Tanzania will go to the polls on October 30, 2010 and the general election campaign is well underway. As the campaigns heat up, presidential candidates and other candidates fighting for parliamentary seats are using new media tools to communicate with potential voters. Along with campaign rallies, which target the majority of the population, a small number of politicians have started to use social media tools such as blogs, online videos, Facebook and twitter to create deeper engagement with voters.
It is hard to accurately comment on the impact of the ongoing online campaigns because of lack of up-to-date statistics on usage of social media tools in Tanzania. The number of Tanzanians using the Internet is still small in comparison to the total population. In a country of 41 million people there are only 676,000 Internet users representing 1.6% of the total population. Among those with access to the internet there are only 141,580 Facebook users, with 74% of them aged between 18-34 years.
Whether created by fans or formal campaign officials, there are a few websites, blogs, facebook pages and twitter accounts running campaigns for presidential candidates and those fighting for parliamentary seats from the ruling CCM party. The official website of the current president and the ruling CCM party candidate, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, has a link to a facebook page with more than 4,500 followers. There is also another facebook page dedicated to Mr Kikwete with more than 13,500 fans.
Kikwete’s running mate who is also the candidate for the Vice President's post, Dr. Gharib Bilal, has more than one campaign websites. One site is linked to Mr Kikwete’s website and Dr. Bilal’s twitter account, while the other website has a link to a facebook page dedicated to his campaign.
One of the opposition parties presidential candidates Dr. Wilbrod Slaa from CHADEMA party has a facebook page linked from his official website with about 910 fans. Likewise there are more than two facebook pages dedicated to Dr. Slaa’s campaign with about 9000 people who ‘like’ Dr. Slaa. He also has a twitter account with very few tweets.
Similar to Tanzania Mainland, election manifestos, pictures and videos of the campaign rallies are on display on the websites of the Zanzibar’s CCM presidential candidate Dr Ali Mohamed Shein as well as on his main opposition contender Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad from the Civic United Front (CUF).
Announced mostly through twitter and blogs, online campaign videos with clips from election rallies have so far received a little more than 12,000 views in total at the time of writing this post. Some of the videos appear to have been uploaded directly from the rallies, like this one from CHADEMA’s Kigoma North candidate, Hon. Zitto Kabwe:
While other videos like this one from the January2010zaidi Youtube channel appears to have been professionally produced:
The use social media platforms have made it possible for the campaign teams to interact directly with voters and to respond to their concerns. These tools have also enabled Tanzanians leaving abroad to follow events happening back home.
Where Kikwete2010 replied:
I personally think CCM as an independent party has a right to select and choose the debate it can participate or not participate
Although there are doubts as to whether online campaigns will influence voters in a country with such low internet penetration, some bloggers such as Spotistarehe are hopeful:
Je Vijijini wanasoma facebook?
Asilimia kubwa ya watumiaji wa mitandao hii wako jijini Dar Es Salaam na mikoa mikubwa kama Arusha, Morogoro, Tanga, Mwanza na kwa siku hizi mitandao inafika kote.
Jiji hili la Dar wakazi wengi ni wakuja wanatoka vijijini ambako wabunge wengi hutoka huko. Mathalani mi ni mtu wa Morogoro Kilombero, bila vyombo vya habari siwezi kujua mgombea wa Ubunge wa jimbo langu ana sera gani, lakini kama nitakuwa nasoma mawazo yake kupitia updates za mara kwa mara kwenye mitandao hii naweza nikawa mpiga debe mzuri… nikibahatika naweza washauri ninawafikia kuwa Bwana Kibonde ni mtu safi na nia ya kutukwamua anayo tumachagueni
Big percentage of internet users are in Dar-Es-Salaam and in other big cities like Arusha, Morogoro, Tanga, Mwanza and these days internet is accessible everywhere.
In Dar many residents are from rural areas where MPs are hailing from. For instance I am from Morogoro Kilombero, without access to media I will not be able to know what my parliamentary candidate’s policies are, but if I read his/her updates regularly on the internet then I may become a good supporter… and therefore if I am lucky I can advise people that Mr. Kibonde is a good man and he intends to save us therefore let’s elect him.