I'm obviously not a political commentator nor a political scientist, but here are just some of my impressionistic observations... Since the day I arrived in Dar in early September, the atmosphere here has been tense, yet somewhat buoyant with hope. From school children to shop keepers to bajaji and taxi drivers to my key informants for my research, everyone seemed passionate talking about the future of their country, although I did get a sense of growing fatigue in the last few days leading up to the elections.
The 2015 general election is deemed important - commentators argue - because for the first time since the independence of Tanganyika in 1961, the ruling party, CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi), is competing against a formidable coalition of four main opposition parties, named UKAWA (Umoka wa Katiba ya Wananchi). It has significance for my research, because I get a sense that the fate of major development projects which are currently planned/stalled in Bagamoyo (e.g. agricultural, port, EPZ, etc.) will very much be determined by the election outcome.
Over the past few days, I have received many emails and messages that sketch out various doomsday scenarios, and others that provide a long checklist of things to do/don't do/stock up on before the election weekend. Indeed, it was pure madness at the grocery store yesterday. People swarmed all over the till not only to pay for stuff, but also to claim trolleys and baskets. There was no bottled water left at the shop; there were just a few bread loaves left at the bakery; toilet rolls were selling like hotcakes; and I had to go to four different shops to buy voucher for my mobile phone/internet. A retired professor from the University of Dar es Salaam, with whom I became quite close, said it was the first time ever that she and her husband decided to get away from Dar during election time for safety concerns...
FYI, just so you get a sense of the mood here, this is what someone posted on a Facebook group page the other day.
ELECTION DAY SAFETY TIPS
1. FOOD: Stock up on food and water (at least 1 week's supply) in case Markets and stores are not open or you can't go out. Prioritize non-perishable/dry food like those stored in cans over fresh food that takes time to cook and requires freezing (in case the power in your area is cut off).
Don't forget about cooking Gas!
2. FUEL: Stock up on enough fuel for your generator in case there is no electricity. Also make sure there is a full-tank of fuel in all of your vehicles.
*Note* Do not over stock fuel!!
3. CASH: Make sure you withdraw enough cash to keep in-hand in case there’s no working ATM near you so you have 1 less reason to go outside your house.
4. RALLIES: Stay away from Political Rallies, Gatherings and Protests as much as possible. If you must attend then be vigilant. Wait till you get to safety before updating your Social Media.
5. HOME: In the case of civil unrest, keep yourself and your family indoors at all times and keep your homes locked down. Ensure that all windows and doors are secure.
6. VEHICLES: Park your vehicles in secure areas, preferably within the walls of your compound and well away from the main roads.
7. CONTACTS: Remember emergency numbers and the numbers for the Medical Emergency Services and Fire Services. Notify them in the event of any emergency (Note: Please do not post tweets and ask that others RT till it gets to the authorities, in the time it takes a tweet to circulate life could be lost or assets damaged).
8. MOVEMENT: Know at least 2 routes to your office and back to your home. You can confirm the safety of routes via updates and reports on social media.
9. FAMILY: Make sure all your family members (especially those living with you) know the numbers to call in case of any emergency. Discuss with them about what to do in case of an emergency or in case you get separated for any reason.
10. EQUIPMENTS & NECESSITIES: Ensure you stock up on equipment such as flashlights, batteries, candles, medical supplies (e.g. First Aid Boxes), recharge cards (or add sufficient credit to your phone), etc.
11. MORE TIPS: Don't keep late nights. Make sure you tell your family exactly where you are going to, anywhere you are be alert. Pick every call because the person might want to tell you what will save your lifeEat or drink only at trusted peoples house. Pray before you enter a bus and be sensitive even when in it. Don't be a political thug once you sense fight is about to start, pick your things and run. Don't get involved inn student protest (at least for now). Night parties are extremely dangerous for now
12. CONCLUSION: In addition to these tips, remember that no need for any unnecessary movement on Election Day . You can expect anything, even Rallies leading up to the Elections so stay tuned Social Media pages for news and information about the dates, times and locations of rallies so you can plan ahead.
On the other hand, here is what the British authorities have been giving out, ha!
1. PUT THE KETTLE ON Sit down and have a nice cup of tea. Remember, put the milk in first. Flick through an old copy of Good Housekeeping or Country Life - the world will feel better afterwards.
2. EMERGENCY SUPPLIES Dads, don't forget to stock up on Hamlet cigars, you'll want to look the part if things go tits up. Mums, it's gin. Make sure you have downloaded at least three episodes of The Archers omnibus podcast.
3. THE GOLDEN RULE If it all starts to resemble the dining room scene in Carry On Up The Khyber, just remember: Keep Calm And Carry On.
In the past month and a half, I probably met/rode with over 40 bajaji drivers and dozens of taxi drivers. The overwhelming majority of bajaji drivers (i.e. young men) were keen to vote for Edward Lowassa, the presidential candidate of the main opposition party, CHADEMA (Chama Cha Demokrasia Na Maendeleo). There was only one guy, who said he was going to vote for CCM; he even gave me an extra CCM poster to hang on my wall...! There was another driver who clearly seemed like he belonged to CCM; he was wearing a CCM cap, a CCM t-shirt, and matching green track pants. What I found amusing was that he wasn't even going to vote for CCM; the clothes were given out for free at some rally. My impression from talking to many young bajaji drivers over the past seven weeks is that they don't always have a clear rationale on why they want Lowassa to be the next president of Tanzania (Union). Most of them referred to how they wanted change, and by change, they seemed to want something simply other than CCM. Many referred to how CCM has been reigning for too long (56 years), but seldom did they speak in depth about the presidential candidates themselves - their biography, competency, experience, campaign promise, etc. The taxi drivers on the other hand (who are generally older than bajaji drivers), seemed to either want to vote for CCM at any cost; vote for Magufuli despite themselves not being part of CCM (because they can't afford to see Lowassa win); or to not vote at all. I had very limited interaction with Tanzanian women (of all age groups) in Dar, which makes me quite curious as to for whom they will cast a vote and why.
On the day of the general election, I followed my housemate, Mkunde, to a school in Mikocheni A. We arrived an hour before the polls opened, but there was already a long queue. I was quite impressed. There were maybe 4-5 soldiers on duty, but with no weapons in sight. Voters had to find their names on the rosters and line up at the place where they saw them. Most people who showed up early were men. The bajaji driver who took us to the school said he was no. 2 at his poll; someone was holding his spot while he was making his ends meet. Most of the people that were in line were men. Mkunde was supposed to meet with two of her girl friends, but they showed up late, because they had to prepare chai for their children and take care of a few things in the house. As it drew closer to 7 am, more women showed up. Many in colourful kangas and kitenges -- I assumed many of these women would be heading to church afterwards. Elderly, disabled, and lactating women were given priority. There were some delays in setting up the booths (I think), and the first person went into cast his vote around 7.15 am. Mkunde was done by 8 am. By then, the queue had grown longer to an extent that I had to use a panorama mode on my phone to capture the scene. The early hours of election day was rather peaceful in my neighbourhood. I am hoping it will stay like this the next couple of days...