Perplexity was the watchword as participants at a seminar by REPOA, a city research outfit in economic issues, were being taken through results of a comparative survey of sentiments on effectiveness of government, with key areas of faith in leadership, and evaluation of performance in service delivery on one hand and macro-economy on the other.
What was quite vexing was the manner in which downright pessimism on government ability to deliver coexists with surprising enthusiasm as to how far so many of these errors can be corrected in the not so distant future, that is, around five years from now.
It would suggest that there is plenty of pessimism around the country, but it is tinged with political capacity, that is, possibly tied up with competitive politics, that the next government will be a bit more effective, etc.
One datum that caught the imagination of so many people was a felt decreased from a high of 90 per cent confidence in how the president was conducting his job, to a much lower confidence level of 71 per cent.
Yet it was also arguable that the distance with confidence levels relating to other elected officials was bit high, which definitely implies a certain dysfunction in the system, that while the president was cruising in 90 per cent levels of popular confidence, the relevant figures were 65 per cent for MPs in the 2008 survey and 61 per cent in the recent survey.
It means that the popularity and confidence level in what the president does is much higher than in relation to MPs, and whatever scenario one depicts the matter, that is, whether there is a sort of crisis in the political system or parliamentary politics, or not.
Figures of confidence levels for ward councilors were close to those of MPs, at 69 per cent level of confidence in the 2008 survey that has climbed down slightly to 66 per cent in the latest survey.
Equally surprising was how performance in various sectors was rated with different sentiments or judgmental positions, for instance a confidence level of 63 per cent in 2008 that depreciates a bit rapidly to 43 per cent in health sector evaluation, against a confidence level of 78 per cent in education that similarly declined to 55 per cent in the latest survey.
Figures for confidence or satisfaction levels in water service delivery were consistently low, at 42 per cent in 2008 and a modicum 34 per cent in the later survey. This view was pretty close to food security confidence, at 41 per cent back in 2008, and 24 per cent now.
Combating HIV infection surprisingly had pretty high confidence level, whose explanation could also need some penetrating psychological premises, as it was 83 per cent in 2008 and had climbed down to a still enviable 71 per cent confidence, whose premises were not of course set out. Roads were at a middle ranking slightly negative confidence feeling, polled at 56 per cent positive outlook in 2008 and 47 per cent in the recent survey, indicating a significant but not crushing decline.
The REPOA presenter and lead researcher Jamal Msami was at pains to emphasize that these are popular impression levels rather than objective assessments of performance in a strict sense of the term, with an evident implication that the difference can be immaterial at the political level, as it shows specific levels of contention noticed. What this implies is that this could not be forgotten in evaluating what sort of support levels there is for this or that sphere of government action, instead of talking glibly as to whether CCM is performing, etc.
At the same time the surveys provide a more or less clear political geography on who is likely to vote the CCM candidate in the 2015 polls and who might not, which aspects of government performance are likely to endear the voters to the ruling party, and if various aspirants to the nomination in CCM espouse specific or identifiable slogans, how these stand vis a vis the survey of sentiments.
This would for instance place former prime minister Edward Lowassa ahead of a possible challenge from the current holder, since the strong point of the former is education, and optimism in that area was fairly high when he was leaving office, and quite mild in the later poll.
The incumbent premier is more identified with agricultural sector policy drive; this isn’t much if measured by food security but much better with roads.
There was also an impression that the government was more efficient but corruption or bribery tendencies were more systematic, in which case confidence levels that were higher earlier tended to plummet with more negative opinions than earlier.
Those who found it hard to obtain identity documents rose from 42 per cent feeling that way in 2008 to 57 per cent as of now, while those finding access to utilities (water, electricity) hard stood at 35 per cent in 2008 and now reached a more worrying 64 per cent, while pessimism about obtaining help from the police wasn’t as high as it could have been expected in various quarters, from, 46 per cent who thought It was or would be hard in 2008 to a clearly majority sentiment at 54 per cent. Education as a high confidence area comes back in a measure or survey on how hard it is to get a place in school, standing at 84 per cent in 2008 to 15% now!
More direct indicators of popular sentiment was in regard to a question as to whether one feels that this or that institution is corrupt, fond of soliciting bribes, where the police came highest at 92 per cent of sentiments, with the tax authorities considered so by a not so easy to waive aside 86 per cent of those polled.
This was a general corruption perception level on government as a whole, with judges and local governments getting slightly softer treatment at 83 per cent of perceptions, while MPs clocked 79 per cent of perceptions of being compromised in bribes, the anti-corruption bureau also scoring rather high at 74 per cent, while the President’s Office obtained a sobering 72 per cent of sentiments that many of its officials accept ‘kitu kidogo’ to work on a problem.
That could also be matched with the 71 per cent confidence rating of how the president is performing, to see that the polling was conducted in a manner that was fairly consistent with its own results, which is often a key test as to whether it was objective.
The difficulty that faced the compact group of listeners to the presentation, in a seminar room at REPOA’s offices off the US Embassy in the city, was what this meant in a wider context, the sort of issues that are often rejected by academic sociology or rather scientific social research as worth pursuing, except in a private capacity on the basis of a certain vocation, be it politics, journalism, law or charitable causes, etc.
Thus social science as in this Afrobarometer survey gives one the proper picture, and it can in that sense be interpreted in any manner that one wishes, which is frustrating to ‘critical analysis’ as making sense out of it all, or intelligent sense (with political direction, input as to what is to be done) needs such an auxiliary dimension to the presentation. Otherwise it ends in vulgar impressions, snorting.
It is for instance unclear what is the political worth of positive views of performance of the president falling from 90 per cent to 71 per cent. And how does this tally with increase of perception of likelihood of bribes at State House, from five out of ten respondents in 2008 to seven out of ten. When 70 per cent of voters or citizens feel that the State House is corrupt, should its principal tenant get 70% ‘yes’ views?
This datum can also be linked with the less scientific but equally accurate ‘politometric’ survey in the recent ruling party electoral conference, where for the first time in living memory (that is, beyond the early fractious period of 1958 to 1968 parliamentary dissensions) never was it heard that leaflets were circulated urging a large ‘no’ vote for the incumbent party chairman.
While the level of ferment and angst about the matter was suffocating in newspapers and slightly beyond, ‘the elephant gave birth to a mouse’ as the French often satirize; just two delegates plucked enough courage to cast ‘no’ votes – and one would venture to say some protocol officials knew who they were and they were directed to do so. That is of course a reasonable hypothesis; if it was spontaneous it would have spread to more delegates.
Evidently this kind of speculation is far from the scientific exercise in barometric surveys, but it amplifies on what was given there, that no one among the delegates present was under illusions as to the probity of governance that the current administration is held among the public, but the key sentiment is that this is ‘nature,’ not the president’s failings.
In that case the whole thrust towards 2015 needs to be set out as to how ethical pontification-job creation, health, empowerment, national unity, new constitution- is realized or pursued in a ‘natural’ context where 70 per cent perception of State House bribes and even higher for overall probity in government, is consistent with a unanimous vote for the party’s leader. It is not a scenario where people seek change via rational means but is fraught with potential fragmentation.