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Letter from Africa: Tanzania's nail-biting election

image copyrightAFP

In our series of letters from African journalists, Joseph Warungu reports that Sunday's presidential election in Tanzania is the most competitive in the country's history.

There are foreign cameras everywhere in Tanzania, and no, they are not taking selfies, instead they are keeping a watchful eye on the country.

In any election, any other year, hardly anyone outside the country's borders would pay any attention to Tanzanians as they vote, because Tanzania is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in Africa.

Presidents are voted into office and leave without a strong military hand or popular protests shoving them out the door.

Since independence Tanzania has had four presidents who between them have served a total of 54 years.

'Jumped ship'

But this election is different and a number of factors have combined to turn the sleepy Tanzanian political landscape into an intense battlefield.

To begin with, for the first time ever, the main opposition parties, including Chadema, have joined forces to support one candidate for the presidency.

image copyrightCCM
image captionCCM campaigners do press-ups to show their candidate John Magufuli is healthy and fit for office
image copyrightChadema
image captionCandidates are using helicopters to get to rallies across the vast country - this is Chadema's official Twitter photo

This opposition umbrella is known by its Swahili acronym, Ukawa.

In 2002 in neighbouring Kenya, a similar opposition umbrella group delivered a fatal blow to the ruling Kanu party, which had been in power for 40 years since independence.

Secondly incumbent Jakaya Kikwete has to leave office having served the maximum two five-year terms allowed by the constitution, so the stage is set therefore for a new president.

Thirdly, Edward Lowassa, a key figure in the ruling CCM party, and who served as prime minister, jumped ship shortly before the campaigns and is the now the greatest challenge to the party.

He is Ukawa's presidential candidate and he knows the spots that hurt within CCM.

Fourthly there is the youth factor and the undecided voters: More than half of the 22,750,789 registered voters are aged between 18-35 years.

Many of them are first-time voters - which means no-one can tell which way their vote will go.

Joseph Warungu:

image copyrightBBC Sema Kenya

"When money, politics and power converge, you can expect fireworks"

  • Could CCM lose?

Unlike other elections, modern campaign methods are all the rage in this election.

The use of helicopters by the main parties and some prominent candidates makes it easy to criss-cross this vast country and hold a number of rallies each day.

Social media is a key frontier to conquer in this election and a strong web presence is mandatory.

Finally, there is the money factor.

Judging by the amount of live radio and TV advertising that has been purchased by the parties and candidates, as well as the forest of party posters, banners, billboards and flags everywhere, it is clear the main parties are loaded with cash.

image copyrightAFP
image captionRuling party candidate John Pombe Magufuli (R) is untainted by corruption
image copyrightReuters
image captionHis rival Edward Lowassa has long harboured presidential ambitions

When money, politics and power converge, you can expect fireworks.

But CCM is an experienced electoral machine with a solid loyal block of supporters.

Its presidential candidate John Magufuli comes largely scandal-free and has a reputation for being a "mchapa kazi" - a hard worker who delivers on his word.

He will be no push-over.

'Sharpened focus'

So what do they main players in this election want?

media captionSammy Awami reports on the debate over Zanzibar's autonomy as Tanzania's general election approaches
  • The opposition Ukawa coalition has one critical goal: To chase CCM from power.
  • The ruling CCM has the opposite objective: To remain in power forever and certainly not lose to its defector.
  • Edward Lowassa: This former prime minister has harboured presidential ambitions for more than 20 years and believes CCM cheated him out of becoming its presidential candidate.
  • John Pombe Magufuli: He has wanted to be president for a while and was a very competent minister who thinks his time has come.
  • Outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete: He is a worried man as the ruling party will never forgive him if it dies in his hands.
image copyrightAFP
image captionRuling party supporters say they have guaranteed stability in Tanzania since independence
image copyrightReuters
image captionThe opposition believes a split in the ruling party has bolstered its chances

But what do the ordinary Tanzanians want?

All they want is food on their tables, jobs to support their families, a reliable and affordable health care system and quality education.

Safe drinking water and reliable efficient infrastructure are also top on their list.

Every voter in Africa wants and needs these same things. Tanzanians too deserve them.

They are looking for a leader who will deliver this promise and sustain the peace and stability the country has enjoyed since independence.

For now the many foreign cameras in Tanzania will sharpen their focus as the day approaches for Tanzania to decide who they really really want.

Related Topics

  • Tanzania