuff ballot boxes on behalf of the opposition candidate in the re-run…or at least allow him a reasonable chance at a clean victory.

If that is indeed the plan, then I have to admit that I’m impressed. This is a milestone election and a delicate situation. They would not want to upset it by proclaiming victory in Zanzibar at the cost of the total disillusion of the Zanzibari people. A complicated election this time around is preferable to riots in the streets that would only cause the ruling party to hunker down next time around, rather than allowing for a fairly competitive election as they did this time. If this election goes smoothly, even if not perfectly, it will assure that the next election is even more competitive and transparent. And the Zanzibari opposition candidate, Seif Sharif Hamad, is likely to do more good than harm if he finally gets into power.

But, there is very little news coming out of Zanzibar tonight. One can only presume it is under lock-down, and hope that it has not turned into street fights.

(Photo taken from

The Quietest Day

With few exceptions, it was the quietest day on record in Tanzania. Dar es Salaam’s normally jam-packed downtown was nearly deserted, the major highways normally visited by careening passenger buses and overloaded lorries saw only a scattering of fuel trucks and other needed goods. People went to vote and then stayed home…just as the government asked them to do. Were people merely afraid of police or possible clashes between party youth wings? I don’t think such proximate fears explains it. People chose to follow the the government’s well-communicated plan because they fundamentally wanted the entire election exercise to be peaceful, as befitting their tightly held image of Tanzania as a peaceful country. Crowds and protests and celebrations may follow the publication results, but the actual voting process on October 25 could not have been more orderly.

People lined up at voting stations where they were registered, the stations had posted the entire list of voters registered at that station. 23,782,558 was the official total of registered voters. Voters presented an ID card which was matched to a computer printout of a registration application with a photo, voters then confirmed their presence at another table, and received their ballot at yet another. After filling out and depositing the ballot they dipped their finger into indelible ink to show that they had voted and could not vote elsewhere. Young people posted photos of their "inky pinky" on social media. The elderly, the handicapped, and pregnant women were given special access and did not have to wait in lines. At some stations you could vote in 20 minutes, at others people had to wait for hours. Some stations opened late, or didn’t have all the right materials, and some did not finish by nightfall and were open this morning with voters reporting the same straight-forward process. When a voting station closed, it began to count votes, with representatives of all major parties in attendance. Preliminary vote totals were then posted immediately at the voting stations. The results will trickle out over the next few days. A Twitter account @uchaguzimkuu is already publishing presidential vote totals from reporting stations, and even photos of the posted tally sheets. Others are publishing local totals. Station officials are allowed only to post results but not "announce" them as this was seen to be potentially provocative if passionate crowds were in attendance. Official results will be announced by the National Electoral Commission in a few days.

It is a good system. It will be hard to change vote totals that have already been published at 65,105 voting stations. One could doubt the posted totals, however, as people have in several constituencies. Police assaulted and arrested a gathering of 800 opposition party youth who were trying to collect and total election results as they were posted. Citizens in Bukoba have arrested people with allegedly fake ballots, citizens in Sumbawanga attacked a vehicle carrying ballot boxes, and burned them, claiming they were stuffed. Officials said they would rearrange to make sure that constituency voted today. A ruling party MP in Moshi was attacked in his vehicle because people believed it was carrying stuffed ballot boxes. At numerous stations crowds prevented cars from entering the voting station while ballots were being counted. Meanwhile, people trying to vote at some stations reported feeling intimidated by crowds of partisan youth hanging around the station against government orders. In a number of cities, police dispersed crowds with tear gas, concussion grenades, and nonlethal gunfire. In such a passionate situation — Tanzania’s most competitive and controversial election yet, with millions of young people who came of age in a disorderly era of neo-liberal laissez faire, now voting for the first time — it was in many ways a model of how to manage such a volatile election.

The protesting and celebrating crowds made their presence felt, and the police sought to keep order and tranquility. I would not dismiss the integrity of either side in these clashes. To the extent that crowds intervened when they suspected malfeasance, they acted as patriots seeking a clean election, and their acts took courage in the face of state power. To the extent that security forces acted to maintain the tranquil order necessary to conduct the election and prevent partisans from turning their passion into street fights, the police were likewise patriots. A free election is not possible without a neutral administering authority, that can enforce the agreed-upon procedure. Prior to the election, the election commission had been continually updating the public about election day procedures; controversial issues were adjudicated in the courts; and the government’s careful messaging prepared people to follow election day procedures. All of this acted to minimize disruption and disorder on voting day. Most people were very happy with their experience of the big day, and Tanzania’s voting day administration, together with its responsible but active (even interventionist) civil society, is to be admired and emulated.

But this success on voting day does not quite address the difficulty of establishing the legitimacy of the vote counts, nor the deep suspicion that both parties are seeking to manipulate counting procedures to their benefit — a game that the ruling party will most likely win — thus casting their joy at this competitive election into doubt and cynicism. If the ruling party is in fact trying to manipulate this election, and if they prepared with the same forethought that the government (that they control) has shown, then they could, in theory, pull off a very impressive fraud. The real problem is that regardless of whether or not they attempted to manipulate the vote, a large portion of the country already believes that they intended to do so, and it will be hard to convince these skeptical citizens that they did not. So the real concern about potential disorder was not for election day, but for the day when official results will be released.

@uchaguzimkuu has been posting not only presidential voting totals sent in by volunteers checking various stations, but also some images of those tally sheets. Most of them so far are from small rural voting stations, where the ruling party is expected to perform well, and indeed most of them show a ruling party victory. But people will certainly be suspicious. One photo of a tally sheet from an urban district in Arusha, where the opposition candidate would be expected to perform well, shows a dubious victory for the ruling party candidate by a vote of 200 to 90. Other sheets show more credible numbers. A tally sheet for a station in Kihesa, a neighborhood in Iringa that has been an opposition party stronghold, shows the ruling party losing by a vote of 55 to 84.

Estimating the total vote will be impossible until more of the urban constituencies report. And when they do, we may see some noisier days this week. While Tanzanians themselves fear street fights, and do not consider themselves totally immune from the sort of communal clashes seen in neighboring countries, it is a bit vacuous of foreign correspondents to use inflammatory headlines about possible violence in their analysis of the Tanzanian election. There is little doubt that the Tanzanian security forces can and will maintain order, but there is also little doubt that such an intervention of state force would undermine the hopeful precedent that this hard-fought election represents for the country. All the major parties have sought to avoid mere disorder, even as they continue to intervene in an effort to assure a clean ballot-counting procedure. Regardless of all efforts at transparency, it will be impossible to absolutely assure 23 million voters, and another 20 million youngsters too young vote, that the count is clean. For those dissatisfied with the result, hopefully the prospect of another election in five years will become the focus of their activism rather than disputing this one. We can only hope that somehow the ballot counts can be affirmed by both parties to the satisfaction of their constituencies, and that the current government will recognize the results and seek to assure a smooth transition, even if it means the current ruling party moves into the position of being Africa’s most formidable opposition party.

A Historical Election?

Tomorrow Tanzanians will vote in probably the most consequential election since the elections leading up to independence in the late 1950s. It is consequential because it is competitive, and because it is so unclear what a victory for either side will mean for the country. There are generalized worries about potential violence between gangs of youths supporting the two main candidates, and many calls to ensure the peace and stability that is a hallmark of Tanzania’s national identity. There are bound to be scuffles and scandals, but I doubt there will be any major violence. Neither party has an interest in seeing a major disruption, because it would be just plain bad for business. The Tanzanian government is ineffective in many ways, but its security forces at their best can be quite professional, and they will be out in force tomorrow. Courts yesterday confirmed the validity of an election-related law that bans people from congregating within 200 meters of a polling station. For the time being the atmosphere is veritably festive. Colorful flags of both parties are absolutely ubiquitous, on trees, strung across roads, flying on poles waving from the back of a motorcycle. Cars with giant Blues Brothers style speakers tied on top crawl through the streets blasting cheerful ditties singing the praises of their candidates. Men dress in green or red-white-and-sky-blue shirts, depending on their affiliation. Women wear their colors from head to toe. On the surface at least, this is what a big presidential campaign should be all about…a lot of fun, some good speeches full of politicians’ promises to improve lives, and lots of debate in tea shops and beer halls and everywhere in between.

To review, the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) was built out of a mainland party (the Tanganyikan African Union or TANU) and a Zanzibari party (the Afro-Shirazi Party or ASP), each of which ruled their domains as single party states. CCM was created in 1977 and governed as a single party state until 1992, when the laws were changed to permit opposition parties. 1995 brought the first national elections with opposition parties, and a popular former minister of the interior gave the bland CCM candidate a run for his money. In a series of elections since, CCM has repeatedly won the popular vote for president and dominated the parliament, even as some of the main opposition parties grew stronger, mainly the CHADEMA party (Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo, originally a free market alternative to the ostensibly socialist CCM) and CUF (the Civic United Front, a party mainly based in Zanzibar and the coast with a strong Muslim contingent that has consistently demanded more respect for human rights, as well as increased Zanzibari autonomy). With its deep presence in even the smallest rural hamlet, CCM has easily dominated recent elections on the mainland, but many think that it lost the popular vote in Zanzibar, and that a CUF candidate should rightly have been the Zanzibari president, and thereby the vice presidency (Zanzibar has a semi-autonomous relationship to the mainland). This year, CCM faces a strong challenge from a union of opposition parties called UKAWA, including CUF and CHADEMA, and it will probably be impossible to assess the real winner of the election through all the layers of cynicism and distrust. Unless there is some very good election monitoring, it is hard to imagine that any party will be able to claim a conclusive victory in the eyes of more than half the people.

With all the distrust, the campaign is a swirl of rumors about both parties, and people circulate rumors that tend to confirm their perceived reality. Sometimes the rumor may prove true, sometimes false, usually impossible to say. But whatever the facts of the rumor, it points to a context that is really the power behind the rumor. One candidate is rumored to be ill, thus explaining his pathetic inability to deliver a speech of more than five minutes. The other candidate is rumored to have used his position to sell off thousands of government-owned houses for the benefit of a small circle of corrupt colleagues. One candidate is rumored to have been the scapegoat for a corruption scandal that left him powerless within his party, another candidate is rumored to be a honest-looking horse for a corrupt party leadership to ride to victory after which their horse will be promptly stabled. Rumors about the nefarious machinations behind the disappearance, accidental death, or mysterious illness of an influential observer, civil servant, or party member may emerge to be true or not as people debate the facts of each case. But in debating the facts, the context of the rumor seeps in: that such sinister tactics are possible within Tanzania’s political reality. And that possibility itself becomes a rumor, whose context is the politics of police states, where these things do happen.

The campaign is really a referendum on the depth of people’s distrust of CCM and their desperation to push the hidebound party out of power, in the hope that such a change will lead to palpable improvements in the everyday life of the average citizen. The widely circulated saying “I’m ready to vote for a rock just to see CCM defeated,” pretty much sums up the fundamental nature of this election. Will the “rock” votes defeat those who still retain hope that somehow an honest candidate will be able to cleanse CCM of its sins? The question itself may betray an impossible context: can any candidate or any party or any strategy of governance really address the huge structural issues that would lead to the kind of economic growth and social peace that would satisfy the expectations of a highly charged electorate? (for that context, see previous posts)

Perhaps the most obvious symbol of CCM’s tone-deaf, the party’s-way-or-the-highway, mode of governance is the outcome of the constitutional assembly that fell apart earlier this year. In 2012 the government initiated a process to collect the views of the citizenry and then assign an experienced and high-profile team to draft a new constitution. This team toured the country and met with thousands of citizens and then wrote up a draft of a new constitution that contained a variety of clauses to improve accountability and inclusiveness in government, enhance local control of local issues, and most prominently re-establish the union between the mainland and the Zanzibari islands under a “three-government” system. The constitutional team heard this demand from people loud-and-clear, and saw little choice but to incorporate this demand into the new constitution. More on the “three-government” question in a minute, but to conclude here: the constitutional draft was presented in June 2013 and then entered another period of circulation and comment while a constitutional assembly was convened made up mainly of parliamentarians, and of those a majority from CCM. The accountability and local control clauses were weakened, and the “three government” clause was stricken and re-written to maintain the current “two-government” system. Many prominent commentators, a council of bishops, and even CCM sympathizers rebelled against this and called for people to vote down the revised draft in a referendum scheduled for April 2015. The timing of the referendum was meant to allow for the new constitution to go into effect before the presidential elections in October. Realizing that the referendum could well reject the revised constitution, the government indefinitely postponed it on the excuse that the new biometric voter registration system it intended to use was not ready. The “three-government” system may or may not be a wise idea, but CCM’s steamroller attitude towards the whole constitutional process, which had started out so hopefully, made plain that the party did not seek to represent the desires of its people, but rather to impose its will on them.

More broadly, it is evident to most people that the reason for Tanzania’s continuing struggle with poverty, failing infrastructure, and government dysfunction is CCM malfeasance. Small projects take years to complete, and may never get done if a local authority is insufficiently motivated through bribes or personal friendship. Big projects may or may not happen, and when they do it often seems that whatever was intended is not the result. To the extent that big projects do get done people tend to attribute their completion to the attentiveness of donors who funded and administered the project. Water and electric services are spotty in major cities, let alone in rural villages. Yet CCM can claim years of steady economic growth, a lot of new rural electrification, and thousands of miles of new paved roads, except perhaps in certain districts held by opposition party parliamentarians. And, as the CCM candidate makes clear, all this work was overseen by one John Pombe Magufuli, the candidate himself.

Magufuli is generally seen as the one honorable man among the CCM senior leadership, but few believe that he can singlehandedly clean up a party thoroughly riddled with corruption made possible by a half-century in power. His opponent is one Edward Ngoyai Lowassa, a lifetime member of CCM and until recently one of its senior members, a status marred only slightly by his removal from the prime ministership as a result of a financial scandal. As many, including Lowassa himself, have pointed out: a financial scandal for a CCM leader should hardly be a cause for exclusion from a top leadership position.

The rumor is that Lowassa, who was in the running for the presidency on the CCM ticket in 2005, stepped aside to allow the current president to become the candidate. In reality there were certainly many more reasons, not the least of which was that the current president is Muslim, the previous president was Christian, the one before him Muslim, and the first president Christian. So there has developed an unwritten rule that the presidency should alternate between candidates of the two major religions. Someday it will do the country some good to break from this pattern, but for the time being it is pretty well fixed. In any case, within a year of coming to power, the current president was faced with a major electricity shortage, and somehow Lowassa became a leading figure in negotiating a contract for the emergency provision of diesel generators for Dar es Salaam. He wound up contracting a “briefcase company” that failed to deliver and most presumed that Lowassa had accepted a large bribe from them and then arranged to grant them the contract. As with all such scandals, it is hard to find evidence for the truth of the matter. But, in an unusual show of accountability he was forced to resign from the prime ministership and spend the next six years the humiliating position of being nothing more than a nearly silent member of parliament, merely tolerated by the party for the sake of appearances. So another set of rumors claimed that in fact he was being “cleaned” and built back up for another swing at the presidency despite the scandal. But in the internal politics of the ruling party, it is hard to imagine anyone, except perhaps an overly hopeful Lowassa, could be so thoroughly humiliated and then be rehabilitated. The current president has thrown top party members to the wolves during various corruption scandals, but it never quite suffices to convince people that he is thereby clean. Indeed, as Lowassa and his supporters also point out, his removal from the prime minister’s office did little to prevent continued scandals in the electricity sector.

So, Lowassa needn’t have been so disappointed when his name was not included among the top five CCM candidates for the presidential nomination. HIs exclusion and the unexpected nomination of Magufuli as the final candidate were the result of a complicated three-way tug-of-war for influence within the party among several different factions, some more corrupt than others. Magufuli emerged as a compromise candidate, and not coincidentally the one who could put the best face forward for CCM as it confronted an opposition ready with lots of scandal for ammunition. For his part Lowassa was profoundly disappointed, and soon found his way over to the front door of the biggest party in the UKAWA coalition, CHADEMA.

CHADEMA had been calling Lowassa the biggest thief in CCM for years, and yet when opportunity came knocking they let the rich, well-connected man right in the front door and handed him their nomination as their new presidential candidate. A few days later CHADEMA’s long-time leading voice of principle resigned in disgust. I happened to be on a crowded daladala, or public bus, in Dar es Salaam that day. Instead of the normal buzz of chatty passengers and loud music, everyone was silent as the retired theologian, who had put life-and-limb on the line for years in building up the party, patiently explained that he could not abide with the party’s decision to not only accept Lowassa, but to give him the nomination without a thorough and convincing investigation into his well-publicized history of scandal. The perennial candidate for the other major UKAWA partner, CUF, a retired economist likewise withdrew his support and took a long vacation abroad. In many ways, Lowassa’s defection seemed like a coup for CCM, they had just dumped the major symbol of their corruption on the opposition, causing the opposition to lose its most respected leaders. But as often happens in politics, the obvious is not always the reality.

Instead of collapsing under the weight of Lowassa’s bad reputation and poor speech-making, the opposition thrived. It thrived with far more authenticity than anyone could have expected. It was not just because Lowassa brought an establishment politician’s money, political network, and knowledge, although these all were crucial. It thrived among all the people who saw what the more cynical members of the opposition leadership saw, here was a guy who had all the tools to beat CCM, and there is no way they could ever do it without him, but with him, they stood a chance. Part of his appeal may have been his unceremonious rejection from CCM and his palpable sense of dejection. This appealed to so many disenfranchised young people who sympathized with his rejection. Despite his robotic speeches, his spookily affect-less persona, and the sense that his speeches are short because he can’t stand in front of a crowd for more than five minutes, Lowassa’s candidacy generated great excitement for a party that had been fighting a long slow slog of a battle against CCM, picking up a few more parliamentary seats every year. No more the young David taking potshots at CCM giants with slings, now they had their own Goliath.

Magufuli continued to scramble through the country in Lowassa’s wake, delivering energetic speeches, but bearing the burden of a party that for a half century had repeatedly failed to build a durable industrial sector that would provide employment for the ever-growing masses. No one, certainly among Lowassa’s supporters, took much notice of the irony that the opposition party calling for a major change held up as its candidate the arch-typical representative of the ruling party’s failure.

As a part of his negotiation to join UKAWA and be its candidate, Lowassa also promised to revisit the constitutional revision process, and the two-government-three-government question. Currently Tanzania has a “two-government” system whereby there is a government for the entire republic of Tanzania, including Zanzibar and the mainland, then there is a separate semi-autonomous government for Zanzibar. This awkward compromise was created at the hight of the Cold War when the mainland, then called Tanganyika absorbed Zanzibar as a means of warding off superpower wrangling for influence on the islands. But the “union” always seemed to many Zanzibaris as a sort of colonization, and many still longed for independence for the islands, which are 99% Muslim as compared to the more religiously mixed mainland. At the same time, many mainlanders likewise thought the asymmetric relationship to be nonsensical. Thus the periodic effort to create a mainland government to match the Zanzibari government under an umbrella government representing the union between them. The reason this seemingly balanced plan has been resisted by CCM leadership is that the mainland represents over 45 million people, while Zanzibar is barely a million. It can never be a balanced relationship. Despite the cost of another, potentially corrupt, layer of government, it seems that many if not a majority of Tanzanians want a three-government system.

But something more depressingly venal may be behind the mobilization of the three-government idea. Trillions of cubic feet of natural gas have been discovered off the southern coast of Tanzania, and those deposits now fall under the union government. Under a three-government system the rights to this wealth will be up for grabs, and a government shake up will make the grabbing all the easier. And that may be what victory means in this election, and the problematic question is which candidate and which party can be trusted to manage Tanzania’s entry into the global economy of hydrocarbons.

Demography and Danger in Dar es Salaam #2

This is the scene minutes before two teenagers with machetes assaulted me and stole a bag. As a Malaysian medical aide in the US noted as well, machetes in agricultural countries are ubiquitous farm implements, useful for a million little tasks. But they also make good weapons. That last long post was to say that there are many dangers for many reasons in a burgeoning city like Dar es Salaam, and my little mugging was the least of them, but not uncommon for foreigners or local residents.

I was walking down this hill and sensed two people a little too close for comfort, I turned around and two young men, inexperienced robbers it seems, pulled out machetes and started chasing me. I threw my bag at them, and one of them struck my arm with a blunt machete. I sustained a small wound that two cut tendons in my forearm. The bag had nothing value except a passport and some other paperwork. But even if my computer had been in there, I would have thrown it at them. Computers are easy to replace, body parts not so much. I had surgery to repair the tendons at the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam that same night, and got my paperwork back in order over the next week, and then returned to the US for a month to rest and recover a little bit. Getting around Dar with a gimpy arm, I hope you can understand, is not easy.

I’ve informed friends and colleagues, mostly as a means of encouraging them to think about ways to reduce the risk of being the target of street crime. But reducing the risk of stepping in a hole in the sidewalk is just as important. That last post was to contextualize the danger of crime within a bigger historical and quasi-sociological picture. The theme was demography and the question of how a society finds a way to incorporate, educate, socialize, incentivize, manage and govern a rapidly growing population, and it ain’t easy. Even though people aren’t starving in large numbers in Tanzania, many poor people live on one starchy meal of maize porridge a day. Income inequality has become more prominent as a growing middle class stands out amidst a large impoverished majority. Most people find philosophical and religious ways of dealing with the psychological impact of this disparity, and as a general rule Tanzania is a remarkably peaceful and safe place. But there is plenty of criminal activity. Some of it is petty crime of pickpocketing and robbing, some of it is large-scale stealing and embezzlement at the governmental level, some of it is a broader effect of a global economy that has tended to exploit the economies of small countries for cheap labor and natural resources. But, statistically at least, globalization and free-market reform have been good for Tanzania, its economy has been growing at 7% per year for a couple decades, and is clearly far more prosperous than it was when economic policy reform began in the 1980s. But that growth has been uneven, and has been outstripped by population growth that has left many young people without education or jobs or farmland. They are the lost generations, and with cynicism about the government and the global economy, it is easy to turn a few to crime.

Paul Ehrlich wrote a book nearly 50 years ago called the population bomb warning that unchecked population growth would be catastrophic for the world. Although he got a good bit of attention in the 1970s, appearing on the Tonight Show and lecture circuit, he has largely been dismissed as an end-of-days crank. The "green revolution" of the 1970s that brought fertilizer, new hybrid crops, and new farming techniques to poor countries was enough to feed the growing millions. Since then globalization and more liberal markets have eased the movement of food and goods around the world. Poor people are often undernourished, but we see less of the mass famines of earlier decades, and we’ve added billions of people to the planet in the last half century.

Ehrlich’s warning reflected a "Malthusian" view of population, which is to say he reflects the pessimism of the 18th century British demographer Thomas Malthus who theorized that populations are self-regulating in that when a population exceeds its capacity to produce food it will shrink as larger numbers of (mainly disempowered poor) people die of famine, disease, and war. This pessimistic view has been criticized for its heartless attitude and lack of faith in human ingenuity. Ehrlich represents a far more sophisticated version of this view, and his prescription was massive public birth control programs of the type that China and India embarked on during the 1970s, which entailed enforced limits on family size (in China) and at least some degree of forced sterilization (in India).

The reality has been somewhat different. The green revolution and associated reforms proved far more effective than expected in providing for the new billions. Perhaps even more unexpected was the hopeful result that as populations become wealthier and better educated, population growth declines significantly, to the point that the US population has remained largely stable, and European populations have actually been in decline in many countries. This suggests that coercive birth control measures like those envisioned in the 1970s will not be necessary if we can turn the entire world’s population into upwardly-mobile middle-class folks. In other words, if we could apply generous Scandinavian social policies across the whole world, and maintain the economic production necessary to employ, educate, and care for these billions. Easier said than done. The world is currently adding a billion people every 7 years.

Tanzania’s population of 50 million people is ready to double by 2040, with estimates reaching 250 million by 2100. This would put nearly the entire population of the United States into a country about the size of Texas and Minnesota combined, and nowhere near the physical and institutional infrastructure available for managing and providing for that population. Physical infrastructure means roads and bridges, railroad and airports, water mains and sewers, electricity grids and oil refineries, gas and oil pipelines, and public facilities of all kinds, including public transport, bus stations, bathrooms, and parks. These are mundane, and perhaps avoidable for small rural populations. But for millions of people you need infrastructure. Institutional infrastructure is really the more difficult problem. This refers to the entire bureaucracy of government that helps manage the competing rights and desires of these millions. Government regulates all manner of human interaction from business to education to crime. Government provides for the education that not only provides job skills, but more fundamentally provides a sense of citizenship to every child, and the literacy skills that make it possible for people to participate in a modern large–scale society.

Once upon a time the minimal infrastructure of the African village or even kingdom was sufficient to manage small populations of people with very basic expectations of life. This lifestyle is still more or less possible in rural areas of Tanzania, but we need to keep in mind that even there the presence of state regulation, education, protection (and exploitation) is a ubiquitous part of life. Now we need armies of educated people to manage the government and all its functions, educational and health systems, all the physical infrastructure, and then the businesses and economic concerns that make it possible to produce all the food and other stuff needed and desired by a large, 21st century population. And these armies of bureaucrats and business people somehow need to keep out ahead of the armies of unemployed and uneducated who are going to try to survive by hook or by crook. They have every right to survive, but as with any other human activity, a disorderly rush for resources (like American shoppers on "black" Friday sales) is usually bad for everyone, and often dangerous. Like it or not, human societies need governmental order.

Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, theorized that people entered into cooperative agreements between themselves in order to combine their efforts to improve their situations. But that they could easily turn to conflict if one among the people felt that the cooperation wasn’t meeting their needs, or that they were contributing more than others, or that some were gaining more than others from the agreement. Here’s how Nyerere understood the bigger challenge in 1964, just as he was facing the challenges of establishing a workable government for Tanzania, in the face of internal and external attempts to undermine his multi-racial, multi-religious government dedicated to peace and the improvement of the lives of people in a diverse society:

"It is law and authority which transform this situation — of co-operation constantly endangered by conflict — into a situation of expanding human development. Only a system of rules governing inter-personal behavior, and the enforcement of these rules makes co-operation between men possible and fruitful. . . . But the peace resulting from imposed law is short-lived. . . . The only system of law which brings stable peace is a system which is based on the fundamental human equality of all the people under its suzerainty, and which aims at reconciling to the greatest possible degree man’s conflicting desire for individual freedom and the benefits of communal life. . . . Thus there is, and must always be, in every society a balance between that voluntary agreement which is necessary to give stability, and that element of force which ensures that people abide by their own decision to pay the price of social living" (Nyerere, Freedom and Unity, 267-269)

This was a realist assessment of the challenge of life in a large modern society. The challenge is all the greater today as the sparsely populated landscape of 10 million people has become a strained nation of 50 million. The population bomb is still a thesis to be reckoned with. It is an issue, like the environment (of which it is part-and-parcel), that acts slowly in an unnoticed fashion, and thereby escapes day-to-day politics. It does not look like a disaster to our everyday eyes, it looks like the joy of childbirth and the reassurance of old age for more and more people around the world. What it looks like on an everyday level is a series of particular crises that demand an institutional response: a famine here, a refugee flow there, a land conflict, an insufficient urban water system, an overcrowded bus, a power outage.

In all of these cases the institutions have failed to keep up with the demands upon them. The Rwanda genocide has been described as a Malthusian conflict. This is an oversimplification certainly, but there is no doubt that tiny Rwanda was one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, and that observers on the ground in the years before the genocide were seeing the powder keg growing as a result of land shortages in a country highly dependent on small farms. The refugee flows from the middle east today are the direct result of the conflicts there, sparked in part by the disastrous Iraq War of the 2000s. But their context, the context of ISIS seeking to carve out a piece of land for those who feel disenfranchised, those huddled into overcrowded cities with constant power rationing and water shortages, those who feel the need to establish a territory for themselves — the context of all of this is a soaring population growth in Syria, which has been growing at a similar rate to Tanzania for years. The population bomb does not act suddenly like a bomb, but in creating ever higher demands on the infrastructures of production and governance, it creates ongoing intensification of conflict. In part these conflicts can be traced to ecological issues, but the human side of ecological crisis are the demands created by an exploding global population.