Tis’ Election Season.

Magufuli’s supporters in Tanzania (BBC)

While the whole world has been fixated on the Biden-Trump face-off, the dust is barely settling on a few presidential elections closer to home — in Tanzania, Guinea and Ivory Coast, among others. We will be doing a series of election-related chops in the next few weeks, looking at how we are faring when it comes to leaders and power. Our first look — Tanzania.

What’s the Chop?

On October 28th, Tanzanians went to the polls to choose their president for the next five years. The choice was mainly between President John Magufuli, who was seeking a second term, and Tundu Lissu, a leading opposition figure who was returning to the country for the first time in three years, after almost getting assassinated in 2017. He returned this year in order to contest in the general elections.

Who Won?

Lissu is pretty popular, but he was no match for Magufuli’s charisma. Magufuli recorded a landslide win with over 84% of the vote. But, as you can imagine, that’s not the end of the story. Some opposition leaders have cried fraud and are accusing the government of violence, suppression, and vote rigging. They aren’t too far off; this was one of Tanzania’s most intense elections in the past three decades. In fact, things got so bad in the run-up to the elections that the police are reported to have killed 10 people and injured 50 others in Zanzibar. Lissu’s campaign was even suspended for a week by the National Electoral Commission for apparently using language that incites violence and rebellion, and a bunch of other violations. Still, Magufuli sailed through and emerged the winner.

How’s the other side taking it?

The opposition appears to be divided. 9 out of 15 presidential aspirants accepted defeat. However, the remainder, including Lissu, rejected the vote and have called for a repeat of the elections. But it may be a little too late — according to the country’s Constitution, once the electoral commission declares a candidate president, no court has the authority to investigate the vote. So, the opposition’s only recourse is to hit the streets in peaceful protest. Except, Magufuli’s government has now gone and thrown a spanner in the works: key opposition leaders were arrested this week in an effort to stop these post-election protests.

So, #OustMagufuli?

The truth is, despite all these irregularities, Magufuli was expected to be re-elected anyway; he has a pretty good track record. He achieved a lot of his campaign promises in his first term — from infrastructure development to the revival of the national airline, to the construction of a new hydropower dam, to increasing health care access, and even providing free education at primary and secondary school level. He did so much for his country’s economy that Tanzania went from low- to middle-income status in July 2019.

What Happens Now?

Not much honestly. On November 5th, Magufuli was sworn in for his second term despite the calls for another election by the opposition. Meanwhile, Magufuli has maintained that he will step down after this second and final term — there have been concerns that now that he has a majority in parliament, he may amend the Constitution to allow him to remain in power for longer. In the meantime, we can only hope he remains true to this promise.

Your Takeaway.

Magufuli is a controversial figure. He’s been branded a dictator by some, while others have found him to be someone that gets the job done, even earning him the name ‘The Bulldozer’ for his no-nonsense attitude and cost-saving measures. For example, in his first term, he banned all foreign trips for public servants which reportedly saved the government US$430million in one year. But despite these benefits to his people, democracy and press freedom are being threatened.

Ultimately, the question we’re asking ourselves is: What is the cost of this progress? How long until the costs begin to outweigh the gains? And will it be too late, then? Honestly, only time will tell, and as he settles in for a second term, he’s definitely one to watch — closely.

What can I do?

The decisions and actions of our leaders are critical determinants in our daily lives, whether we know it or not. How well can a benevolent dictator thrive in a democracy? Share your thoughts with us at chops@thesmallchops.com — we’d love to unpack them.

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