The Tanzanian election is less than two months away and is really heating up. Yesterday, debates were banned!
Opposition candidates are furious, of course, and blogs and articles in the U.S. especially are denouncing Tanzania’s authoritarianism as wrong and archaic. I agree, but I also wonder if the squeaky clean critics understand how they’ve contributed to the mess.
Yesterday’s announcement by the CCM secretary general, Mr Yusuf Makamba, that forbid all party candidates from debates (on television, but there weren’t any scheduled anywhere else) is certainly because the election is unexpectedly moving away from the party central command.
But another reason is more philosophical: the power of opposition in a modern world, the power to … lie.
There is no better example than here in the US of A. Death Panels. A President Born in Kenya. No Global Warming. Weapons of Mass Destruction. And to wit: The Millennium Trade between Burning the Quran and Moving The Mosque.
Lies foul up democracy. Everyone agrees lies are bad, but it’s the bad guys who profit from them. And in this viral internet age, lies can be assumed truths for critically long times. Sometimes, forever.. as those who embrace them lager themselves against being called out.
Democractic Lies gain special traction in bad times when people are so angry. Like now.
Maybe, just maybe America can weather this extreme moment of national lying. But a young and uneducated country like Tanzania maybe can’t.
It’s been a long while since Tanzania has had a real opposition; in fact, almost never. Following the surprise resignation of the country’s first president, Julius Nyerere, after more than twenty years in office in 1985 there was a spark of opposition. It faded quickly.
Today Yusuf’s CCM controls 206 of the 232 seats in Tanzania’s parliament. That’s almost 90%, and the renegades in opposition rarely make it through a single term.
But this time it’s different. Mostly because of what was left of an angered media the government partially shut down, a number of scandals have become public.
Every Tanzanian newspaper is read mostly online, so these scandals went viral:
There were lingering issues with the former attorney general’s million dollar kick back for arranging a missile defense system around Dar.
The Tourism Minister’s side business selling illegal ivory. The World Bank withdrew development funds and the specified reasons of corruption – usually kept under wraps – were leaked.
And local issues, including the proposed Serengeti highway in the north, became contentious issues between the party and opposition candidates.
It was only just before the last election that the Tanzanian government allowed opposition parties. Its legacy is a single-party state.
Yusuf holds as much power as any elected leader. A small cadre of mostly past elected leaders constitutes what we used to call the “central committee.” Yusuf and this group call virtually all the shots in Tanzania.
But democracy is pushing through this old style politics. I feel the internet age makes it inevitable.
It would just be helpful to emerging societies like Tanzania if the veterans of this age-old ideal of democracy had citizens who acted on The Truth, not The Lie.