New Political Strategies in East Africa

The future of political recruitment?

New media is all the rage. Tanzania’s political class has been pretty excited over the last week or two by the formation of a new political party, CCJ (the name stands for Chama Cha Jamii, or Party of Society). There are a number of interesting things about this event, but one of wider interest beyond the confines of Tanzanian political discourse is their use of an innovative way of registering new party members, normally poaching them from other parties: text messaging and internet registration. The Swahili daily Nipashe ran an article about this a few days ago which I’ve only just noticed now, under the headline ‘CCJ Yazidi Kujitanua Kisiasa’ (‘CCJ are Growing and Widening Themselves Politically’). It writes:

“This strategy, unprecedented in the history of the whole of East Africa, relates to the use of news and communications technology [ICT] … as the service which allows citizens to join the party by electronic means wherever they are…”

(This and the rest of this piece is based on my translation of two pieces in Nipashe in Swahili – Swahili speaking readers can drop me an e-mail or a comment and I’ll transcribe the interesting bits so they can read in the original language).

How do they do it? Quite simple, really: mobile phones. Prospective members send a text to the number 15337 including the word ‘CCJ’, then their exact name, a star, their address, a star, their state, a star and their area. After three weeks, a registration card will be sent to the address listed. In the most amazing (and selfless) part, Richard Kiyabo, the chairman of the party in question, has said they are ready to provide technical support to other parties to teach them how to use the same system of registration.

This is a great idea, given the size of Tanzania. To sign up people in the villages and fields would require a huge investment in time either from the party (sending out activists far from the towns) or from the potential members (traveling long distances to register). Mobile phone use is very widespread here these days, and the great thing is you can just borrow someone else’s mobile to register yourself. CCJ are just a few weeks old, and this recruitment strategy is the central prong of their drive to ensure that they can participate meaningfully in the elections expected to be held in October.

That’s the technical side of things. The political implications of this new party, formed on the 2nd of March, are now becoming apparent. For those unfamiliar with Tanzanian politics, since independence and the unification of Tanzania and Zanzibar, respectively, only one party has ever ruled in either place: TANU, which became CCM after the Union. My reading is that in the mainland, CCM have had no real worries about their ability to retain power.

The arrival of CCJ didn’t seem like it would influence this much one way or another. But on March 31, Fred Mpendazoe, an MP from CCM announced his defection to the new party. By this defection, Mpendazoe (described as one of the men in CCM on the front line in the battle against corruption by the same paper) has drawn rare praise. It seems this defection is likely to cost him Tsh 45 millions (roughly $35,000) in benefits and other perks of Government membership. By foregoing all of this in order to join the new party he has made himself, and his new party, front-page news. This kind of publicity will perturb CCM, but I doubt it will change the final result at the ballots on the Mainland – but if CCJ succeeds in ‘harvesting’ more members from CCM, things could get interesting.

In Zanzibar, though, the situation is different. Zanzibar’s traditionally warring major parties, CCM and CUF have agreed on a coalition Government after the coming elections, an idea which the House of Representatives just a couple of days ago agreed to put to referendum. This worried me because with CCM and CUF joining arms in a new Governmental structure, Zanzibar would be left without any viable opposition. A complete lack of contestability in Government would be disastrous for political accountability. The remaining party, Chadema, never really seemed to me to be at the races much. The emergence of any new source of political contestability would be great: Zanzibar would enjoy the benefits of peace and better representation that the coalition Government will likely bring without losing too much of the contestability that is required for democratic politics to work.

It’s going to be an interesting few months for East African politics.

UPDATE: A reader has tried the service and found that he wasn’t asked for an exact address, as reported in the papers. It seems that the service may not be all its made out to be. He still got a membership number, though. And I imagine that boosting numbers to get on the October ballot is CCJ’s main aim, so perhaps they’re getting what they need out of it.

FURTHER UPDATE: It seems that registration safeguards on this system aren’t very strong, thanks to a bit of investigation from a reader. But the point about how this technology, once problems are ironed out, could be useful remains valid.

10 thoughts on “New Political Strategies in East Africa

  1. Matt

    April 2, 2010 at 3:08pm

    What sort of registration numbers are they actually achieving? How many people in Tanzania actually have a viable address you could send the registration packet to? It seems like there’s a lot of room for false registration here….

  2. Swahil Street

    April 2, 2010 at 8:41pm

    As reported in Tanzania Daima, you only have to send ‘CCJ’ to 15337 and they’ll get back to you requesting the info, more or less, that you stipulated above. So trying that too… and they are now asking me by way of auto reply for my ‘branch, constituency and region in which I live”. My branch? Now that could be a ward, assuming that CCJ have organised in my ward, but I don’t know….

    Too many things to go wrong here I’m afraid. I wouldn’t get too excited.

  3. Swahili Street

    April 2, 2010 at 8:49pm

    Aidthoughts….. you’ve been had. Or more to the point, I’ve been had. I just followed those instructions, which don’t ask for a post office box number or address and have received a membership number and been assured that I will receive my card after three weeks.

    after two premium rate messages….. Mjini shule!

  4. Ranil Dissanayake

    April 3, 2010 at 9:36am

    Swahili Street – that’s disappointing. I didn’t try the service, as I didn’t want to join CCJ, but reported what was in Nipashe. Is there no alternative place it can be sent? Any local political kituo or anything?

    As for the premium rates, that doesn’t surprise me: don’t most parties have some kind of registration fee?

    Anyway, grateful for any updates, if by some chance they do contact you. will post an update on this piece.

  5. swahili streeet

    April 3, 2010 at 9:44am

    will let you know if they ever get back to me again. membership numbers is a possibility, but that would depend on registrar of political parties regulations or the political parties act.

    CCM are planning something similar, but it is straight fund raising by text message. No nonsense about the membership card being in the mail.

  6. Ranil Dissanayake

    April 3, 2010 at 9:53am

    Thanks. Enjoyed reading your piece on the Mpendazoe defection, too. Will keep an eye on your blog – my job is in mainly economic governance. my knowledge of the political ins and outs comes from talking with colleagues/friends and the papers, so it’s not as sound as I would like.

  7. Barbara

    April 3, 2010 at 3:17pm

    I read half a dozen news and blog articles about this within the last few days… funny thing: The Democratic Alliance (DA) in South Africa did membership sign-up via sms as a part of their media campaign for the general elections last year… I didn’t see any excited articles back then… why is that?

  8. Ranil Dissanayake

    April 3, 2010 at 10:42pm

    Barbara – I can’t speak for any other bloggers, but on my part, I simply didn’t know about the South African example. I live in Tz these days, and so I saw this in our local papers, and thought it interesting.

  9. […] To set the groundwork for sweeping change we need symbols, movements and probably even more incremental technological innovations to spread information and create social groups. […]

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