TANZANIA will in October, this year, hold its fourth general election under the current political dispensation of plural politics. The election will have much to say about the state of the country's political stability, the viability and the sustainability of the democratic process.
The new generation of political leaders who will emerge after this year's general election will eventually determine the manner in which the future of democracy in the country will be recognised and remembered.
When we examine the viability and sustainability of the democratic experiment in Tanzania, there are three points to remember whenever we look at this important political scheme. The first is the nature of the state and the manner in which Tanzanians relate to it. Judging from the 48 years of post independence experimentation in state-building and nation-building, one can say that a Tanzanian identity has emerged and is growing in stature and importance in African and global circles.
However, the future of the entrenchment of democracy in Tanzania would be determined by the emerging political situation in the federated islands of Pemba and Zanzibar where political enmity now seems to be a thing of the past as the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi and the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) learn to live together and use their strength to fortify their identity on the global political scene.
Tanzania has great potentials but its future is planted in the hearts and minds of all the ethnic groups in the country. If all Tanzanians support this new democracy and the attendant benefits that are likely to grow in the coming years, then their grandchildren would look back to our times and laud their trials and tribulations during the long journey away from colonialism and imperialism.
The second point deals with the role of civil society in the consolidation of the democratic spirit in Tanzanian life and culture. Through the demonstration effect, many Tanzanians can inculcate the spirit in their daily lives and in the activities of their organizations. Democracy cannot take root in any society if the people themselves are unwilling to plant its seeds in the areas of life frequented by the youth.
Through the socialization process, Tanzanians can advance their nation by showing their traditional cultures have room for the individual while affirming the collective benefits of family unity and ethnic solidarity. The democratic process can yield fruits only when the zero level of tolerance and truth among the diverse groups of a country is raised to higher levels. Since the adoption of plural politics in 1992 Tanzanians are now struggling desperately to raise this national average to a commendable level. It will take time, efforts and sacrifices for this to come about.
The third fact is that consolidation of democracy among Tanzanians is going to depend on the development of the political system. By building a strong political order Tanzanians would solve the challenges of establishing a political system that minimises, if not getting rid totally, of the appearance of non-state violence in society.
Through the establishment of a new democracy that works, Tanzanians may become the source of inspiration, as they had been during Africa's liberation struggle in the 1960s and 70s to many other African countries.
Democracy thrives when any set of people, regardless of their inherent differences, willfully agree to be governed democratically. On the surface, it seems that Tanzanians have agreed to be governed democratically, but do we have the level of national character required for informed democracy?
Another element of democracy that we seem to not recognise is its very complex nature as a political system that requires some level of civilization to thrive. It cannot be efficiently utilized as a system of governance in any society where 99 per cent of the population is illiterate. History backs up this assumption.
The concept of democracy was originally crafted while taking into consideration certain level of civilization which the ancient Romans had and transferred to Europe and then America. In fairness to those who discovered it to be the best system of governance known to man, Tanzania and many nations in Africa do not have the fundamental level of civilisation necessary for building sustainable democracy.
If you think this assumption is erroneous and rebellious, now consider this. It takes a significant amount of civilised restraint for a leader to recognise that one of the pivotal rules of democracy is that it offers the governed power to challenge and disagree, even more than it offers any one person or set of people the power to govern.
As a rule, democracy cannot work in any society in which people are not ready to die in defence of other people’s right to challenge them. But as for governance, we have yet to create a situation for sustainable democracy; for now, we are diametrically heading in the opposite direction. The truth of the matter is that there are some elements of a society that make democracy thrive.
These elements are under-provided in our society. If democracy was an economic product, we would not have the natural resources to produce it in a viable amount.
So how do we reach sustainable democracy? First, it is important to encourage a general understanding that democracy reflects a people’s way of life as opposed to our current perception of it as just an act of voting. The fact that a nation chooses their leaders by voting is not synonymous with democracy.
As the political privileges of the common Tanzanian keep being eroded by the ruling class, the danger exists that the process of democratization will eventually come to a halt. Tanzania will not be a strong democracy until we become aware that voting is an end, and not a means, to democracy. Free and fair elections are aspects of democracy that only manifest when the other conditions have been met. The only scenario for sustainable democracy in Tanzania is civilization nurtured by mass literacy.
There is more to democracy than just voting. It is a way of life that can only be sustained through the equality and freedom of the masses.