The reelection of Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Wednesday, October 28th – extending his presidency an additional 5 years – has been at the dismal of both his opposition and perhaps many other Tanzanians who simply desire a more free and stable country. The burgeoning of accusations throughout the process of Wednesday’s ballot has increasingly come to solidify the characterization of this election as one plagued with corruption. Many Tanzanian’s saw this election as an opportunity to finally expel Magufuli and the Party of the Revolution out from the country’s leadership, but these hopes were soon quashed after the surfacing of Wednesday’s electoral results.
According to the electoral commission, Magufli received a whopping 85% share of the electorate, which totaled 12.5 million votes – whereas his main opposition, Tundu Lissu of the Chadema party, received only 1.9 million votes or 13% of the vote share. However, regional experts have noted that this disparity in the vote between incumbent Magufli and his opposition may not be an accurate representation of citizens’ needs and demands. Rather, these election results have been noted as largely reflecting the “climate of fear” instilled systemically by Magufuli’s government.
Over his previous 5-year presidential tenure, Magufuli has earned a reputation as one of Africa’s most controversial leaders. Despite cultivating a strong base of support – which was achieved namely through making ambitious and yet-to-be attained economic and infrastructural promises – Magufuli has repeatedly seen himself at the forefront of denunciations rooted in the government of Tanzania’s repressive conduct, mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and infringement of human rights protections. The accusations arising immediately before, during, and after the recent Tanzanian election cycle most certainly appear emblematic to this reputation.
In an attempt to secure Magufuli’s electoral victory, government authorities reportedly stuffed voting boxes and engaged in other acts of tampering in constituencies throughout the country. Speaking on Wednesday’s election, the leader of the opposition party, the Alliance for Change and Transparency, remarked, “It was not an election, and the people of Tanzania will pay the price. The international community should not recognize this election or the legitimacy of the government.” As news concerning the government’s fraudulent behaviour spread to the public, many gathered in the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar to protest. Devastatingly, however, these protests concluded in a deadly manner, as police and military forces under the leadership of Magufuli opened fire, leaving a recorded nine dead and others arrested. Tanzania Elections Watch stated last Friday that the vote “marked the most significant backsliding in Tanzania’s democratic credentials.” In addition, Magufuli’s government has also seen accusations of media coverage restriction, this restriction namely coming in the form of the suppression of a variety of social media channels – including Whatsapp, Instagram, and Google, along with the usage of VPN services. Twitter has also confirmed that it experienced “blocking and throttling” of its platform within the country prior to the election.
Despite all of the accusations, a large segment of the Tanzanian public appears content with Wednesday’s voting results. For example, among those in support of Magufuli includes Tanzanian businessman Edward Mbise, who commented on the election results, stating, “This was just normal. We all expected to win due to what he has done he was going to win this election.” Accounts like this can be seen as suggesting that the results of Wednesday’s elections may be more of an accurate reflection of the Tanzanian public interests than what these accusations of government misconduct have led many interpreters to believe. Regardless, more needs to be done by the international community to ensure that these elections are carried out more transparently and free of any form of tampering or fear. Only then can we be confident that existing conflict and animosity does not provoke or escalate into greater disruptions of peace.
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