Saturday, 13 November 2010

An Idiot's Guide to Afrikan Democracy (Election Special)

When the army rolls into a city, it usually means its time for you to roll out. As two truckloads of heavily armed soldiers piled into Stone Town (Zanzibar’s capital) market, adding to the already sizable military presence on the island, we came to the conclusion it was time for us to leave the city. In fairness, we should have seen this eventuality coming, in the guide book that we are religiously using for this trip, it clearly stated ‘Travel to Tanzania during October 2010 is strongly discouraged as Presidential elections at this time will inevitably increase tensions and possibly put tourists at risk.’ Not only did we choose to ignore this advice, but we also decided to travel to the most politically volatile region of the country; the Spice Islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, and whilst there proceeded to attract trouble wherever we went. Yes, this really is an idiot’s guide to the 2010 Tanzanian Election.
Afrikan politics has been a bit of a laugh ever since the end of the Second World War. They always seem to be having coups, or insurrections, or army takeovers, but it seems that the end product is always pretty much the same, just another bloke with a beret and a load of medals on his chest claiming to be the new Nelson Mandela. Tanzania, apparently, is a shining light of Afrikan ‘democracy’ having successfully traversed twenty years without invading anyone and anyone invading it. And according to the internal Electoral commission, this latest election (31st October) passed off as democratically as a PTA Meeting, which, quite frankly is bollocks. Only one man could be seen on the countrys TV, his pencil-moustached mug plastered across every spare bit of wall as if he was an Afrikan George Clooney, it was of course, the President Chagua Kikwete. He was so confident of winning (and rightly so as he no doubt filled in half the ballot papers himself) that he announced his new cabinet a week before the election results came out. By all accounts, his superb facial hair and slick army-green suits are reasonably popular on the mainland, but it was on the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, with their majority Muslim population, dissident parties and penchant for independence were this idiot had most of his fun.
Firstly, there were the boys with their toys at the market. I have never seen the British Army storm a Tesco’s in Altrincham, there are no guns hidden behind the papaya. End of. On election night, which we spent (again, ignoring all sound advice) at a bar near our house, a local squad of riot police could be seen hunkering down with some beers in the next bar along. They were in full riot gear (AK’s in the truck) so should trouble have kicked off, they could have no doubt stumbled into action and belched all over the nearest rioter. As we left the island of Zanzibar to the ‘deeply religious, conservative and superstitious’ island of Pemba, leaving the under trained and over excited Tanzanian army behind, we got a very different taste of election fever. It would not be an overestimation to say that we were the only white folks on the island at this point (all other travellers apparently listening to the foreign offices warnings), which meant that we were receiving a lot of attention from all quarters, and I don’t mind the good sort of attention you get from the token older gal at a Hen Party. As we walked through the town of Wete (a place with no electricity, and quite frankly, no idea), we noticed a crowd of people descending on a park nearby, curious (and bored) we joined in, only to discover it was a political rally being held by the opposition CUF party. CUF, it should be mentioned, are a separatist party and we suspected, may have been blacklisted by the CIA due to an idea regarding implementing Sharia Law in Zanzibar they floated during the 1990’s. Thinking that this looked like a laugh, and not realising that most opposition rallys got broken up by drunk soldiers firing tear gas everywhere, we joined in and soon became a warm-up act for the main speaker of the day. As party activists spoke to us (curious at our peculiar skin colour and what we were doing on their little island), we noticed that we had attracted a crowd of our own who just stood and watched us, nodding occasionally and looking rather confused at the whole affair. We jokingly claimed we were EU Observers. After about half an hour, a fair amount of chanting and independence chat, we decided it was time for us to retire for the evening, before the gathered police force retired us permanently.
A couple of things could be taken from this whole experience. Firstly, when an Afrikan nation claims to have a democratic election, odds are it is not. (The ironically named Democratic Republic of Congo is neither democratic nor a republic). My second observation is more of a tip for Afrika than anything else, if you want to cut down on the amount of coups you have, don’t send the army to the market, and dear lord, don’t let riot police drink on election night, its just good sense. Thirdly, when the Foriegn Office says ‘travel to this area is unadvised’ they don’t mean it, they are just being killjoys. I was a fake EU Observer, a drunken political commentator and a warm up act for an Islamic Party all in one week, might check the calendar to see when the next Afrikan elections are and do a tour. (I’m joking mother, that would be ridiculous...)
As an potentially tragically comic aside, it should be worth noticing that we could be seeing Blightly and you lovely folks rather sooner than the pre-planned 22nd February. We were advised (see, that word again, people shouldn’t advise us to do things, they should just tell us, that way we might listen to them) by our charity co-ordinators, that due to the elections, the authorities (those lads with the guns) would be clamping down on volunteers living and working in the country on a cheaper tourist visa. After quickly weighing up the pros and cons of possible deportation versus the extra $70 in the pocket, we pumped for the dollars, (we always have dollars on us, for bribes and whatnot), and are now very conscious of the fact that we are working here on wholly inappropriate visas. See you real soon folks!

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