In the majority of presidential election across Africa, the major determinant has been tribal affiliation. Hardly do voters look at respective party manifestos. In short, the vote is won long before election depending on the tribal matrix of the competing factions.

Another interesting factor has been the temporary nature of political parties. Most so-called political parties across the continent are largely special purpose vehicles that are discarded once the election bridge is cross. In fact most do not even bother with elections or party conferences as parties in other democracies do. 

The modus operandi has been to fulfil the basic requirements set out in requisite law to allow their operations up to election time. And as soon as that is achieved everyone takes leave to pursue new alliances. Kenya’s political parties have perfected this special purpose system.

In Tanzania things have been different. For once, Tanzania enjoys relatively more stable political parties. The  ruling Revolutionary Party (Chama Cham Mapinduzi – CCM), is perhaps the longest continuing and successful political party in Africa. It deep ideological base rooted in African Socialism may partly be the reason why it has survived for so long. Its membership is relatively more stable, with wide representation right to the grassroots levels.

The opposition parties in Tanzania have also equally been more stable compared to their neighbours. We are yet to see them melt when they fail to push out the behemoth ruling CCM.

It logically follows that Tanzania’s political parties may be better placed in issuing manifestoes that are worth their name. In the current election this is extremely true. 

Whilst the ruling CCM under their bulldozer president, Mr Pombe Magufuli, has made unprecedented infrastructural developments and arrested the runaway corruption, its campaign seems to be faced by unexpected challenge from a smooth and combative lawyer who is currying the opposition presidential flag, Mr Tundu Lissu.

In order to challenge the widely acknowledge development track records of  President Magufuli, Tundu Lissu is succeeding in framing the election as a choice between freedom and development. The lawyer has been reframing every development project as either not worth the “loss” of freedom or smell of rat in its implementation. He has particularly been highlighting what he terms as a complete absence of legislative oversight on all major projects undertaken in the past five years. What we are yet to see is if the average Tanzanian will either understand or be interested with the finer details of legislative governance.

On the ruling party side, Tundu Lissu emergency has come as a shock. For the first time the CCM bigwigs who had been sored by Magufuli’s unguarded criticism, have given the campaign uncharacteristic cold shoulder. CCM’s campaign has thus invariably lost its traditional vigour. What it banks on is its massive unrivalled grassroots presence and the evident infrastructural developments that have been achieved at record speed and almost always under active government supervision.

The question in front of the Tanzanian voters is thus – freedom or development.  This by itself is a big win for Mr Tundu Lissu. For the rest of Africa is wait and see where the voters will put their choice.

Ahmed Aideed

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