Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Does Political Participation in Tanzania Stack Up?

I’ve often heard the claim that Tanzanians are, politically speaking, relatively apathetic – the corruption and moral decay that has accompanied the CCM’s rule (especially since the 1980s) leads people to shun politics. While I’d certainly say that, given then revolving door between the CCM and big money in Tanzania’s politics, people might have every reason for being apathetic, some of the empirical data simply fails to measure up to the claim about apathy.

Currently, I’m doing a bit of academic research for a paper exploring the relationship between political competition and political participation throughout Africa. The work is still somewhat preliminary. However, given the energies around the recent election, I thought I’d share - in a casual blog post - some of the more interesting pieces of data on political participation in Tanzania.

The data in the tables below are frequency distributions based on data obtained from Afrobarometer. For those of you less familiar with this data, Afrobarometer surveys are complied by a network of 23 research partners and supporting units in 21 different countries and are rich sources for social, political, and economic data from standardised surveys taken from 19 African countries since 1999. Each table contains a statistical summary of the respondent answers to some of the survey questions related to political participation. Also, for those who might be less familiar with statistics terminology, the “percentile” categories are nothing more than rankings. So, a percentile score of “100” is the highest, while “0” is the lowest.

The data in table one tabulates the responses to a question about the inclination of people to talk with family and friends about politics. As the data shows, respondents from Madagascar are the least likely to engage in conversation about political matters, while Senegalese respondents are the most likely to engage. However, Tanzanians are not far behind Senegal’s citizens. A full 32.2% of the Tanzanian respondents reported “frequently” engaging in political discussions with family and friends – the second highest percentile ranking (94.10%). 

TABLE 1 (Click for larger image)

Table 2 tells a similar story, but this time the question is about one’s interest in public affairs. Again, Tanzanians stand out as some of the most likely to take an interest, while the Senegalese now rank in the middle. Some 45.7% of the Tanzanian respondents reported a “very” strong interest in public affairs, second in ranking only to Lesotho.

TABLE 2 (Click for larger image)

The next table I find especially interesting. It tabulates the responses to the question asking about the participation in demonstrations or protests. Again, those respondents from Madagascar turnout to be the least inclined to engage in protests, while Tanzanians are the most inclined to “often” engage in demonstrations or protests and one of the least inclined “never” participate.  

TABLE 3 (Click for larger image) 

Of course, this data should be taken with an understanding of all the caveats of survey research. Moreover, I'm not at this point offering any explanations for why the participation rates for Tanzanians are so high. Maybe Tanzanians have more to complain about, although I suspect that Nigerians might be insulted by this claim. What is true is that, during single-party rule under Nyerere's leadership, political participation was not only accepted, but expected, in contrast to politics in places like Kenya and even Botswana, where participation has never been something sought after by political leaders. Whatever the case might be, the data here should, at the very least, bring pause to the claim about political apathy in Tanzania without an understanding of how political participation in the United Republic stacks up to other African countries.

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