Universities, colleges ordered closed ahead of elections

Universities and other post-school institutions in Tanzania have been ordered to remain closed as the East African nation gears up for a general election on 25 October, according to media reports quoting higher education authorities.

The Tanzania Commission for Universities and the National Council for Technical Education, or NACTE, issued a directive urging all higher learning institutions to remain closed after the break and re-open after the general election.

Last week Adolf Rutayuga, NACTE acting executive secretary, told reporters in the commercial city of Dar es Salaam that the decision was made to allow students to vote in the upcoming polls.

This is presumably to enable the large numbers of students who live far from their universities, in a country where travel can be slow, to return home to vote. But it could also help to avoid student election-related protests.

“Colleges that have already been opened, we direct that they be closed one week before [the] election and another week after the polls,” he was quoted as saying by the Chinese state Xinhua news agency.

Last month Professor Yunus Mgaya, executive secretary of the Tanzania Commission for Universities, said all universities would resume classes on 7 November, Tanzania’s The Citizen newspaper reported.

Most universities in Tanzania are currently on recess awaiting communication on reopening dates. The authorities said they had directed all universities and colleges to push back resumption of the new academic year in order to accommodate the general election.

According to The Citizen, the National Electoral Commission and higher education authorities have over the years failed to harmonise their calendars to ensure that their operations do not bar the student population from voting in national elections.

There are some 200,986 students in higher education institutions in East Africa’s most populous nation – Tanzania has 47 million people, according to official estimates.

But some say hundreds of thousands of university students will in any case not be able to cast ballots in the coming elections. The majority of students may not participate following failure to register as voters or transfer their registration data, student leaders told a local daily paper.

Tense elections

Some 23 million voters will go to polls on 25 October to elect a new president, members of parliament and local council representatives in one of the most hotly contested general elections in the history of the East African nation.

Critics have sounded the alarm that the unusually tight race pitting the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party’s presidential aspirant John Magufuli against the opposition party’s flag-bearer Edward Lowassa, a former prime minister, could spark tensions among rival groups, raising fears of election violence.

However, Tanzanian officials and observer groups have downplayed such claims, expressing optimism that the much-anticipated polls will be peaceful, free and fair.

The European Union has deployed an Election Observation Mission to Tanzania to monitor the elections, along with hundreds of other international and local observers.

“The forthcoming general elections will be a key moment in the country's development and hopefully an example for the region at large,” said Judith Sargentini, chief observer of the EU observation group.

The winner of the presidential race will succeed President Jakaya Kikwete, who is stepping down after the constitutional two-term limit.

Magufuli (55) is an academic and holds a PhD in chemistry from the University of Dar es Salaam. He has served in various cabinet positions, including minister for works. His Chama Cha Mapinduzi party has ruled Tanzania uninterruptedly for five decades, since independence in 1961, making him a preferred choice for many.

His arch rival, 61-year-old Lowassa, who served as the country’s prime minister between 2005 and 2008, defected from the ruling party to join the opposition Chadema party in July.

Tanzania is one of Africa's most politically stable nations, earning itself a reputation abroad as an island of peace in the often chaotic East Africa region.