30 Nov 2010

Reflections on the elections through a Daraja window

A few weeks have passed, (most of) the dust has settled and life is beginning to get back to normal. So it seems an opportune time to look back and reflect on what was a very interesting election period.

If you find yourself thinking, "oh no, not another election reflection," rest assured we won't be going over the same ground that has been very ably covered elsewhere (Pambazuka; Vijana FM; The Mikocheni Report - all of which are highly recommended.) Instead we will be looking at the election through a "Daraja window", thinking about how the election affected core Daraja themes of water supply, local government, the media and civil society.

Let's start with water supply. As this blog has previously highlighted, this was a non-issue in the campaigns, particularly at national level and despite consistently ranking very high in citizens' priorities. Nothing in the final days of the campaign changed that.

But we can pose a related question that was raised recently on the role of civil society in the sector: has the dominance of Tanzanian water sector civil society by the relatively risk-averse international NGO WaterAid, with an entrenched work-from-the-inside approach, had the unintended result of squeezing out more challenging (and more local) voices? And if so, has this contributed to water supply being never registering as an election issue? My instinct says no, that NGOs don't have so much influence on election campaigns. But CCM's response to various civil society activities in this campaign - Uwezo (see right, from a facebook discussion), TAMWA, Policy Forum as three examples - suggests we may have more influence than it sometimes feels to be the case.

Our second theme, local governance, hardly registered as an election issue either, despite elections taking place for 130+ councils taking place at the same time as the more high profile presidential and parliamentary elections. This is perhaps less surprising than water supply being overlooked - decentralisation has never been a sexy election issue.

But we shouldn't let that distract us from perhaps the most intriguing (and largely overlooked) development in local governance that came out of the election: the growth in Chadema's popularity has delivered, for the first time, a significant number of local councils to the control of a party other than CCM. Before the election, 130 out of 133 councils had CCM majorities, with just 3 in other parties' hands. After this election, it appears that 13 councils have Chadema majorities.

(Other sources put the figure at 8, 9, or 12. It is amazingly hard to get confirmed information on this, the best online source is the highly partisan Jamii Forums, which contradicts itself - its a discussion forum not a news site - and various blogs that don't appear to be very reliable. The site that should have it all - the NEC site - has nothing on this.)

It is clearly positive for Tanzania's democratic development that other parties, civil servants, and of course citizens will now be getting Tanzania's first real taste of anyone other than CCM being in charge. A healthy democracy depends on having realistic alternatives, as no lesser figures than both Justice Warioba and Salim Ahmed Salim commented on TBC as the results were coming in, and these opposition-led councils present Chadema with a chance to show whether they can be a responsible and effective alternative.

For observers of local governance this is also an opportunity to see how local-centre relations will change when more councils are opposition-led. Will opposition-led councils assert themselves more in budget negotiations, for example, or will they find their hands tied?

from wavuti.com

Finally, media and civil society has attracted much more commentary than other issues already, which we will try not to repeat.

Social media got a lot of attention in, surprise surprise, the online world, but I have hardly seen anything at all on this in the traditional media. It's a long way yet from being a game changer. Having said that, the youth vote is growing rapidly in importance and the growth of Facebook in Tanzania is exponential at the moment. Young people in urban areas are both the online demographic and the core Chadema vote. Perhaps that's why access to blogs on the blogspot platform was apparently blocked on some networks just after the election?

Traditional media was a mixed bag. The expected highly partisan campaigning on all sides by some was challenged by others, particularly TBC, bending over backwards to be impartial and to be seen as impartial - both CCM and Chadema supporters were complaining about TBC's coverage, which is probably a sign that they had the balance about right.

from Mjengwa blog
Media and civil society freedoms took a bit of a hit. Mwananchi, TAMWA and Policy Forum were threatened or undermined, along with the apparent internet blocking mentioned earlier. Credit is due twice over to Mwananchi for standing up for their independence with i) this cartoon (above right), and ii) being the only mainstream Swahili paper that didn't compromise on their editorial independence by taking full page, front and back page glossy adverts from CCM (below right).

I think that's enough from us. A final word though, from a highly unrepresentative sample of 6 people at Makambako bus stand this week on the very low turnout (48% nationwide). All six said they were registered but five said they had not voted. Why not? Registering was an easy way of getting an ID, which made registering a sim card or opening a bank account much easier. Perhaps the low turnout compared to previous elections is not a sign of increased voter apathy but simply that the voters' register has been swollen people who registered essentially for entirely different purposes. An unintended consequence of the new permanent register?