By Elias Mhegera – ONE of the highly respected judges in Tanzania Justice Damian Lubuva recently failed to satisfy his audience on how he could balance his loyalty between the president and that of his duty as chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC).
Justice Lubuva was guest of honour at the International Conference with a theme Elections and Transitions to Democracy in Africa, where he presented his paper with a title Elections Management in Africa: Tanzania Experience.
The two days conference was held at the Coral Beach Hotel in Dar es Salaam a fortnight ago. Distinguished academicians in the field of politics, law and management of elections presented their papers.
The conference was organized in collaboration of two research institutions namely the African Research and Resource Forum (ARRF) and the Tanzania based Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF).
In the opening speech the host CEO, Dr Bohela Lunogelo, executive director of the ESRF urged participants to discuss the tabled matters freely without fear or favour due to the sensitivity of matters of governance and democracy in the African continent.
“In discussing issues of democracy and management of elections in Africa we need to acknowledge to the evidence based researches given the challenges that this continent has been facing for quite some time now,” he commented.
But the core of this discussion was when the chairman of Tanzania’s independent constitution forum, Jukwaa la Katiba, Deus Kibamba when he explained during his presentation that the voter’s apathy in Tanzania has partly been caused by lack of trust that voters have to the NEC.
Moreover, Kibamba said that other reasons are irregularities which are caused by sheer negligence and at times excessive use of the Police Force which distract women to participate fully in the electoral process.
“People do not see any benefit of participating in the elections process if their votes will not bring changes, so they have desperately given up,” he said.
Expanding more his subject Kibamba added, “It has also been noted that there is excessive use of force in areas that are highly contested, people detests to be harassed by law enforcers who at time even teargas them unnecessarily,” he added.
Kibamba criticizes the trend whereby the President of the United Republic of Tanzania is the one who appoints the chairman of the Electoral Commission and his commissioners. It was at this juncture that the NEC chairman protested that he has not been interrupted in his work anyhow.
Justice Lubuva also said that even incidents of Police interruptions are so few and isolated to the extent they cannot be termed as causes of voter’s apathy.
“I think Kibamba is exaggerating the situation is not that bad, these are not the main reasons of voter’s apathy probably there are other reasons we should find out,” Lubuva affirmed.
But in what might be seen as the support to Kibamba’s stance was representative of the main opposition party Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA), Victor Kimesera who acknowledged that people do not trust the NEC.
“I am 74 years old and I understand how people were motivated during the independence struggles in this country, now people lack that kind of motivation because they do not trust our election management body,” he commented.
Kimesera said that he has been contesting since the re-introduction of multiparty in 1992 but he has been losing due the mismanagement by the NEC. Moreover Kibamba and Kimesera felt even more comfortable when contributions from outsiders also said that it was difficult for the election body to work independently if the entire leadership is made up of the presidential appointees.
From Sierra Leone, West Africa was an election expert Dr Shekou Sessay, who commented, “it is very difficult to expect a person who has been appointed by the president to turn against him or even to be impartial, I think it would have been better for the chairman and his commissioners to be scrutinized first by an independent body like the parliament, “he said.
But probably this academic would have suggested of another body if he was aware of the dominance the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi has in the august House.
Leaving aside Tanzania politics, it was the response from Uganda’s army spokesperson Major Felix Kulaije who was irritated by presenters who said that soldiers should remain where they belong, the barracks and leave politics to the civilians.
“I am surprised that the discussion here is against soldiers who turn to politics, we should understand that soldiers intervene when politicians have failed to manage their countries, actually it is politicians who ‘invites’ us to ‘rescue’ the situation,” he retorted causing laughter in the hall.
The harsh attack against soldiers was provoked by a presentation from a Kenyan professor who referred to such situations of military dominance in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Rwanda and Uganda.
Prof Nyong’o went further by even criticizing the civil society and the media by becoming other uninvited guests in the political arena in African politics.
“The civil society and the media are now involved in active politics which they are not supposed to do, this is an invasion indeed,” commented the professor causing astonishment in the hall.
As if to respond to him was Zimbabwe’s Dr Donald Chimanikire an expert in politics who said that you cannot isolate the civil society and the media in politics because the former is pressure groups while the latter is an avenue where politicians meet with their subjects.
But another issue which drew considerable attention was a Governments of National Unity (GNU) as it is the case in Kenya, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe. Some participants saw them being retrogressive while others approved them due to the prevailing political circumstances in the respective countries.
Profesa Nyong’o said that in Kenya there were agreements which were made in 2002, and subsequently after referendum which led to the formation of the National Alliance of Rainbow Coalition (NARC) but these were violated leading to the 2007 post-election violence.
The ARRF Executive Director Prof. Michael Chege who is a Kenyan said that GNUs are just representatives of the democracy which has been denied to the winners, he was supported by George Omondi also a Kenyan.
But in quite a different stance was Prof Gaudence Mpangala from Institute of Development Studies of the University of Dar es Salaam who said in Zanzibar the GNU has proved to be productive.
“I have been an observer in Zanzibar General Elections since 1995 to the most recent one in 2010 and I have observed the GNU has been one source of peace because it was arranged prior to the election and the agreement was the winner becomes the president the loser becomes his vice this was tactical and indeed it has changed the political scenario in Zanzibar,” he commented.
Since gender issues were part of the discussion Prof Maria Nzomo from Kenya said that women are sidelined from African politics because at times they are scared to vote if elections are violent and at times they cannot contest because abusive languages are used against them by their male counterparts.
“I recommend that African Governments provide friendlier environments for women to participate without any kind of fear,” she commented.
But with all these discrepancies it was noted that many of the African governments were far ahead in allowing changes than in the Arab countries, since a good number of African countries experienced upheavals in early 90s and now they are relatively calm.
“What is happening in Egypt, Tunisia and even now Syria is what happened in many countries in Africa immediately after the crumble of the USSR, and its entire satellite states of East Europe said Prof Chege.
Other issues which drew attention although to a small extent were the Union matter between Mainland Tanzania and the Zanzibar isles. Moreover the academics sent a strong call for the two presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to step down in time in order to avoid chaos in their countries this is after they have overstayed in power to the extent of lacking a new political agenda.
The conference also decided the role of religious leaders in African politics, that they should be agents of positive change rather than cause division based on religious inclinations.
And this was not to put aside the debate on the rulings of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the meaning of the concept of “the international community” there was a perception that this court is biased and discriminating African leaders.
Probably one of the most disliked debates but surfaced in the conference was marriages and love affairs of people of same sex, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Inter sex (LGBTIs).