Election in East Africa

Ever since I got to my village in Tanzania, there has been campaign buzz regarding a recently-vacated seat of parliament due to the untimely passing of this area’s representative.

The Iringa region was to elect a new official on March 16th.

Within days of my arrival at the end of January, the first signs of the election surfaced. Quiet days in the village began to be highlighted (or interrupted depending on your perspective) by drive-by campaign commercials.

Minus television or even much radio in town, political ads are live. You’d hear the “ad” coming a from a few hundred yards away in the form of decorated trucks with speakers or megaphones a-blaring. Music or speech, either way the muffled audio was unmistakable in its intent. The music was celebratory; the speaking direct. “We are the party for you!” it declared.

Chadema campaign vehicle

The Chadema Party is known as “the opposition”. Like the U.S., Tanzania is largely a two party country, but unlike America, Tanzania in 2014 isn’t much of a contest of who will be elected. It has created a “ruling” and “opposition” party and the CCM Party has been in power since Tanzanian independence in 1961.

From what I’ve gathered, the CCM—despite starting off as a socialist party—is today the party of men in nice suits bumping elbows with business. Not everyone thinks CCM is doing the best job. People are calling for more equality, that things aren’t as good as they could be due to corruption. Those in the villages want nice things like electricity, too. Who’s going to speak for them?

So over the years, Chadema has risen as CCM’s main challenger. Interestingly, right here in Magulilwa, these two parties’ offices are right next to each other.

Chadema in the back with the red, white, and blue. The CCM raises its iconic green flag.

On these buildings, and elsewhere to be sure, the candidates’ campaign pictures began to decorate the area architecture in the thick of this abbreviated campaign stretch.

Chadema

CCM

Fast forward a few weeks to Friday, March 14th, and I was in my room typing or eating or reading an old National Geographic—perhaps all three—when I heard a familiar-sounding loud vehicle approaching on this early afternoon. I had wanted to photograph one of these automobile ads in action, so remember being bummed that I missed my chance as I heard this vehicle’s music fading. But not long after it went by, I heard another approach. These things usually didn’t come in twos. And this one’s music was really loud. I wondered if the two party’s cars were driving in some proximal competition.

I hopped up from my table and out of my compound, just in time to catch this vehicle strolling by. And rather than a normal-sized truck, this yellow-painted monster was a livestock-hauler. Replace cattle in the caged bed of the truck with huge, blaring speakers and you get the idea. And from the green accents of the vehicle, I knew this campaign cruiser belonged to the CCM.

I jogged back to my room, grabbed my camera, and followed the sounds from the vehicles into the village. I walked down the main street to see up ahead a whole motorcade creeping away from me, heading further into town. I walked fast to catch up and watched the white vehicles all turn into the large, open Magulilwa city square.

In more developed cities, this area may have been cobble stone or brick-based. Here, it’s soft, red earth with a patchy carpet of bright green grass.

Approaching the scene, I saw the vehicles parked in a row as well as the yellow concert-on-wheels standing there bumping the square. There was a small stage next to the truck with a crowd of a healthy 200 huddled tightly around the stage. Then just as I lumped into the crowd, a young man with a microphone and a mission to make people move offered his artistic antics to liven the crowd.

The people held signs indicating their support.

There’s the large truck blaring the music.

Behind the stage and along the street, CCM party heads sat in a row.

This was their candidate’s, Godfrey Mgimwa, big campaign stop in Magulilwa. And I must say, for it being just a modest village in the region, they put on a show. After the MC’s warm-up and a speech from a party leader, the rest of the seated party heads rose from their chairs to dance—including the candidate himself.

The excitement and energy, the dancing and political signs on sticks, the jubilation and cheer. It reminded me of the U.S.

Check it out:

***

Perhaps similar to how you experienced these pictures/video, the fact that I couldn’t decipher the speech–and that I knew little to nothing about the candidate or party–allowed me to view the scene with refreshed eyes. As the MC danced, as the women ululated at the speaker’s high points, I had to note the extreme level of joy and celebration in relation to what these folks stood to gain if their candidate won.

Ideology is a powerful thing here in Tanzania, back home, everywhere. It has people solemnly believing that life is right when their ideology is met; and these people’s ideology being met depended on this guy winning.  Thus they invested their day, energy, hopes, and selves into this campaign and event.

Some here, I’m thinking, just like to cheer for a winner. It’s more fun to be a Yankees fan because they win a lot of games. In fact, it hit me that people come together in these situations to celebrate in a religion/sports-ish combination—a belief that they will be saved and that there will be a better tomorrow because of their elected “savior”, and a rooting for a team whose outcome matters little to one’s actual life.

Ideologically-free children seemed to enjoy the music, but they also seemed to wonder what all the fuss was about.

***

Two days later, I was at my usual internet café in Iringa when I heard cars honking from what I assumed was a traffic incident. The honking continued, got louder, and was now accompanied by celebratory music. The CCM motorcade came on by, drowning out the neighborhood in their exultant parade.

They won the election by a commanding 79% of the vote.

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One Response to “Election in East Africa”

  1. Bev Klein says:

    Another good post, Brandon.
    I still can’t get over the color of the “dirt”
    The people always seem to dress so colorful too.
    We just had Township elections, but no campaigning like over there.

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