Multiparty Democracy in Tanzania

Pal Ahluwalia, Abebe Zegeye


What are the main political challenges facing the United Republic of Tanzania? This article, published in African Security Review, argues that although Tanzania has escaped the turmoil that has plagued neighbouring countries, it appears increasingly open to inter-ethnic rivalry due to the situation on Zanzibar. The main ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which is dominant on the mainland and has been in power since independence, faces its strongest opposition on the island from the Civic United Front (CUF). The CCM government must confront this challenge while also dealing with the country’s dysfunctional economy and attempting to meet the demands of its population for adequate social services.

After independence in December 1961, Tanzania’s first President, Julius Nyerere, introduced socialist economic planning. By the late 1970s, however, this approach was clearly failing and the economy was in crisis. In 1985, Nyerere stepped down and Ali Hassan Mwinyi became President. The new government embarked upon a World Bank and IMF sponsored Economic Recovery Programme (ERP). This lasted for three years, devastated social services and infrastructure, and failed to alleviate the country’s economic problems.

The negative effects of the ERP, growing opposition to the government, and the democratising wave that swept through Africa in the early 1990s, led to demands for political liberalisation. While Tanzania had, up to this point, been a one party state, President Mwinyi finally relented and appointed the Nyalali Commission. In December 1991 it recommended the adoption of a multiparty system. However, a significant delay in legalising opposition parties allowed the CCM to mount a recruitment campaign and become financially self-sufficient. The delay also meant that opposition parties were still unable to operate. Although initially gaining support, the opposition began to suffer disunity once the government acceded to its demands for multiparty politics.

The union agreement that brought the previously independent countries of Tanganyika and Zanzibar together in 1964 allowed for a separate Zanzibari government, as well as a union government which controlled the mainland. The first national multiparty elections were scheduled for 1995.

  • In the run up to the elections, the CCM refused media access to the opposition, and failed to repeal repressive legislation. The opposition also struggled to provide a viable set of alternative policies.
  • During the elections on Zanzibar, the Civic United Front (CUF) emerged as the main opposition party. It claimed it was being hindered and intimidated by the CCM. The CCM was eventually declared to have narrowly won both the Presidency and the legislature.
  • On the mainland, Benjamin Mkapa, who replaced Mwinyi as CCM leader, won the Presidency and the CCM won a large majority in parliament.

In the 2000 elections, people appeared more concerned about the continuing drop in their standards of living.

  • The CCM continued reinforced the uneven playing field between it and the opposition and won easily on the mainland.
  • In Zanzibar, the CCM again took power, but the elections were marred by fraud, violence, and the detention without trial of CUF supporters.
  • Although Tanzania prides itself on being a peace-loving nation, the problems on Zanzibar reflect the repressive nature of the current political system in the country.


Ahuluwalia,P.,Zegeye,A., 2001, 'Multiparty Democracy in Tanzania', African Security Review, Vol.10, No. 3