Tanzania: Shrinking Space and Opposition Protest

Dan Paget, a doctoral candidate at the department, has written an article for Journal of Democracy on Tanzania. He is writing his thesis on rallies and election campaigning in sub-Saharan Africa. He lived in Tanzania during its 2015 election campaign.


The Tanzanian general election of October 2015 seemed to mark a moment of great democratic promise. In a state that has been an enduring bastion of single-party dominance in sub-Saharan Africa, opposition parties formed a pre-electoral coalition that held until election day. They were joined by a string of high-profile defectors from the ruling CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or the Party of the Revolution) and selected the most prominent of these defectors, Edward Lowassa, as the opposition presidential candidate. He went on to win 40 percent of the vote, the strongest showing that an opposition candidate has ever achieved in Tanzania. This left CCM candidate John Pombe Magufuli with 58 percent of the vote—a seemingly strong performance, but the worst CCM has ever had.

In 2017, however, there are few signs that the 2015 contest was part of a process of “democratization by elections,” at least in any straightforward way. While 2015 was indeed a turning point, Tanzania since then has grown not more democratic, but less so.