by Ben Taylor
A new public opinion survey by Twaweza released in July found that the popularity of President Magufuli has declined sharply. Just over half the population (55%) say they now approve of the President’s performance, down from 71% in 2017 and a massive 96% in 2016. This means President Magufuli has registered both the highest and lowest presidential approvals ratings on record in Tanzania.
The poll also found that a majority of citizens (55%) would vote for President Magufuli if an election were held now, followed by the Chadema candidate, who would secure 15% of the vote. As such, President Magufuli would secure a comfortable majority. It is notable, however, that nearly one in three voters (29%) said they were unsure who they would vote for, considerably higher than similar polls in previous years.
The decline in President Magufuli’s approval rating was sharpest among residents of rural areas, such that the President is now more popular in urban areas than rural.
The CCM secretary of Ideology and Publicity, Humphrey Polepole said President Magufuli’s popularity ratings would increase significantly by end of the year. “I call on Twaweza to conduct a similar study at the end of the year after the government has made significant progress in the implementation of priority projects,” he said.
Within a week of the poll findings being released, Twaweza found itself embroiled in difficulties with the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH). The COSTECH acting Director General, Dr Amos Nungu, wrote to Twaweza, questioning whether the organisation had the proper permits to conduct the poll and giving Twaweza seven days to explain why legal action should not be taken against them.
At a press conference, however, COSTECH leaders found themselves under pressure from reporters, unable to explain what law or regulation Twaweza was alleged to have broken or even whether a COSTECH research permit was required for an opinion poll.
Several activists and analysts spoke out in support of Twaweza. Maria Sarungi-Tsehai, the Change Tanzania director, argued that the saga is politically-motivated. “Twaweza has issued a number of opinion polls on different topics. In fact last year, a very similar poll on people’s views of politics and approval ratings of leaders including the President was published, yet we saw no query from COSTECH,” she said. She described the commission’s move as part of a “clear pattern of reprimand” by government agencies aimed at putting pressure on private actors when there is an impression they are not acting as desired by the authorities.
Fatma Karume, the recently-elected president of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), said Twaweza had breached no rules or standards in its recent or previous opinion polling. “I think it’s very important for those chosen to head various government agencies to be well-versed in the laws establishing them, otherwise they would be abusing their power,” she stated.
Semkae Kilonzo, coordinator at Policy Forum, an NGO, said that any attempt at stifling opinion polls is an infringement on the rights of people. “Opinion polls are crucial for a vibrant democracy as they give people the opportunity to air their views and express an opinion about how they are governed,” he said.
A few weeks later, the Executive Director of Twaweza, Aidan Eyakuze, announced that immigration authorities had confiscated his passport and barred him from travelling outside the country. Mr Eyakuze said he could not associate this move with the opinion poll findings or the COSTECH response. “They didn’t tell me the reason behind confiscating my passport or why they didn’t want me to travel outside the country,” he said. However, the seizure of his passport took place a few days after a TV programme to discuss the poll findings aired allegations by one guest that Mr Eyakuze was not a Tanzanian citizen.
[Full disclosure: the author of this piece and editor of Tanzanian Affairs works as a consultant for Twaweza.]