Systemic violence escalates in Tanzania elections

THE National Electoral Commission (NEC) of Tanzania and the police force have been colluding to threaten opposition candidates with systemic violence in a bid to rig the general election in favour of the ruling party, CCM.

Tanzania is holding the presidential, parliamentary and ward councillors election on 28th October 2020 in a tightly contested two-horse race involving the incumbent John Magufuli and the opposition flagbearer Tundu Lissu.

After five years of brutal politics that left many opposition leaders and supporters maimed, jailed, and tortured in so many ways, Magufuli and his party embraced a self-deception that made them believe the opposition had been completely obliterated.

As the electoral process began, the opposition turned out in great numbers to contest all seats – against Magufuli and NEC’s expectations. As a result, the incumbent resorted to employing NEC and police to orchestrate systemic and isolated incidents of violence that have been continually experienced from the early days of the process. Within a week into the election, the violence is being intensified against the opposition.

This week, the electoral commission is overtly and covertly orchestrating violence against the opposition by attempting to disqualify the parties’ polling agents – by making it difficult for them to take an oath in time and in places as stipulated by law. But the disqualification strategy previously targeted the candidates.

Evidence on record indicates that in the first two days of the election campaign, NEC disqualified 1,025 out of 3,955 councillorship aspirants appointed by the main opposition party, Chadema. During the same period, 63 out of 244 parliamentary candidates were unjustifiably disqualified.

The candidates appealed against the decisions. some of them were reinstated. As of now, 35 parliamentary candidates remain disqualified, and over 700 aspirants for ward councillors have not been reinstated – making the ruling party win free seats.

In Zanzibar, the Zanzibar opposition party, ACT-Wazalendo, suffered a similar blow, with 47 candidates (16 from Pemba alone) disqualified by the Zanzibar Electoral Commission.

Apart from the unfair elimination of candidates, physical violence against the candidates of their supporters have been rife in many parts of Tanzania. Many of these incidents have been committed by police officers with impunity.

In Hai Constituency, Kilimanjaro Region, the Police Officer Commanding District (OCD) was filmed in a face-to-face confrontation with the Hai parliamentary candidate, Freeman Mbowe. The officer was firmly telling the candidate: “You cannot, and will not, win.” The confrontation followed an order by police to restrict the opposition candidate from holding a public rally in the location that had been planned for it.

In another incident, thugs allegedly sponsored by the District Commissioner for Hai invaded Mbowe’s homestead, shot a young man who attempted to resist their action, broke into Mbowe’s car, briefly detained his nephew who was driving the car and forcefully took some documents – as Mbowe was attending a church service last Sunday.

Similar incidences have occurred in Tarime, Serengeti, Shinyanga, Geita, Bukoba Urban, Karagwe, and other constituencies, some of them involving police beating up the candidates and their supporters or using tear gas against them.

Recently, NEC suspended Lissu’s campaign was for seven days on allegations that he had used a “seditious language.”

Generally, all opposition candidates have fell victims of systemic violence, to the point of making it hard for them to print and disseminate campaign posters. The government recently enacted a new tax law on posting promotional materials, making it too expensive for the financially battered opposition to print and share posters, placards and fliers.

However, as a matter of common sense, it would appear that a political party should not be subjected to paying taxes on posters since election posters are a public service, where citizens get a chance to know the candidates.

Lissu and his running-mate Salum Mwalimu have, on separate occasions been teargassed by police while campaigning.

Police tear-gassed Lissu’s convoy as he stopped by to greet a huge crowd of supporters that had blocked his convoy driving to a public rally at Nyamongo in Mara region. Police fired some chemicals into the crowd for some 15 minutes. A disturbing video shared on social media showed people bleeding after apparently having been beaten up with sticks in clashes with security forces.

Similarly, his convoy was stoned by some supporters of CCM in Bukoba Urban Constituency, Kagera Region, and in Katoro Township, Geita Region.

This trend of violence does not augur well for the nation as we move closer to 28th October 2020. More and more violence is expected against the opposition; and if the opposition organised itself for a counter-violence in its defence, it will bring about fears of the unlikely situation of civil unrest.