Social Media As Frontliners for Tanzania 2020 Election

Billboards, posters, and other creatives, this is the look of major cities in Tanzania. It’s election time. Unlike the 2015 election, however, this time we see the prominence of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi’s (CCCM) adverts; it's all green and yellow in every corner of Tanzania.
The Chanzo Reporter17 October 20205 min

Billboards, posters, and other creatives, this is the look of major cities in Tanzania. It’s election time. Unlike the 2015 election, however, this time we see the prominence of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi’s (CCCM) adverts; it’s all green and yellow in every corner of Tanzania.

There are no billboards from the opposition, alas you can hardly spot any campaign posters, most of the opposition print out are small A4 adverts and in few cases A3 adverts. The posters do not cover even one per cent in campaign areas. Even in the traditional media, the coverage between opposition parties and the ruling party is not as equitable as one may expect. For example, coverage from State-owned media mostly features news about CCM.  The trend is also common in the online media where opposition live coverage is done by fewer online media outlets compared to the coverage given to CCM campaign rallies.

However, on both sides of the aisles, the rallies, awareness, and passion are of equal weight, with both sides boasting huge crowds during rallies.

Social media is one factor that plays an equalization role, the two main opposition party Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) and ACT Wazalendo rely heavily on the use of social media as the go-to medium, for mobilization and in raising awareness. During the campaign rally in Mwanza, the CHADEMA Presidential candidate recognized the significance of social media in mobilization and awareness raising, in front of multitude of supporters he said:

“First, today you broke the attendance record, but you were not invited through radio, television or newspapers you invited yourself verbally and via WhatsApp”- Tundu Lissu, CHADEMA Presidential Candidate, September 2020.

CCM, on the other hand, had launched its information centre two weeks before the official campaign period. During the launching of the centre, in August 2020, in Dodoma, CCM secretary-general Dr Bashiru Ally said:

“But we did not have a system of public communication when we want to receive or give out information, So the secretariat approved the plan to have this facility, the main function of this centre is to build a bridge of communication between the public, party members as well as the party leadership.”

Unlike the views in the street through billboards, in social media both CCM and opposition parties have an equal platform, with both sides boasting dominance in one area or another.

It has been observed aside from mobilization and in raising awareness social media has played a key role in extending the discussion beyond campaign rallies. While Facebook and Instagram have been used greatly for awareness, Twitter has been used for both awareness-raising awareness, mobilization, and discussion of the campaign platform. The social media platform WhatsApp has been dominant in the mobilization of people to attend physical campaign rallies.

CCM has been using social media to complement messages shared in their campaign and one of the prominent strategies has been through leveraging the network of pro-party media which circulate information online. Also, the usage of good quality images, videos, and posts shared across parties’ social media accounts, members, artists, and supporters.  In a platform like Twitter, where political discussion is more prominent, there has been an increase of new accounts joining between July 2020 and September 2020. Most of these accounts join various discussion fora and share CCM posts, campaign messages as well as responding to various online critics against the party candidates or the party machinery.

As for the opposition parties, they use social media as the main channel for sharing campaign messages as well as sharing emergency news to the broader mass of the people. This includes the live-broadcasting of party’s campaign rallies on YouTube and other social media platforms as well as sharing short videos, posts, and images with the messages from the party candidates. Opposition parties have been seen to rely on a network of party supporters and well-wishers who in most cases posts online on an individual basis. That is say when certain content is posted by known opposition figures such as leaders, candidates or institutions handles, supporters pick up the message and spread to their own accounts. Social media has played a key role in also sharing messages of urgency such as when the opposition candidate convoy was blocked by the Police and also navigating through challenges such as raising awareness even during the period when the opposition Presidential candidate were suspended from campaigning.

While on the side of CCM most of their initiatives appear to go smoothly, that is not the same with the opposition. For example, on September 18, 2020, Chadema communication officer Dominic Mgaya was arraigned in court for posting on YouTube, Chadema Media TV, without a license. The Online Content Regulations, 2020, requires that every person/institution that  posts on YouTube to  have a license from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA). On September 25, 2020, police arrested three ACT-Wazalendo’s information officers; Arodia Peter, Dahlia Majid, and Dotto Rangimoto on cybercrimes charges. Two of the officers were released in the next day while Mr Rangimoto was released after eleven days in custody.

On October 5, 2020, police invaded the office of the CHADEMA’S Arusha parliamentary candidate and arrested five members of the candidate campaign team and confiscated phones and computers. Later on, police released a statement that they were holding five people on the cybercrime charges for the alleged intrusion of the banking communication network. On the other hand, police had also invaded the office of Chadema parliamentary candidate for Tarime Rural John Heche, and arrested the entire campaign team including the IT officers as well as destroying Mr Heche’s communication equipment.

Some netizens on Twitter have complained how tools such as copyright protection tools  are misused in targeting and suspending some of the critical voices on twitter, one  prominent activist wrote an open letter to the Twitter CEO on that matter.

As Tanzania is getting closer and closer to the polling day, the usage of social media and various online tools will increase. It is expected that there will be a surge in the use of social media as the election day gets closer. Various political parties have started to express their intention of using online tools for tallying and sharing election results.

Will the struggle increase, how far will the online influence go?

 

 

 

 

The Chanzo Reporter

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