“The last hopeful place” for democratic progress in East Africa–Tanzania’s election is important test for US Millenium Challenge Corporation model

imageThe United States invested heavily in its relationship with Tanzania in the “post-Cold War” era and on into the present period of “democratic recession”.  The Millenium Challenge Corporation has had the Tanzania compact as a flagship relationship and just voted late last month to proceed with the partnership on the basis of a barely cleared corruption hurdle.  I don’t follow Tanzanian politics closely and never lived there, but the consensus in the West appears to be that corruption has worsened in recent years while basic stability and growth in the aggregate size of the economy from a low base have been more positive features.  Most Tanzanians remain materially poor and only a small percentage of younger people have jobs as population growth remains rapid.

Western discussion of the election seems to be have been fairly muted given its conceptual significance.  I think part of the reason for this is that the match up presents some conumdrums that raise the stakes of commentary and exhortation from the outside.  Given that Tanzania has remained under the current version (“CCM”) of the Independence/Cold War era “single party” for all these years, the point of democracy assistance and outside focus would normally be on progress toward levelling the playing field so that someone else could eventually win if the majority of citizens was so inclined.

The twist is that the opposition coalition, representing the pre-existing reformist voices, ended up fronting a candidate, Edward Lowassa, by reputation a leading player in the corruption himself.  He was forced out as Prime Minister in 2008–a time when anti-corruption and goverance reform was in vogue among donors–and was pushed aside this year from his expected ruling CCM party nomination to succeed Kikwete before defecting to the opposition Chadema party.

Nonetheless, in Tanzania, unlike in any of its four East African Community neighbors the trajectory toward fair competition and “deeping democracy” has remained plausibly if uncertainly intact.  The National Election Commission has registered 24M voters compared to 14M by Kenya’s IEBC in 2013 (estimates suggest Tanzania has a population perhaps around 10% higher).  At the same time, there has been recent democratization “backsliding” on issues besides corruption, in particular media freedom.

Among donors there is what Jeffrey Gettleman’s piece in today’s New York Times notes is being called “democracy fatigue”.  Maybe things have gone badly enough around the region that we are just happy that Tanzania’s President Kikwete is honoring constitutional term limits, especially in the wake of a derailed constitutional reform effort that was supposed to lead to a referendum on a new charter before this election.

Regardless of the outcome a well run election understood by Tanzanian voters to have been free and fair would be arguably a “feather in the cap” for the MCC model and the general U.S. assistance structure.  Which of course is one more important reason for journalists covering the election observations to be responsibly sensitive to the underlying interests and conflicts faced by the various observation missions and individual observers.

See “The Kenyan factor in Tanzania’s 2015 electionin The Citizen.

And “Tanzania’s election crackdown on free speech” in The Daily Beast.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s