Election season in Tanzania

Posted October 16, 2010 in Tanzania

It's election season in Tanzania, and there's a new bus station somewhere near the middle of nowhere.

A shiny new bus station in Nyaka Kangaga, Tanzania.

I can't figure out how many people need this bus station. Nyaka Kangaga doesn't even appear on the census. The biggest nearby census-polled town, Heru Ushingo, counted about 60,000 people back in 2002. (And how many of them can vote? The number probably fluctuates wildly with Burundian refugee migrations.)

Nyaka Kangaga isn't at a fork in the road. Sure, Burundi is a day's walk away, but there's no border crossing. Few Tanzanians live in the area. Kigoma, the nearest hub, is three hours away. There's no airstrip or seaport. To me, it seems like there's very little reason to build a brand-new bus station instead of, say, hiring teachers or doctors or paving the road.

But Nyaka Kangaga is a bottleneck. People pass through it. Busloads and busloads of people.

Voters, one might call them. On their way to Kigoma.

And if there's one thing that sets Kigoma apart, it's that many of its voters are considering an opposition party.

Tanzania's only-ever ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (Party of the Revolution), got 70 per cent of votes and 81 per cent of seats in the 2005 election: a solid win. But since then, things have changed. Opposition politicians have made their voices heard. (A Dar es Salaam taxi driver told me of an MP near Kigoma, 1,000 kilometres away: "he's not afraid of anyone.") Donor-funded Haki Elimu has been running TV ads about poor Kayumba getting delayed by dala-dalas, being forced to sell eggs instead of learning, and sleeping through class because of hunger. (Haki Elimu was part of national debate in the 2005 elections, too, but politicians should assume its messages have penetrated further this time around.) Cell phones have spread everywhere, and they're affordable.

Opposition supporters rally to win Kigoma from ruling-party control.

Tanzanians are talking more and more. On October 31, we'll hear what they're saying.