Tanzania: On Human Flourishing - Faith Leaders, Assume Appropriate Posture for 2020 Elections

THESE are crucial times for our nation.

As the entire country listens to diverse candidates' party policies being presented for the purpose of winning voters' hearts, it is very important that we underscore the critical importance of the religious leaders in the current political discourse.

In my column today, I wish to make a polite reminder to our faith leaders that at this critical moment in the history of our country, their personal credibility, personal limitations and commitment to engage in dialogue on the issues being raised during the campaign shall remain of paramount importance throughout the election process.

It is worth noting that from Kambarage to JPM, the state has never forgotten or failed to acknowledge the role of faith and spirituality in moral regeneration. This is why many Tanzanians cherish and hold dear JPM 5th government's active engagement with faith leaders and religious institutions.

They also treasure Mr President's clear position on his hope and trust in God. This they do because human beings cannot live without a hope that transcends current limitations. Gladly so, in our constitution, religion is appreciated and acknowledged as an important institution in the country.

No wonder faith leaders have a right to speak up on public issues, and if they decide to remain silent and uninvolved, it will be altogether wrong and can be disastrous.

To a more specific concern, at this national decisive moment, religious leaders' personal sense of balance and sensitivity for the broader perspective on matters that touch the hearts of wananchi should by no means be taken seriously. But why religious leaders?

Well, these are the people who know well that hopelessness leads to paralysis. Many would know that snubbing religion or voters' faith can be catastrophic. Religion and faith have demonstrated a clear commitment to local communities' need to stand up against social injustice, poverty, and economic inequality, to mention a few.

In fact, since Mwalimu Nyerere's days to date, no single election in the United Republic of Tanzania has passed without the general public acknowledgement of the role of religion and faith in elections. As such, phrases like "the role of religion" or sometimes the role of "faith based organisations" (FBOs) has remained prominent in the discourse on election for a longtime.

Well, there are a number of reasons why this polite reminder is brought at the centre stage now. It is the fact that religious or faith leaders be part and parcel of the settled area of our national life. Since time immemorial, they have been regarded as the conscious of our society.

This said however, church leaders face some challenges. For example, I know there are some disagreements between them. I hear others saying that one of the roles of a faith leader is to ensure that they themselves and their institutions serve to mobilise their members into politics.

I also hear others encouraging withdrawal from political life. This could be the reason as to why the general public understanding of religion's role as a political force in Tanzania, Africa and the world politics has, for a longtime, presented an intriguing puzzle. My message is simple and clear.

I am sending a very polite reminder to all faith leaders that their presence in our society is highly appreciated and their good work of meeting the challenges of society is well noted.

However, they should know that despite their noble intentions and activities, it is possible, under the umbrella of being human, that they may fail to strike the balance only to become biased in the election campaigns and eventually be labelled as leaders who have not had the desired impact during the 2020 elections.

So, very humbly, I would want to challenge them to reexamine their own affairs and integrity, to get their own houses in order as a crucial step in counselling the nation for a fruitful election come 28th October 2020. For this to happen, surely religious leadership should be leadership inspired towards the responsible exercise of its leadership function.

In my view, religious leadership needs to be credible, clothed in service and with a sense of care and compassion, integrity and dignity for one of the problems that religious leaders have to face continually is the question of credibility.

We need religious leadership which seeks to interpret Tanzania's 2020 election from a human flourishing perspective. Every citizen wants to see religious leaders warning all segments of the society seeking to use the availed election platform to gain political mileage to stop.

We do not want, as citizens, to see anyone plunging our country into anarchy. It is good to see some faith leaders dedicated to stimulating debate on religion and its place in our society.

This is important because it helps many to gain a deep understanding of their vision and work commonly to understand the context of their wisdom in, among many other things, advocacy. They cannot be left behind for they have been engaged with the dynamic realities of their people's challenges for a long time.

When they participate in any dialogue and their informed engagement with issues facing our society, they should guard themselves against simplistic positions that ignore exactly what the nation has achieved so far and the task ahead of the next phase of leadership 2020-2025.

I would say, for them, a careful look at the nature, role and modes of engagement of the religious leaders in the public domain now is very important. This I say because among the many problems that religious leaders will have to face when they engage in election issues is the pressure that special interest groups bring to bear on the process.

In my view, the misconception that elections are purely secular or political endeavours, or merely economic or technological in scope and that religious leaders have no specific role in elections is wrong.

Obviously, there are important moral and religious dimensions to elections, and each of the problems facing wananchi, but at this point in time, the nation needs more honest, fair, prudent and wise religious leaders.


Dr Alfred Sebahene, PhD Social Ethics Specialist and Anti-Corruption Consultant St John's University of Tanzania Dodoma, Tanzania Emails: arsebahene2@ yahoo.co.uk, alfredsebahene@gmail.com Mobile: 0767 233 997

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