Anna Elisha Mghwira (Former Presidential Candidate for the United Republic of Tanzania)
During the 2015 General Elections, Anna Elisha Mghwira, from the political party ACT-Maendeleo, was the only woman presidential candidate. The first female presidential candidate was Anna Senkoro from the political party PPT-Maendeleo in 2005.
Who is she?
Anna spent her early years as a child at home due to a health problem which delayed her ability to walk, a condition which was never given medical explanation by then.
Anna is also known as a quiet child whose voice was not heard beyond the walls of her family house except on Sundays when her musical voice rocked the congregants of her home church.
Anna is known to be creative with her hands as through braiding hair and crotchet work she was able to contribute to her school fees for her two years of secondary education. Some of her products were sold in the US by one of her teachers, earning her USD 1200 by then. Shortly the hand work turned into serious profit after her clients learnt of her skills and decided to donate more (apart from purchasing her products) for her school fees up to “A” level. “While this was a blessing, it also killed my talents as I gave up the crotchet work and hair braiding and just focused on my studies,” an aspects she wishes she did differently. Anna is also industrious and principled, “Throughout my school life, I served in two committees: the ethics committee and income generating committee. We had very creative ideas which enabled our school to generate its own income to meet some of the running cost.”
Anna comes from a family background with a history of having strong independent minded women. Her paternal grandmother was a very independent strong willed person who did not entertain any attempt to undermine her. Interestingly (as informed by her father), her late mother had similar characteristics. Anna informed us that she was raised and socialized to be independent minded, a factor which has contributed to her personal growth in her journey to politics. “Our parent, said Anna, made us (girls) feel valued, intelligent and worthy.” This has made her and her sisters believe in themselves, and being able to question any attempts of stereotyping her or undermining her dignity.
Anna holds two first degrees, one in Theology and another one in Law. She started her law degree during her final year in Theology during the internship period. She also has an advanced degree in International Human Rights Law (LLM) from Essex University in the UK. Her main focus was socio-economic rights. She also conducted researches on the rights of the child, refugees, women, land and natural resources.
Interest in electoral Politics
Anna has passion to work for the church. She served in several ministries within her church in the country and abroad. Early as a student she was appointed to serve in the board of Theological Education. This was Anna’s first decision making position. It was followed by a directorate of the Women in the Lutheran Church. In this she enjoyed working directly with women in the communities and their local leaders.
Her first exposure to ‘hard’ politics was when she was working for SNV Tanzania as a governance advisor. Her tasks entailed working closely with political parties in strengthening the democratic agenda. “I started to see challenges and opportunities of strengthening democratic processes in Tanzania,” said Anna. After the end of her contract with SNV, she decided to join one of the opposition parties, CHADEMA, where she took an opportunity to contest for a position when it came up. Thus in 2012 she contested for a parliamentary seat and also for the East African parliamentary seat. In both she was not successful, but she never gave up. Anna’s ideological stand in politics is democratic socialism. Most political parties in Tanzania make little emphasis on ideological positions. Because of this position Anna finally crossed over to ACT-WAZALENDO which proclaims democratic socialism as its ideological position. In 2015 she was appointed to contest for the presidential seat.
Her Experience during the Campaign
“I had not planned to stand for presidential race,” said Anna. I was prepared to run for a parliamentary seat, and this time I was almost certain that I was going to win! When my political party decided to join the presidential race, we had proposed several names, all of who declined on grounds that their families did not approve. It is an ordinary practice when a party looses a presidential candidate normally the chair takes it up. Anna did the same. Her colleagues impressed upon her to take up the challenge. Her family did not support her at the beginning but once she was in, she had their full support.
The campaign was tough, said Anna. While the two major political camps focused on attacking each other, my focus was issue based, “I never experienced verbal or gender specific intimidation. In all my campaigns I felt I was well received, and had very positive feedback from communities, party members, family and friends. Amazingly, this did not translate to votes.”
Lack of resources was the greatest challenge she experienced. A small party like hers, and being a new-comer in the race, she needed to travel extensively to have her party accepted and convince voters to vote for her. The party did not have half the money she needed for the campaign, she had to resort to her own savings, borrow from friends and family members to accomplish the mission. At a personal level, she spent Tshs 50 million. during the campaign.
High costs are revealed through corruption practices during elections, where voters expect contestants to buy votes, through various inducements, lavish expenditures on publicity materials and other corrupt practices inherent in the electoral process.
Media plays a big role in publicity during campaigns and it is part of the high costs.
In order to combat corruption we need sustainable capacity building programs and civic education for candidates and voters.
Anna considers economic empowerment programs for women as a vital strategy which will not only unchain women from economic dependence, but which will also create a base for their effective participation in electoral politics.
Women Rights Organisations need to strengthen their movements to gain collective power in demanding rights to participate in political spaces. They also need to come out with creative strategies to identify potential candidates and support them. In this respect, fundraising from our own sources is essential so that external support becomes a catalyst and not the main source.
Post-election sessions such as the one organized by Oxfam is a very useful forum as it brings together those who went through and those who did not in contesting for various positions in the elections. Experience sharing has an empowering effect for those who did not make it to realize that they are not alone and that there are lessons which can be drawn for future attempts.
Photo: Mwananchi Newspaper