During the run-up to voting in the just-ended General Election, only China among the major powers showed to have sentiments close to feelings in Tanzania on the conducting of elections without outside assistance.
That chiefly related to the financing part, and perhaps a few other things on the ethos of how polls are conducted, and what outcomes would be entirely desirable.
There are voices in global communications and diplomacy that a new Cold War has come up between the Chinese model and the American model, and it takes a lot of public discussion even merely to get some clarity on the terms of that divide.
But one thing is certain from the Chinese model, and it is that the real test of legitimate governance is genuine popularity, while the Western model is based on conducting “unfettered” elections.
The reason is that in the Western model no policy or public engagement about where a country stands or its future is more important than a democratic poll.
As a matter of fact, the dispute about what is taking place in Tanzania isn’t just a Cold War sort of split between democracy and variants of authoritarianism but reflects a deeper issue in the history of democracy, as to what confluence there is between culture and politics.
There is something homogenous about Tanzanian political culture since independence in 1961 where only the nationalist movement was properly cohesive as a party, and until 1965 when multiparty politics were abolished, there was only some dissent within that party (for instance, about the Preventive Detention Act in 1962). Not real opposition.
In that sense, while the tone in some suggestions one gets from the regional media is that Tanzania is veering from some accepted democratic norms, the picture one gets from the just-ended General Election is that opposition parties need to work a lot harder to make an impression on the country’s political landscape.
To an extent, the now seriously paled opposition prepared the ground for this change, as a range of its youthful, energetic and academic cadres shifted to the ruling party once President Dr John Magufuli moved to break citadels of graft in government institutions, earning the respect of radical local and foreign observers.
For instance, Magufuli’s methodical reform of the minerals sector was similar in the manner in which the public showed adhesion to the changes.
There are other lessons about democratic elections that academia not just in Tanzania but all over Africa has failed to learn but that practical democratic performance brings it out.
One is that the more a country is anchored in capitalism, the predominance of the private sector and the absence of a pervading public sector in all major sectors of economy, the easier it can exercise democratic elections.
Removing a government and putting another in place carries implications like replacing thousands of people from their jobs because there are new political loyalties – and often just upstarts, as largely obtained at independence.
It isn’t something that many would relish and, given a relatively homogenous political culture, they can do without the bluster, at the risk of tainting somewhat usual procedures of a democratic election.
Quizzed about ‘forced villagisation’ in 1973 by the Western media, Mwalimu Nyerere said ‘it is sometimes compulsory, like vaccination’. Reaction to this was divided, which was to be expected, but the message had sunk – and it provided vital lessons for Tanzania and various other countries.