Decoding the Tanzanian Elections

On Friday, November 13, the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center and the International Republican Institute (IRI) organized a discussion of the recent national and regional elections in Tanzania.

Africa Center Director Dr. J. Peter Pham welcomed participants, introduced the speakers, and moderated the conversation. The Honorable Mark Green, President of IRI and former US Ambassador to Tanzania, and Gretchen Birkle, Director of the Africa Division at IRI, joined the panel discussion in Washington. Wenceslaus Mushi, Chief Sub-Editor at the Guardian (Dar es Salaam) and Conflict-Sensitive Journalism Trainer for Internews, offered insight into the role of the media in the elections via phone link from Zanzibar.

Green began the discussion by noting the findings of IRI’s recent poll in Zanzibar, an autonomous region of Tanzania that was formerly an independent country. The survey highlighted citizen support for tacking corruption, promoting independent media, and including women and girls in policy discussions. He emphasized that the Zanzibari electorate is on average very young, and many cast their first votes in these elections, which have subsequently been nullified by the head of the regional election commission. As a result, Green noted the urgent need to settle the dispute peacefully and in accord with the democratic will of the populace in order to prevent frustrated youth from turning to other, potentially destabilizing, means to impact the political sphere.

Birkle gave an overview of IRI’s gender impact assessment in Tanzania prior to the election, and stressed that equal rights for all citizens is fundamental to the democratic process. She commended Tanzania’s high percentage of women in parliament, but also offered recommendations for the incoming government on how to best include women’s voices in politics. Mushi noted the mostly positive role the media played in the elections, but talked about the need for further training to improve journalistic standards and ethics.

Also in attendance and participating in the discussion was Phillip van Niekerk, Managing Partner at Calabar Consulting, who offered his first-hand experience of what he considered a failed election process in Zanzibar. He commented that the interference of Tanzanian security forces in the Zanzibar election annulment was a worrying sign.

Also present was His Excellency Wilson Mutagaywa Masilingi, Ambassador to the United States of the United Republic of Tanzania, who reflected on the importance of peace and stability as a requirement for economic growth. The newly-arrived envoy also expressed his appreciation for the engagement and commitment of IRI and the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center and his hope of working with both organizations.

Image: Tanzanian Ambassador H.E. Wilson Mutagaywa Masilingi (front) comments on the country's recent elections, after a panel including (from left to right) J. Peter Pham, the Hon. Mark Green, and Gretchn Birkle.