As we round out our time in the Country of Tanzania, we have a lot to reflect on. We have spent more than three weeks in the so-called ‘third world’. It has certainly had an effect on us. It is evident that there is a lot to be done for equal opportunity and a truly democratic society to thrive. We realize that access to education and services like electricity, running water and even garbage removal which we take for granted are reserved for the privileged. More concerning, a fair voting process has yet to cemented.
We landed in Moshi, Tanzania three days before the presidential election – quite ironic given that we were looking forward to escaping attention on the political front during our travels. We were amongst very passionate people in an area buzzing with energy. Our guides were thrilled to be able to participate in the voting. They pined to stand in queue to mark their vote and their place in history. Our Safari guide took any chance he could to talk to other locals throughout our adventure to discuss who was in the lead. He had an absolutely infectious energy about him as he kept us abreast.
We left for our Safari on the day the vote took place. All throughout our drive to Terengire National Park we saw heaps of queues along the streets of each small town we passed through. Mind you, people had to wait in line in their ‘district’ to cast their vote. There are no absentee ballots here in Tanzania and most people don’t have a car. For most, this election day was a monumental task to organize their personal schedules to ensure they could participate. This was the first time in their near-50 year independence from Britain that another party was running against the ruling party. It was thrilling to witness the passion to not only vote but also the opportunity to represent their party affiliation; driving through the countryside, every other house was flying their flags of allegiance – either CCM, the ruling party, or the opposition, led by candidate Edward Lowassa. Most flags we saw near the towns of Moshi and Arusha were for the opposition: a blue and white flag with the hand showing the universal peace sign. As we drove down the road, kids, adults, almost everyone was all smiles while holding up their piece sign proudly. This was the signal of unity during our visit. It was exhilarating being witness to such an important time in their history. We couldn’t help but feel as though the opposition was going to win with all the support witnessed. It was clear that the opposition had a significant backing by the people of Tanzania – so we thought.
During the drive, our safari guide Mosses made us aware of the power which the ruling party exercised. We learned that the ruling party has been in power for the last 50 years with only three separate presidents. Mosses was very knowledgeable and provided a historical background during our drive through the many towns and villages. During the late 70’s, he spent over a year living in a cave with his family in order to protect themselves from shelling stemming from the territorial wars with Uganda. A harrowing tale that sent shivers down our backs. In speaking of the historic election day, he told us of impending conflict which he and many others anticipated; in the weeks leading up to the election, many boxes of fake votes for the ruling party were found in possession by election officials for said party. We started to realize how easily this symbolic day might simply slip away for so many hopeful Tanzanians. Nonetheless, hope remained on the faces and in the voices of many people we interacted with along the way.
As we finished our final day on safari, we asked Mosses if there was any news to share about the election. Clearly distraught, he told us that ruling party was slated to win. Indeed, it appeared as though the ruling party had rigged the election by use of the aforementioned fake votes. He did, however, mention that the ruling party had lost Zanzibar island to the opposition, but that this, of course, was heavily disputed. His final words about the election were extremely disheartening – he was never going to cast a vote again in light of this blatant corruption. As foreigners, from a democratic country, it was unfathomable that this could happen! This was the first time Mosses had ever voted and hearing that he may never cast a vote again, we realized that we couldn’t offer any helpful words. We decided not to broach the subject for the rest of the trip.
We were on Zanzibar Island for five nights and spent one day in the city of Stone Town. We noticed that we couldn’t see anything but the ruling parties’ flags throughout, which seemed quite odd given what Mosses had mentioned earlier. We were essentially in a European-centric resort with not many people around to discuss the election, which was just fine by us given the ferocity the subject demanded from Tanzanians. As we read a NY Times article trying to find out who did in fact win, we confirmed that the ruling party had yet to concede. The opposition party is fervently demanding a recount as they believe the election was rigged.
The ruling party has stated that they will hold a new election for Zanzibar in three months time but no official word regarding the country at large. In other, very disappointing words, to be continued for the people and country of Tanzania…
Apparently there are some who felt so disgusted and fed-up that they detonated home-made bombs in the streets of Stone Town on the very day we visited:
As you must realize while reading this, we are safe and sound and en route to Italy. News of this magnitude deeply upsets us, not only because we were in extremely close proximity to these terrorist acts but also because it seems that hope may be lost. We leave Tanzania with heavy hearts but truly hope the best for this country and every person we encountered.
If we were keeping score, it’s now Nick and Tarin 2, and disastrous occurrences 0! We have now lived through a Typhoon in the Philippines and a terrorist attack in Tanzania.