#RightsMedia story: Obama and democracy in Tanzania, the next chapter

Soweto grounds in Kaloleni (Arusha) where the June 15, 2013 bombing at a Chadema rally took place. Four people were killed.

Soweto grounds in Kaloleni (Arusha) where the June 15, 2013 bombing at a Chadema rally took place. Four people were killed.

ARUSHA, Tanzania — Once a beacon of stability in a region of turmoil, Tanzania is an emerging economy with serious democratic flaws.

On the heels of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the East African nation, many Tanzanians are left wondering how American investment will benefit the country. According to the White House, Obama came to Africa to promote democracy and good governance, but it seems improving trade relations between the U.S. and Tanzania was his number one priority.

Tanzania is rich in natural resources and critics are saying Obama’s visit was just an attempt to counter China’s growing influence in the region. Three months ago, Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Tanzania to shore up support for many projects, including the natural gas pipeline from Mtwara, in the south of Tanzania, to Dar es Salaam, the country’s most populous city.

This Chinese-funded project sparked a furor in a long-neglected region. Mtwara residents attacked government CCM party offices in the area and fought open street battles with police and Tanzanian security forces, causing many fatalities.

Over the span of five weeks, two bombs ripped apart the northern region of Arusha causing chaos and confusion. Known as a stronghold for the political opposition party Chadema, Tanzania’s diplomatic hub was once called “The Geneva of Africa” by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Now Arusha is internationally known for violence, as the latest bombing killed four people at a Chadema rally the day before expected district by-elections (since postponed to July 14, 2013).

Here are the facts about Tanzania: World Bank data states the population is 47.78 million. Life expectancy is 58 years and the infant mortality rate is 45 per 1,000 births. Literacy is at 72.9 per cent, according to 2012 figures. Definitely the statistics of a developing African country.

If Obama was in Tanzania to promote democracy and good governance, he should have been alerted to these recent violent episodes and raised concern with President Jakaya Kikwete personally.

The ruling CCM party (Chama cha Mapinduzi, or Party of the Revolution) has been in power since gaining independence from Britain in 1962 and the political unification of mainland Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964. The CCM was born out of the merger of TANU (Tanganyika African National Union) and Zanzibar’s ASP (Afro-Shirazi Party). That’s half of a century of one party rule. Tanzania’s first-ever democratic, multi-party election only took place in 1995.

Fast forward to 2013 and the Global Peace Index (GPI) compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) ranks Tanzania 55th out of 162 nations in the world according to its political stability and general all-around peacefulness. The best ranking in East Africa.

The global think tank along with The Economist magazine’s intelligence unit have been tracking peace around the world for this report since 2007. The GPI goes on to state that “‘longstanding leaders are often accompanied by a marginalization of opposition parties: deprived of the opportunity to change leadership via the ballot box, populations will turn instead to more violent means.”

Tanzania’s president has been the head of state since 2005 and looks due to step aside before the next election in 2015, unlike some other East African leaders. So the future seems optimistic for Tanzania, right?

Well, there’s a little matter which one party states must always try to tackle, but is never able to, and that’s corrruption. Transparency International, which measures corruption around the world, states Tanzania’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index is a meager 35 out of 100, which is extremely low and the nation places 102 out of 176 countries ranked in the study. Control of corruption is also on a downward trend according to its 2010 data.

If Obama wanted to help democracy flourish in Tanzania, he should have been briefed by one of America’s oldest human rights monitoring groups, Freedom House.

The Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House ranked Tanzania’s democracy as only “partly free” while the 2012 Democracy Index labels the country a “hybrid regime” tying it with Guatemala and Singapore at 81 out of 167 countries (North Korea being the last).

Not great company for Tanzania to be in at all. But what’s next for the emerging economy?

A political shift seems to be happening in the country with more people openly supporting the opposition party Chadema despite attacks. Recently, long-time Tanzanian hip hop artist Professor Jay switched allegiances and left the governing CCM for Chadema.

According to a 2011 youth-led research study in Tanzania by the London, U.K.-based advocacy group Restless Development, the East African country has the tenth largest youth population globally. 47 per cent of the population are under 15-years-old and 66 per cent are under the age of 25. These staggering statistics show a burgeoning youth population hungry for change in Tanzania.

The opposition Chadema party’s Arusha-based youth organizer, Nanyaro Ephata, has been capitalizing on disaffected youth, encouraging them to join the party.

“The rise of Chadema started in the 2010 general election,” Ephata said. “We invested in youth as they are the main changers. Youth are the nation of today.”

In a country of rulers instead of leaders, Obama must return to Tanzania and spend time encouraging peaceful, democratic development instead of focusing on trade, oblivious to the change happening in the country. Many Tanzanian youth look up to the U.S. president and not acknowledging them was a serious error.

But Obama did once say: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

This story was published on the JHR – Toronto Star Africa without maps section.

Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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