As Tanzania approaches its national elections in a years' time, it is worth looking back at what holds our democracy so that moving forward as a nation we can strengthen our loose ends and build on the pillars that our liberty was found on. During the past couple of weeks we have seen a number of politicians campaigning and mobilizing voters for the recent local elections that took place this weekend. With little less than a handful of campaigns in the urban areas one can only assume that very few people have come out to exercise their constitutional right and voted, while in the rural areas where there's lack of education and information one can also assume that the voters only voted for whom ever promised them milk and honey.
With the newspapers full of stories on corruption and lack of accountability of leaders, one just can't stop asking as to whether voters are conscious of what their votes mean, and whether they really understand the power that lies in their hands as they cast those ballots? Can they feel the democracy they are voting for during each election?
Many countries profess to be democratic with democratically elected governments while the majority of their citizens live in poverty and underdevelopment. Definitions of democracy vary from country to country and so does its meaning from person to person. Many believe that a simple casting of a ballot serves the purpose while others believe that voting alone is not sufficient for democracy to hold. Despite these differences, the word democracy is much used around the world with comparisons being made between democratic and undemocratic countries. The word democracy which comes from two Greek words: demos and kratos, meaning people and power is indeed at its roots about people's power yet for many countries, "government of the people, by the people and for the people," remains a tantalizing, elusive ideal.
Democracy enjoys high levels of support amongst Africans, averaging 73% across 19 countries. Even higher numbers reject one-party rule (73%), military rule (75%) and strongman rule (79%) respectively but how much of this does actually translate to popular governance? How much of the millions of citizens in the continent influence what their governments do? Is there enough will and space between the elected leaders and their constituencies to engage on the issues that affect the daily lives of citizens? Is the democracy we have actually democratic?
These are the questions that each citizen should ask as means of understanding the effectiveness of our governments in fulfilling the will and aspirations of the people.
A recent Afrobarometer study has shown that the development of democratic citizenship among Africans is still relatively weak.
While a sizeable majority of Africans are both interested in politics (64 %) and discuss politics with friends and family on a regular basis (68%), interest in politics does not appear to translate into high levels of political knowledge.
Tanzania is rich with all kind of minerals, agriculture, tourism but unfortunately majority of its citizens live in extreme poverty while the government is dependent on foreign aid for to deliver its services. You would even believe there is a total lack of political will for development if the country enriches foreigners more than its own people. And if it is so then where is the heart of the leaders?
It is also an unfortunate interest of some leaders to keep their constituencies in a less advantageous position so that they don't challenge nor engage them because of their low levels of education and income. By fostering greater participation, transparency, and availability of information, increasing citizen's voice in politics and public life, they can improve the impact of policies and programs, reduce corruption, and strengthen governance.
It is thus the obligation of the citizens of Tanzania to take advantage of their sovereignty as the source of power of the state and engage in all levels of governance as a united voice, to ensure that the leaders take account and deliver on their promises.
Written by: Mvuyisi April, Facilitator for the Community and Citizen Empowerment Programme of the African Democracy Institute - Idasa and is currently in Tanzania working on Accountable Governance and Economic Justice on a programme with the Norwegian Church Aid.
This article was first published in The Guardian Newspaper, Tuesday, 27th October entitled: "Citizens have key role to play in ensuring good governance".