Pigani kura, msipige vita!

Today is the last day of campaigning before Tanzania and Zanzibar go to the polls to elect a new Government. Elections in Zanzibar are extremely close-fought events, though you wouldn’t guess it to look at the results over the last forty years. The ruling party, CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi, The Party of the Revolution in Swahili), has held power ever since independence. The main opposition party, CUF (Civic United Front) has called foul on recent election results, and even refused to recognise the current Government due to allegations of vote rigging in 2005, a state of affairs that persisted until the two parties recently agreed to a Government of National Unity regardless of the results of the forthcoming elections. Given this fraught political relationship, the elections have been prone to violence in the past: in some cases large scale as occurred in 2005, particularly in Pemba, the CUF stronghold.

Hopes are high this year that the violence that has characterised previous elections will be avoided. CUF supporters recognise that for once, whatever happens, they will have a voice in Government thanks to the Unity Government. While this won’t eliminate their grievances overnight, it will appease them significantly if they lose another contested decision. One friend of mine summarised it as ‘tutapiga kura tu, hatupigi vita!’ – meaning ‘we will vote only; we are not waging war’. It’s a quirk of the Swahili language that to vote is kupiga kura while to make war is kupiga vita.

That said, in the last week, tension has ratcheted up. What had been a relatively subdued campaign has burst into life in the last few days. Virtually every Zanzibari is decked out in the green and yellow of CCM or the white, blue and red of CUF. Today, there are two major rallies taking place. I drove past the scene of the CUF rally this morning and the adjective that most came to my mind was volume: there were tens of thousands of participants, all making the most unimaginable noise. It wasn’t unpleasant, mind: a mixture of political sloganeering, joyous singing, beating of ngoma drums and the bleating of car horns. CCM will be holding its own rally this afternoon, and I’ve no doubt it will be similarly colourful.

Seeing such big, volatile groups surrounded by trigger happy military officers and police is a cause of concern: the army is shipped over from Mainland Tanzania, has a political affinity to the ruling party (CCM in both Tanzania and Zanzibar) and no family ties to the demonstrators – it doesn’t encourage restraint on either side. The groups of different supporters have started minor confrontations recently as well – though most of the time it has so far amounted to a few slogans or mild insults hurled at a passing truck full of political opponents.

In any case, fears of violence aren’t high for election day. The day results are announced may be a different matter, however. As I said before, CUF are likely to accept the results with something approaching equanimity since any outcomes affords them a greater political voice than they have ever enjoyed before. CCM, on the other hand, might react differently. The word in the back streets is that the rank and file of the party are far from happy that their leadership has agreed to the unity Government, and conspiracy theories abound as to the reasoning behind it – most relating to senior political figures’ desire to protect their estates. If they win the election, this probably won’t be an issue – they’ll have the President and bragging rights. If, however, CUF win for the first time, we might see some trouble.

This might happen, too. From what I gather, the voter registration process eventually completed in a relatively even-handed way. Voter registration is one of the main ways in which election rigging can occur, so this is a good sign. What’s more, the CUF leaders have responded to the good-natured joshing of a friend of mine who knows some of them with unusual confidence. Being told ‘hamtashinda safiri hii, tena!’ (‘you won’t win this time, again!’) their response has been an unusually calm ‘hujui. Wengi wamebadilika tangu 2005’ (‘you don’t know. Many have changed since 2005’).

We’ll see, though – tomorrow should be interesting. I’ll be following things via text updates from some friends doing the election monitoring and observation. I’m hopeful of a peaceful time. I’ve stocked up on wine, food and dvds, though, just in case things kick off.

Update: The Zanzibar Untold twitter feed is posting really interesting updates on rumours of electoral malpractice. It all seems to be hearsay thus far, but very interesting nonetheless.

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