Old insight borne out by Tanzanian and Ivorian elections

Tanzania and Cote d’Ivoire held elections last weekend. The good news is that neither country has erupted in violence, at least so far. Nonetheless, the recent events are not all that encouraging.

ist Chefredakteur von E+Z/D+C.

The scenarios are quite different in the two African countries. Tanzania is more interesting because the outcome of its election was not obvious. At the moment, its situation is also more worrisome. The results have not been declared yet, but the opposition’s top candidate is already demanding a total recount of the presidential election, given that he his trailing after about half the votes were counted. Subnational elections for Zanzibar have been officially annulled, and the opposition claims that was only done because it won.

The upside is that, so far, the results of the parliamentary elections seem to be generally accepted, even though several cabinet members lost their seats. Moreover, the security forces seem to be in control of things and massive violence looks unlikely. It is not healthy, however, to have a nation waiting for – and beginning to doubt – election results. Speed and transparency matter.

The Tanzania scenario was actually quite confusing right from the start, as Ronald Elly Wanda assessed nicely at www.pamabazuka.net.

One of his arguments is that Tanzania is “still largely a one party-state within a multiparty political system”. The dominant party CCM has run the country since independence in 1961, and has been winning elections since multi-party democracy was introduced in 1995. When one party stays in power for a long time, corrupt networks almost always emerge. Accordingly, a change of government is almost always healthy.

In Tanzania, however, there was a snag. This time, Edward Lowassa was the presidential candidate for a coalition of opposition parties. He only recently defected from the CCM and has a reputation for shady dealings. He is a former prime minister and had hoped to become the CCM’s candidate. The party did not endorse him, but chose John Pombe Magufuli, a low-profile cabinet member who is widely praised for his personal integrity.

Voters thus had the awkward choice of either opting for a probably clean candidate running for a party that has been in office for far too long or for a candidate who is known for shenanigans but would usher in a new set of leaders. I’m not sure how I would have cast my vote, but my hunch is that it is more important to disrupt firmly established networks than to focus only on the top-leader.

In any case, it would be good if Tanzania accepted a democratic change of government without plunging into violence. This unfortunately cannot be taken for granted in Africa. Elections far too often trigger crises – as they did in Cote d’Ivoire five years ago. It took an intervention of the French military to ensure that Allassane Ouattara, the winner of the election, actually became president. Laurent Gbagbo, who had refused to acknowledge defeat and had started to incite violence, is now awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

This time, most observers expected Allessane Ouattara to be re-elected. And he was. His track record in office is not bad, and the country has largely stayed peaceful. Rinaldo Dipagne of the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental think tank, warns of an “Illusion of stability” nonetheless.

Dipagne argues that society remains deeply split, and that many Ivorians, particularly from the south of the country, feel excluded. He points out that criminals who belong to the militias that supported Ouattara in the past are enjoying impunity and that, within the armed forces, “the chain of command is chaotic, with several units obeying former warlords and resorting to predatory tactics”.

It is naïve to assume that democracy is about good guys beating bad guys. The real challenge is to build an institutional order with checks and balances, that allows leaders to broker compromise among competing interest groups and promote an understanding of the common good. This insight is not new, but needs to be emphasised again and again.

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