Political security, for the price of a bag of fertiliser

Quid pro quo

The other day Ranil wrote an excellent analysis of the creeping recrudescence of authoritarianism in Malawi, following Bingu wa Mutharika’s re-election victory, which basically eliminated the fragility of his position.

What is worth discussing a little further is the means through which Mutharika secured that victory. While ethnicity has never been as salient an issue in Malawi as many other SSA countries, its politics have long been dominated by regional `super-ethnic’ voting. It used to be the case that one of the easiest ways to know how someone was going to vote was to know whether they were from the Northern, Central, or Southern regions of the country

When I lived in Malawi, one of my night watchmen (who was from the Central region) expressed a deep affinity for John Tembo, the current political leader of the Malawi Congress Party, former right-hand man of the deceased dictator Hastings Banda. Tembo was a wicked thug during Banda’s time, yet my night watchman’s support was unwavering: “He is my uncle”, he affectionately put it, expressing regional solidarity.

Shortly after winning his first election on a United Democratic Front (UDF) ticket, Bingu wa Mutharika created the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). This was in early 2005, a time when politics was still marked by regionalism. Shortly after, an Afrobarometer survey was conducted in the country (see below), confirming the regional bias: voters preferred the DPP in the north, the MCP in the Center, and the UDF in the south.

But between the 2005 Afrobarometer survey and the 2009 elections, something shifted in the way the population expressed political support: the DPP and Mutharika managed incredible gains across all regions (see this Afrobarometer paper for more info about the shift in voting habits). This table from the report sums up this shift in support:

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Observations on Election Day

by Carmine Paolo De Salvo

The big day started with voters being greeted by heavy rain as they arrived at the polling stations in and around Stone Town. I did some ‘unofficial observation’ (just to satisfy my own curiosity) around 11am, when the polling stations had already been open for about 4 hours, initially visiting a couple of polling stations close to my place: the Karume College in Mbweni and a school in Kiembe Samaki. Those areas are very close to each other and both are characterized as CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi, the incumbent party) strongholds, since government officials and their families and friends constitute most of the electoral body in these parts.

A list of pictures of registered voters was well visible outside each polling station and made it easier for everyone to find her/his respective voting room. In both polling stations voters’ queues were quite long and many voters, especially women, had decided to sit down outside their respective rooms to wait for their turn to express their preferences. Military forces and police officers where present in each polling station, but there didn’t appear to be any tension or animosity, and indeed they were actually very obliging to me. They let me in and said there was no problem if I wanted to take some pictures (I was dressed as no more than a random tourist and had no government identification document whatsoever. I spoke Swahili to them though and here in Zanzibar Swahili speakers get a better treatment in different circumstances).

Voting operations did not seem to be very quick, maybe because every voter had to fill and fold five different ballot papers (for the President of Zanzibar, President of Tanzania, Zanzibar House of Representatives, Tanzanian Parliament and Local Council). In any case, the whole atmosphere was peaceful and relaxed.

I then moved on to town, which is usually a CUF (Civic United Front, the opposition) stronghold. I had a look at the polling station close to the Ministry where I work and there, too the situation looked tranquil. From there, accompanied by a friend of mine working as a Temco (Tanzania Election Monitoring Committee) observer, I went on to visit some of the more economically deprived areas around town.

We visited three different polling stations in the vicinities of the Kariakoo and Amani areas and the scenes were very similar to the ones that I have already described. These areas are also supposed to be more CCM-inclined. We arrived there around noon and the afflux of people was clearly decreasing (people here tend to go to vote early, as they get up very early as well). The presence of military forces was heavier in these last polling stations, but again incident-free. In one of the polling stations we noticed some a shortage of ballot papers (but just for the Tanzanian Parliament). This clearly showed at least some serious mismanagement. As far as I could understand from some Temco observers, vote counting will be suspended for that constituency and voters will be given the opportunity to vote on another date. But it is important to underline that these are just rumours that I heard and I can’t provide any official confirmation.

Such was my experience of Zanzibari elections. To be honest, my impressions were moderately positive. Of course, problems can still occur, especially when the votes are counted and results announced. I cannot predict what will happen in the next hours, but I am pleased to have witnessed what seemed to be a decent enough democratic exercise. So far, at least.

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.

More on Mobile Phones for Politics

This is one creepy dude...

"Hi Kids! Who wants to vote?!"

A while back I wrote about an interesting development in politics in Tanzania: the use of mobile phones to register members of political parties. A reader tried the service out and found that the safeguards and cost left something to be desired, but it served to illustrate an important point, that the rapidly spreading technology is being used in increasingly innovative ways to resolve the problems of distance, infrastructure and communication that so beset parts of the continent.

Zanzibar Leo, a Swahili daily, is reporting another clever use of mobile phones for the elections scheduled for October 31. The Zanzibar Electoral Commission is going to run a service whereby, on the days running up to the election, people can find out exactly where the polling station they have been allocated to is, though the service costs TSh 300 (approximately 2 cents – which means that this service could also be an earner for the Government). In Zanzibar, all voters are allocated a station and room to vote in; until now, they would have had to go to specific announcements boards to see which room they’ve been allocated, and would then have to try and locate it – not always an easy task in the labyrinth that is Stone Town.

The paper reports that the justification is to avoid ‘usumbufu wa kuhangaika’, literally the ‘disturbance of roaming around’. It’s not saying so explicitly, but there exist definite benefits to not being on the streets any more than absolutely necessary on election day here in Zanzibar. I think this service will prove pretty popular.

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.