Appetite for accountability in Tanzania:Translating election-time signals into accountability values

In most countries with multi-party systems an election year presents (at least the possibility) of new opportunities and excitement: will the balance of power shift? Will newcomers and new ideas, at the sub-national and national levels, come to the center stage? Prior to the general elections in Tanzania in 2015, popular opinion among certain groups suggested that this might be the election when opposition parties could gain control of the executive. And although the ruling party (CCM), which has been in power since independence, maintained its grip on power, it was, by many accounts, the closest election in Tanzanian multi-party history.

Ideally, elections would mark just the beginning of accountability conversations between citizens and their elected leaders. But in many countries with nascent accountability mechanisms to link authorities and citizens, Tanzania included, elections present one of the few available opportunities for average citizens to have their voices heard by the government. With very limited options to course-correct between election years, voting is arguably a critical moment at which citizens voice leadership and policy preferences to the government.

In this context, do elections actually provide citizens an opportunity to hold the government accountable, and to increase government responsiveness in the political system? And how do people make decisions among this varied and imbalanced input? At Twaweza East Africa, our interest is both in understanding the underlying rationale (and trade-offs) that Tanzanian citizens use in making electoral choices, as well as using this knowledge to inform strategies guiding our own work in social accountability.

We partnered with the Governance Lab (GOV/LAB) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to dig into questions such as, how do ordinary Tanzanian citizens see politics and government? What do Tanzanian citizens think of as “engagement” and “participation” in politics? How do citizens interact with parties and political elites, and what kind of attributes do they value in their politicians? MIT GOV/LAB designed an innovative experiment using the conjoint methodology, and applying it to both individual respondents (“personal” setting) and a group of respondents (“group” setting). The experiment was conducted 2 weeks before the general election, and again, with the same respondents, 2 weeks after.

Results include the following insights: 

  1. Tanzanian citizens in the three regions where the study was conducted were consistently more likely to vote for candidates with pro-social accountability characteristics, while religious affiliation and ethnic group had limited or zero significant effect. The attribute “gave social services to the community” is by far the most salient attribute across both private and public settings, and across both rounds.
  2. In public there is a great desire for consensus, including perhaps a level of masking of one’s own preferences in order to support the “common good.” Privately, party preferences do emerge, but both in terms of magnitude and consistency of effect, accountability attributes trump party affiliation
  3. Tanzanian citizens in this sample favor accountability attributes more in public than they do in private, and the norm to vote (vs. abstaining) was observed more strongly in the public as compared to private settings.

For full results as well as comparison between the regions studied, and a discussion on what the results might mean, please read the attached brief.

Through the lens of our study, Tanzanian political and social leaders might glean a few challenging insights. Those trying to contest established power may take note of the reticence of citizens to confrontationally challenge authority, and the overwhelming desire to “put differences aside” and work towards a common good. Those currently in power may mull over the findings that delivering results in terms of public services (“social goods”) carries far more weight with citizens than playing loyalty cards along ethnic or religious lines or grand standing in terms of party platforms. All sides would do well to take seriously the value citizens put on performance and accountability, above and beyond other characteristics. Finally, political strategists, social scientists as well as organizations working in accountability alike ought to engage more with the growing disconnect between citizens and authorities: even though it’s one of the few and far between options people have to signal directly their approval or displeasure to the government, voter turn-out appears to be declining. Who is choosing to disconnect, and why? What does this mean about the citizen-state relationship? Fundamentally, what does it mean about Tanzania being a state in which sovereignty resides in the people and it is from the people that the Government derives all its power and authority?

Read more: Accountability in Tanzania



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