Urban Wire Greater transparency is still possible for single-party democracies in Africa
Fenohasina Rakotondrazaka Maret, Gabriel Lévesque
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Across Africa, there is increasing public investment in strategies to promote government transparency and empower citizens to hold their leaders accountable. Achieving transparency, however, is a formidable challenge, especially given constraining political contexts in some sub-Saharan African countries, a third of which have been ruled by a single party for several decades.

Single party democracies in Africa

Among them is Tanzania, which has been governed by the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) Party for more than 40 years. But Tanzania is also a country that took steps toward a more transparent government, even amid single-party rule. If the country embraces transparency, it could deliver more economic and social opportunities that would benefit its citizens and the nation as a whole and be a model for neighboring countries.

The political landscape in Tanzania: A cartel party model?

In work that has become a political science classic, Richard Katz and Peter Mair describe the integration of state and local governments as “cartelization,” in which the party in power leverages institutional resources to maintain its control and resist challenges from political alternatives.

Although Tanzania’s multiparty system, established in 1992, provides opportunities for electoral competition,  CCM has created an environment to ensure it remains in power. For instance, to reach citizens, the ruling party has blurred the lines between itself and local governments, a strategy that fits with the cartelization thesis. At the most local level, in neighborhoods across Tanzania, informal representatives from the party—who are often confused with elected officials—can interact directly with people and influence the party’s image.

Executives in local governments such as council directors and district commissioners are all presidential appointees, owing allegiance to their master. Justice courts representatives are political appointees  and are not financially independent, leading to decision biases and corruption, according to Freedom House, a promoter of democracy. Vote buying is also common, including buying politicians from the opposition to join CCM. The electoral commission, also appointed by the president, , and this obstructs fair and free elections. CCM’s privileged access to the state resources and system enlivens its presence on the ground.

What’s more, recently under the current president Magufuli,  under the pretext that work is more important than civic participation, the CCM government uses military and police forces to shut down political rallies outside elections periods. This allows the party to be the only one to promote ideas, except for a few weeks every five years. Such actions prevent citizens from hearing and engaging with ideas and political platforms different from that of CCM. And the limited information that citizens can access makes it difficult for them to support anything but the well-known and established party, especially when the media can publish only officially approved statistics.

This lack of transparency and public debate fosters a climate in which Tanzania’s citizens are less inclined to demand information from their leaders or hold them accountable for their decisions.  Evidence shows that a less informed public generally perceives the authorities as more competent, which helps perpetuate the longevity of a single political party.

Promising trends toward transparency and accountability

Despite the self-sustaining environment the CCM government has created, there have been initiatives to establish a more transparentsystem in Tanzania and make some processes more efficient and less prone to corruption. These include the implementation of e-government, which provides information to citizens, even if in a nonoptimal way. People can get the latest audit reports from the audit office or access relevant information from the websites of the Ministry of Finance, the National Bureau of Statistics, various ministries, and regional and local governments. The government also has adopted  policies supporting transparency and accountability, such as the Freedom of Information Act. The media are vibrant, as are civil society organizations, though they are cautious and mostly lean toward activities with social impacts rather than efforts that challenge accountability or good governance.

Other signs of growing democracy in Tanzania can been seen in the establishment of additional political parties. Increasingly, national leaders also are devolving responsabilities to local governments. And more women are participating in leadership roles as parliamentarians or cabinet members.

Benefits of more transparency and fair political competition

If Tanzania builds upon efforts to establish a more open government, it can distance itself from the cartel-like system. And by allowing transparency to thrive, Tanzania and other sub-Saharan African nations are more likely to experience lasting social and economic outcomes. Moving away from the cartel model gives countries the opportunity to

  • change political structures, allowing for fair party competition based on transparency and accountability;
  • allow dissenters as a healthy part of politics and encourage an effective opposition;
  • assuage the thirst for more political contests, fostering competing political ideals for socioeconomic development;
  • create a fair electoral system in which there are clear institutional rules, equitable opportunities for all political actors, and a level playing field for opposition parties; and
  • build authority with transparency and accountability, which will advance peace, stability, and government legitimacy.
  • Enable information flow into local and rural areas

Whether in Tanzania or elsewhere in Africa, embracing and enhancing transparency will heighten expectations of openness from governments. This, in turn, will raise the standards and quality of good governance.

Research Areas International development
Tags International civil society and democratic institutions