Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Takrima: Prepaid Obligation?

We are in mid 2009. That means the election bug is just a couple of months away from biting the Tanzanian public. The last time I eye witnessed an election in Tanzania was 1995. I voted for an opposition candidate who went on to lose, but I don’t feel bad for not voting for Benjamin William Mkapa then, because history has come to vindicate me.

Elections are not cheap. I think the spending that candidates do is just enough to stimulate the economy – an economic stimulus package of its own, if you will. The question I have (and this is just wondering aloud from my part) is where the CCM, Chadema and CUF folks, for instance, print their t-shirts, banners and other campaign materials. If they print that in China, shame on you! Please spend that locally, to spur the local economy.

We all know that t-shirts, the helicopters and other pizzazz are public. I mean, how could you sneak in a helicopter to a public rally without being seen? So I’m sure both parties can easily account for spending on such public stuff. The “evil” part of the election spending is the infamous takrima. For that reason, spending on this front will always be a mystery. I don’t think you could vouch this stuff on CCM or CUF’s books.

Takrima is “evil” because it is technically a bribe. Furthermore, the High Court in Tanzania, thought inclusion of the takrima provision in the Tanzania Election Act of 1985, hence legalizing the practice, is unconstitutional. Regardless of the illegality or the unconstitutionality of the practice, “thanking” voters is still prevalent in Tanzania.

The obviously, the main reason candidates like to supply voters with “gifts” is to influence their voting decisions. Nonetheless, given the fact that the majority of elected members of parliament hardly do anything for their constituents, I would regard takrima as a prepaid obligation.

I had a chance to talk with one Kenyan guy who shared this story with me. He had called her sister during the last Kenyan elections. Her sister was so excited on the phone that she got “free” money from this one candidate. But truly, is there free lunch in this world?

Given the level of income and the general social influence that comes with the MP’s position, any greedy monster would make an investment in that political position. The best part, at least from the candidate’s perspective, is that a bag of sugar today releases them of any future obligations to fulfill campaign promises. If you think I am crazy, why then the cycle never ends?

The worst part for the voters is that takrima makes a fool of them. It puts them in a position of selling their future for the now. And that is not always a good trade, because the future in most cases is more valuable than the present.

I have talked about the need for the Tanzanian society to have a paradigm shift. One of those areas that require a change in outlook is the receiving of little gifts from candidates.

So this is my radical proposition. Why don’t communities in Tanzania start identifying good candidates, raise campaign funds for them? Don’t you think that would put pressure on candidates to deliver, knowing that elected officials owe their communities something?

I know someone out there is thinking, “Metty, yaani watu waanze kumchangia mgombea? Si ukichaa huo?” It might seems like I am proposing an insane idea, but the last time I checked, President Obama got campaign funding from the little guys who believed in him. Trust me, from a psychological standpoint, President Obama feel obligated to deliver.

I am not saying the Tanzanian society should be like the American society, but if it takes contributing to candidates’ campaigns for the poor folks to stop trading their future for just a kilo of sugar or a piece of meaningless CCM or CUF t-shirt, why not?
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