I have avoided political discussions with Tanzanians until this trip. Superficial knowledge of the country’s political landscape made me cautious about encouraging any conversation that might return to haunt them—or myself. However, Joas’ open display of anger about his phony parking ticket had given me confidence, so I began to ask about the upcoming October 31 national elections.
Though I gathered an unscientifically tiny sample of opinions, each of the half a dozen people I spoke to insisted they would not, or in some cases never, vote for the incumbent President, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete. Yet all said they expected Kikwete to retain power, by stealing the election if necessary. They all associated Kikwete with other forms of theft, so they took for granted the ruling party’s theft of the upcoming election. This interests me because I know little more about Kikwete than that he had made tackling corruption the centerpiece of his 2005 election campaign and seems to have adopted the same strategy for the reelection he seeks. Two years ago Kikwete sacked the head of Tanzania’s central bank over evidence of fraud involving tens of millions of dollars and earlier this year his government approved the Elections Expenses Act, which targets vote buying and other shady election practices. Still, I suppose many Tanzanians see the Act as coming along too late since corruption seriously marred last October’s local elections.
It also interests me to have encountered this measure of opposition to Kikwete in a poor rural area. Historically, his ruling CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi or Party of the Revolution) has dominated the polling in such areas, partly by warning the relatively uninformed rural electorate of dire consequences—which to a modern African might reasonably include bloodshed—upon assumption of power by the “devil you don’t know.” Then again, I’ve talked about the election mainly to college-educated Tanzanians.
The exception is one of our safari drivers, not a college-educated man although he has big ambitions for the education of his two children. But these ambitions motivate him to send his children to school in Kenya, where he claims they will receive a much better education than Tanzania can give them. Why won’t he vote for Kikwete? He blames Tanzania’s inferior schools on the ruling party’s theft of education funds. The driver also tells me that many of his friends and neighbors in Arusha hold the same view and, like him, pay extra to get their children educated in Kenya.—Don Stoll