by Ben Taylor
In perhaps the clearest sign yet of President Hassan’s more open approach to governance, early March saw the release of Freeman Mbowe, chairperson of the opposition party Chadema, from prison and charges against him being dropped. He had spent more than eight months behind bars on terrorism charges that critics had described as politically motivated.
In February, the High Court’s Corruption and Economic Crimes Division had found that Mbowe and his three co-accused had a case to answer. However, just over two weeks later prosecutors dropped the case.
“The Court is informed that the Director of Public Prosecution on behalf of the Republic will not further prosecute Halfan Bwire Hassan, Adam Hassan Kasekwa, Mohammed Abdillahi Ling’wenya and Freeman Aikaeli Mbowe,” reads part of the Nolle Prosequi notice signed on March 4 by Senior State attorney Robert Kidando.
Mere hours after his release, Mr Mbowe was welcomed to State House for a meeting with President Samia Suluhu Hassan. Video clips released afterwards by both parties informed the public of their agreement to conduct constructive, trustful, respectful and unification politics for the interest of the country.
Mbowe said later that meeting with President Samia Suluhu Hassan shortly after being freed from remand prison was the opportunity the party had been looking for since the fifth phase government [of Presidents Magufuli and Hassan]. He said Chadema submitted three letters requesting to meet former President Magufuli, but in vain.
“Our meeting focused on building principles that would enable our people to build the nation peacefully, something on which she has really shown political will,” he said. Mr Mbowe added that both sides agreed that there was a need to build understanding and consensus by preaching sustainable justice instead of hangings, planting fake cases and shooting each other.
Mbowe’s release came a few days after a group of senior religious leaders made representations to President Hassan, calling for the appropriate authorities to use their discretion to end the case against Chadema chairman.
“We don’t want to interfere with the rule of law,” said Anglican Church of Tanzania Bishop Jackson Sosthenes, upon submitting the request to the President. “We would therefore like to ask for the government’s wisdom to see how the matter could be dealt with in order to bring more health for broad interests of the nation. Authorities should see how the matter can be concluded,” he said.
Political analyst Kasera Nick Oyoo, writing in The Citizen, described the whole case as a farce. He argued that Mbowe’s time in prison put Tanzania on the list of banana republics. “It still beggars belief that a country that always wishes to mirror itself as the paragon of civility and conviviality felt it necessary to bring terrorism charges against Mr Mbowe,” he wrote. “For some reason, at some point, someone felt that it was not enough to use police to disperse crowds, or deny Mr Mbowe and his colleagues the right enshrined in the Constitution to assemble and conduct political activities peacefully. The powers that be came up with what they must have thought was a brilliant plan – arrest Mr Mbowe and a few acolytes, and charge them with terrorism.”
However, he argued, the trial became a fiasco after it became apparent that the State had “an embarrassingly feeble case” against him and his co-accused. “It seems prosecution witnesses were hurriedly prepared, the case was incoherent, and even laymen could see that prosecution had no concrete case. Testimonies by prosecution witnesses were a complete farce, and that is putting it mildly.”
“In the process, it was not Mr Mbowe who suffered serious damage,” he concluded. “It is the reputation of the United Republic of Tanzania that was drugged through the mud, and a country’s reputation, as we know, is not easily repaired after being tarnished the way it was.”