It’s been about two months since the DP World saga started, becoming one of the longest public discussions in Tanzania in recent years, yet the issue hasn’t quite snowballed into sentiments for wider political changes.
Yes, the public is shocked and angry. But there isn’t obvious evidence that support for the opposition as an alternative political option has increased. Nor has the public fury against the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party swollen. I have three theories that try to explain why that is the case.
Firstly, many consider the issue merely an incompetence problem that can be fixed, believing that it’s only a failure by the government of President Samia Suluhu Hassan to negotiate a better deal and not necessarily about an unpatriotic president on a mission to squander national resources.
CCM understands this very well. During their countrywide public rallies, as they counterattack criticism, their key message was hardly about the party fighting for its life. It was about shielding President Samia by claiming ownership of the project.
The ruling party appears to say, “If you have a problem with the project or how the deal has been handled, then blame the party and not the president.”
The second theory is that the political opposition has, until this movement, failed the public in leading the fight for accountability. So far, no government official has resigned, and the deal remains intact.
Are we too tired to demand higher accountability, or was there no significant issue with the deal that merited a resignation or firing?
Tanzania’s leading opposition party, CHADEMA, turned the issue into an agenda worth holding rallies for nationwide. But, the party seems to struggle to turn the issue into an active and sustainable movement for wider political change in the country.
I hesitate to claim that the party doesn’t understand the country’s electorate. Or that it can’t connect an issue with the right electorate.
But how does one explain that an opposition party seems convinced that the Dar es Salaam port deal would perfectly resonate with a bodaboda rider in Kagera? Or would a fisherman in Pangani, Tanga and a woman vendor at Mwanga Street in Kigoma risk confrontations with police in protest of the Dar es Salaam port?
Could it be because the issue is a middle-class problem, but the group is too content to be bothered? Unfortunately, little has been documented regarding Tanzania’s middle class as an electorate block.
But if the Kenyan middle class has anything to teach about the group and the role it can play in influencing democratic change, then the Tanzanian opposition has a mammoth task to get this group moved.
For about three decades, the Kenyan middle class has been seen to have no problem supporting authoritarian regimes as long as they gain something from it, their interests are kept safe or a combination of both. Between the 1930s and 1950s, the middle class supported the authoritarian rule.
To keep them from supporting the Mau Mau uprising, between the 1950s and 1960s, the colonial government used land programmes and access to credit to win the group’s loyalty. When Jomo Kenyatta came to power, he employed similar tactics, promising political and economic stability, and effortlessly won the group to his side.
Here in Tanzania, the political opposition has failed to develop a clear and consistent strategy for dealing with the middle-class votes. It also appears disinterested and clueless about the walalahois’ woes. To their credit, ACT-Wazalendo has every now and then been mentioning them.
Lastly, many ignore or forget the ‘Samia factor’ at play. Former President John Magufuli’s crackdown on the opposition naturally evoked the public’s sympathy against the opposition.
In those troubled days, the opposition didn’t have to do much to earn the public’s compassion. Now that they are largely free to do politics, the expectations are different and higher.
Collectively, the ongoing despair that public officials could ever be held accountable, even for erroneous blunders such as the Bandari deal, is an indictment for politicians and civil society alike – including the media.
We have failed to create, expand and protect civic space where real issues are discussed and accountability is fiercely demanded. Now, the apathy levels have reached the highest point. The attempted intimidation and harassment of dissenting voices do not help the situation.
Sammy Awami is an independent journalist and analyst based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter as @awamisammy. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at email@example.com for further inquiries.