A Zanzibar-Size Blemish on Tanzania’s Election

Electoral panel’s decision to nullify Zanzibar vote must be recalled, says President of International Republican Institute

Tanzania faces a crucial test of its commitment to multiparty democracy in the wake of October elections that were marred by the annulment of voting in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, Mark Green, a former US Ambassador to Tanzania, said at the Atlantic Council on Nov. 13, while calling for the nullification to be recalled.

Green, who serves as President of the International Republican Institute (IRI), said developments in Zanzibar underscore Tanzania’s status as a multiparty democracy “on good days.” Soon after the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) declared victory, the Chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) controversially annulled the election citing irregularities.

On the mainland, John Magufuli of the long-ruling Party of the Revolution (Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or CCM) was elected President by a comfortable margin over his main challenger, former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, who contested the election on the Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) ticket. The CCM, however, saw its parliamentary majority shrink.

Zanzibar, which elects its own President and parliament, has been ruled by a CCM-CUF national unity government since 2010.

Cause for alarm

The Tanzanian government, meanwhile, has launched a crackdown on civil society under the cover of a controversial cybercrime law.

This, along with the Zanzibar vote, has been met with expressions of concern from the United States, the European Union, and the Commonwealth.

“How both sets of these anti-democratic actions are dealt with in coming days — the arrests and the nullification — I think will determine whether or not Tanzania is merely a democracy on good days,” said Green.

Urging a quick resolution to the situation in Zanzibar, Green added: “I don’t think this gets better with time, and that’s perhaps the great worry – that pressure will continue to build from a number of different quarters.”

Green participated in a panel discussion with Gretchen Birkle, Director of the IRI’s Africa Division, and Wenceslaus Mushi, a conflict-sensitive journalism trainer with Internews who participated via phone. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, moderated the discussion.

In a statement after the elections, the US Embassy in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam said the nullification of the results of the Zanzibari presidential election must be recalled, and that all parties must “maintain a commitment to a transparent and peaceful democratic process.”

Green expressed hope that what happened in Tanzania is just an aberration.


Phillip van Niekerk of the Wilson Center,who was present in Zanzibar during the election, described elections on the archipelago as probably the best Zanzibar has ever had. “It was done in a very, very good atmosphere,” he said, noting that many observer teams were present on the ground.


Van Niekerk said little attention has been paid to the fact that Zanzibar security forces detained opposition CUF leadership and briefly arrested the ZEC’s Deputy Commissioner. “The way the thing actually happened had this unfortunate aspect of force attached to it as well,” he said.

As per Tanzanian law, ZEC’s Commissioner cannot nullify an election, said van Niekerk. “It is an illegal act. It is not constitutional.”

In Tanzania, where the median age is seventeen, van Niekerk warned that the annulment of the vote in Zanzibar has produced a lot of “extremely angry” young people, who “having being denied the democratic option, might turn to less democratic options, and might turn to more militant ideologies.”

Amid growing calls for a recall of the nullification of the Zanzibar vote, Tanzania’s Ambassador to the United States, Wilson Mutagaywa Kajumula Masilingi, in the audience at the Council event, said the ZEC Chairman’s actions have not been challenged in court. “You have to get the facts first … Why don’t we be patient until we get the facts,” he said.

“If the Chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission decided by himself … that is a simple case of criminal offense,” he added.

Role of women


IRI conducted a poll in Zanzibar this past summer. Its key findings include widespread concern over the high rate of youth unemployment, anger over rampant corruption, and the belief that politicians ignore women.

“How the government takes on [these] challenges will be crucial in these coming years,” said Green. He said he was encouraged by early indicators of the new President’s intentions.


Birkle spoke about the participation of women in Tanzania’s elections and noted incremental progress in the number of female members of parliament. Tanzania, for example, now has its first-ever female Vice President — Samia Suluhu Hassan.

Tanzania’s draft constitution also makes significant steps forward for women’s participation and inclusion, said Birkle. But, she added, a serious challenge exists in the gender quota process.

The existence of two systems for women to become members of parliament — either directly elected or nominated for a special seat — “skews the incentives of political parties to field only women candidates for the nominated seats” and “creates a class system in parliament whereby women to the nominated seats are somewhat second-class,” she said.

“The nomination process for the special seats remains clouded in confusion and probably some corruption,” she added.

Tackling corruption


Corruption is a significant problem in Tanzania. Green described it as “pervasive.” While noting that the Tanzanian government has taken steps to address corruption, he added that much more work needs to be done.

“The government of Tanzania understands corruption saps a country of its economic strength… People demand answers on corruption and I think what you are seeing in the early steps of the new administration is the recognition that ‘Yes, corruption is a serious issue,’” said Green. “Precisely what steps will be taken, obviously those are for the Tanzanians to chose.”

Ashish Kumar Sen is a staff writer at the Atlantic Council.

Related Experts: Ashish Kumar Sen and J. Peter Pham

Image: From left: J. Peter Pham, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, moderated a discussion on Tanzania’s election with Mark Green, President of the International Republican Institute (IRI); and Gretchen Birkle, Director of the IRI’s Africa Division. Wenceslaus Mushi, a conflict-sensitive journalism trainer with Internews, participated in the discussion at the Atlantic Council on Nov. 13 via phone.