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Suddenly, This Election Is About Religion

By Micheal Okema, The East African, (Nairobi), 3 November 2000

Dar es Salaam - If there is anything that makes this year's general election different, it is the extent of involvement by religious entities. There are other novelties such as the upsurge of support for the Civic United Front (CUF) on the mainland and the pushing of Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) and NCCR-Mageuzi to the sidelines.

As for the rise of CUF, something similar was seen in 1995, when the defection of Augustine Mrema from CCM brought NCCR-Mageuzi, which he joined, the same kind of attention.

It should be noted here that Mrema's defection from NCCR-Mageuzi to the Tanzania Labour Party (TLP) is responsible for the party's current misfortunes. Likewise, his membership of TLP has brought that party to prominence.

What makes the upsurge of CUF today different from the NCCR-Mageuzi wave of 1995 is that it is generally viewed as being a result of the support of religious zealots. On September 6, in a mosque in Songea, one Sheikh Hashim Mbonde appealed to the faithful to vote CUF rather than CCM, the party of infidels.

Links between CUF and religion were said to have existed even during the 1995 general election.

At that time, its presidential candidate, Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, felt compelled to refute his alleged connection with Islam by booking into a Catholic hostel while on the campaign trail in Singida town.

Actually, the Christian denominations were more involved in politics in 1995 than their Muslim counterparts.

On Christmas day, 1994, the Roman Catholic Church expressed dismay that many of its followers had not bothered to register and vote in civic elections.

It urged these followers not to repeat the same mistake in the general election.

The Christian Council of Tanzania, which is an umbrella for the Protestant churches, for its part condemned the government for what it viewed as the violation of human rights.

Come the 1995 general election, the Catholic church issued the Ten Commandments for Elections.

Among other things, the church called upon the electorate to throw out corrupt leaders. And those leaders were entirely CCM.

Things are different this year.

The churches have been softer, presumably because Muslim fundamentalists have thrown in their lot with CUF. To the main denomination churches, therefore, CCM could appear as the lesser of two evils.

From some splinter churches, though, support for opposition parties has been open.

The fiery Rev Christopher Mtikila is campaigning for CUF. Rev Mtikila has been one of the most consistent opponents of CCM since the introduction of multipartyism in 1992, going to jail several times.

Archbishop Zacharia Kakobe of the Full Bible Gospel Fellowship is on Augustine Mrema's TLP bandwagon. He has vowed not to rest until Mrema goes to State House.

Involvement of religious groups has provoked protests from the Registrar of Political Parties, Mr. George Liundi.

On September 29, at a press conference, Mr. Liundi reminded Archbishop Kakobe and Reverend Mtikila to refrain from active politics since they were not officials of political parties.

They simply ignored him.