The promises of the independence movement, ethnicity and voting in Tanzania

Start - End 
2013 - 2016 (completed)



This dissertation explored the influence of ethnicity on determining voters’ choices in Tanzania. The issue of explaining ethnicity and voting in Tanzania has become increasingly puzzling in the country’s political and economic liberalism. This is due to the fact Tanzania is less ethnically politicised compared to most African states, despite being ethnically diverse with over 120 ethnic groups, sharing colonial history and an ongoing anxiety about competitive politics and liberal economics breeding ethnic salience in voting.

The overriding literature on influences of ethnicity on voting in Africa revolves around the paradigms of ethnic structure and neo-patrimonial or hybrid systems. Whereas the concept of ethnic structure contends that salience of ethnicity in voting is determined by the ability of ethnic groups to form a minimum winning coalition in elections, the neo-patrimonial and hybrid schools explain the same from Africa’s presumed traditional primordialism – as opposed to legal-rational institutions or historically grown values preventing ethnic voting. The assumption of ethnic motivations and the reference to traditional structures has long concealed the role of common history, political thoughts and innovative practices in Tanzania’s management of ethnicity, particularly in voters’ choices in elections. Such backdrop warranted exploration of an alternative analytical framework.

This study developed an analytic narrative method that mainly relied on interviews with privileged witnesses as well as common voters (65). The fundamental factor, we established, in explaining ethnicity’s low salience in voters’ choices in Tanzania has been the PsIM to enhance national unity, equitable distribution of public resources and peace. The PsIM in sum created a nationalist political culture against ethnic polarisation and salience in politics capable of sustaining low salience of ethnicity in voting for 50 years. Based on the interviews, I reject the neo-patrimonial theory and hybrid schools and brand them as inadequate tools for understanding the significance of ethnicity in determining voters’ choices in Tanzania. The rejection is predicated on the fact that the Tanzanian case does not support the major tenants of the theory in divulging the influences of ethnicity on voting as explained above. Ideals deduced from a nationalist political culture as embedded in the PsIM, informed legal rational rules and institutions, values as well as experiences that militate against the salience of ethnicity in determining electoral choices. On this basis we can give credit to, but also critically examine, the indigenous political thoughts informed by African political thought and practices that determine voting practices.