Media factor in 2015 Tanzania election

Posted on August 20, 2015 12:01 am

Campaigning and electioneering in Tanzania are often a rambunctious affair. Lately Tanzania’s Electoral body is determined to curb its negative excesses with tighter regulatory guidelines and stricter enforcements. According to a Political Analyst with deep understanding of local politics, all large posters or billboards intended for the purposes of canvassing should have been limited to one administrative village commonly known as kijiji in Swahili per political party or candidate representative. In addition, flags and banners depicting particular political parties representatives need to be permitted only within zones set up and delegated by the commission. Street banners need to be standardized in stipulated electoral zone. His argument is based on the fact that the environmental impact on the country will be immense. While proponents commended authorities for their efforts at anticipating the deleterious impacts of protracted campaigns even before the official campaign season begins next week on August 25th 2015, dissenters expressed their displeasure over (no demonstrations in Tanzania countrywide until after elections) new guidelines as “undemocratic” while offering an unfair advantage to the incumbents. In spirit, these new regulatory guidelines serve to minimize what often amounted to “campaign-clutter” in cities and neighborhoods. On the other other hand, the result of advertorials, banners and posters strewn all over the place is now a reality than fiction across the country.

In Tanzania, loopholes and “grey areas” can easily be exploited to prematurely raise the profiles of specific parties and candidates’ among the electorate. Early campaign efforts have already begun unofficially with posters put up surreptitiously and understated promotions of individuals alongside televised commercials and government ads.These actions have caused jitters within certain sections of Tanzanian society who cried foul over ambiguous and opportunistic attempts at self-promotion. Despite all the brouhaha exchanged, the fiercest political battles, spats and lobbying have already began over a much more open and increasingly ubiquitous medium – cyberspace.As political public spaces become more constricted and contested, many have chosen to migrate over to cyberspace, and rightly so. In the successive years since the last major elections in 2010, Tanzanians from all walks life have embraced social media platforms at an unprecedented rate. Although Tanzania featured at a paltry 8 percent in terms of Internet broadband penetration, this did not deter the most peaceful country in Africa from becoming one of Facebook’s largest client in Sub Saharan Africa.All these have been facilitated by a nascent “mobile culture” with more than 50 percent of Tanzanians owning at least one mobile phone. According to a 2014 report on social media trends in Tanzania, approximately 78 percent of tweets are sent over via mobile smartphones.Such rousing figures must have jolted politicians into action.

Almost all potential contenders running in the 2015 general election maintain Facebook and Twitter accounts. Others have expressly chose to outsource campaign and promo efforts over to amateur and professional groups on YouTube or feature themselves on political blogs.Some have even gone the extra mile of launching “app” for the purposes of campaigning. Increasingly, social media platforms are becoming the requisite battle-gear for the aspiring politicians with joint opposition Presidential candidate and former Premier Edward Lowassa by far being the most active online.Conversely, this also means that those without access to or interest in these new appurtenances are now at a distinct disadvantage.The nature and form of political competition and campaigning in Tanzania have evolved substantially ever since electoral rules were democratised and liberalised. The new free and “marketised” electoral landscape post-Julius Nyerere means parties or individuals with the means can afford an attempt at one-upmanship among rivals. Consultants, pollsters, surveys and political advertising agencies are playing an indispensable role to that effect and will have a profound impact on the outcomes of October 25th General elections.Services being offered include gathering data, political marketing, media analysts, focus group interviews, communication strategies and door-to-door campaigns.They are a much-welcomed presence by well-financed political teams and are steadily gaining notoriety as “makers and breakers of the political campaign”.The distinction between reputable surveys and polls as well as objectionable ones remains fuzzy in Tanzania. With the rise of these new professionalized mechanisms reputed to be driven by big businesses and seen as “spin doctors” by some, there has been a worrying sense of the state of democracy in Tanzania.

It is feared that with powerful backing and capital as its premise, an unequal playing field is created whereby politics in Tanzania is slowing becoming only the preserve of the rich and powerful.While it may seem like the odds of winning 2015 Tanzania elections are stacked unfavorably against the politically obscure and the financially deficient, Tanzanians recent infatuation with the self-effacing, Edward Lowassa, may prove otherwise. Already the “Lowassa factor” has imbued the Tanzanian electorate with a new lease of promise,changing the way of how politics should be conducted. His magnetism and appeal has been largely correlated with social media in Tanzania. With pre-election season yet to draw to a close, canvassing and lobbying for Edward Lowassa as the most ideal opposition presidential candidate have already began furiously online, with new media as its precedent. The “carryover” effect of new media in Tanzania can be seen when mainstream polling syndicates, inspired by the tremendous impact of “Team Lowassa” has both online and in the press, did a series of surveys and opinion polls on the topic of his electability. Although results have not been entirely consistent,Edward Lowassa overwhelming features as Tanzania’s most electable candidate but that doesn’t mean he will easily defeat Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s Presidential candidate John Pombe Maghufuli, one of the best performing minister Tanzania has had in the past two decades. As the contest for votes and popularity heats up come campaign season kicking officially on 25th August 2015, a new equation will have to be factored in, the new media. An unprepossessing act of self-discretion and refined demeanor caught on Google Plus, posted on YouTube and re-circulated on Twitter may be the tipping point toward a triumph at the polls. As for the increasingly constrained public spaces allowed for campaigning, its strategic relevance is still markedly felt in rural areas.The good news is that the new media has taken centre stage in Tanzania.

Contador Harrison