by Ben Taylor
Significant progress has been made in recent months towards political reconciliation and the reestablishment of democratic freedoms in Tanzania. In addition to a renewed national conversation around Constitutional reform (see separate article in this edition), a number of meetings have been held between leaders of both the ruling party, CCM, and various opposition parties, and the President has taken steps to reverse a six-year ban on opposition parties holding public rallies. She described this as being part of her strategy of Reconciliation, Resilience, Reforms and Rebuilding the nation, dubbed 4Rs.
The ban on political party rallies was imposed by the late President John Magufuli in 2015 in his first address to Parliament in Dodoma, saying the country should instead focus on national development efforts. Under the policy, elected politicians were allowed to conduct rallies in their constituencies, but other political rallies or demonstrations were banned. It led to frequent confrontations between opposition leaders and the police and repeated arrests of opposition politicians.
On January 3, 2023, during a meeting with leaders from 19 registered political parties, President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced her decision that the ban should no longer apply. “Permission for political meetings will be granted. Our duty as the government is to protect them. Hold your meetings safely, but you have to adhere to the rules and regulations because it is your responsibility too,” she said.
The President recognised that such rallies were legal and acknowledged that political parties have the right to conduct them. She said that the responsibility now remained with the political parties to provide information to the police and other agencies as required by the laws and regulations governing such gatherings.
Opposition party leaders welcomed the announcement a little warily. Chadema national chairman Freeman Mbowe said that they had received the Pres ident’s decision with “great caution” because the right to hold political rallies was guaranteed by the Constitution, and its restoration had been delayed unnecessarily.
“We want to see the implementation of this from the ward to the national level. Democracy should be afforded to the people at all levels. This matter involves many people, including the police,” he said.
ACT-Wazalendo leader, Zitto Kabwe, said President Hassan’s decision would open a new page for democracy, and commended her for “a decision which was not easy to make”. He described 2023 as “the year of political reform, the year of democracy.”
Following the lifting of the ban, opposition parties moved quickly to announce plans for nationwide rallies. The CUF national chairman, Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, held a rally on January 7, 2023 and Chadema is set for their first rally on January 21, 2023.
Police Force spokesperson David Misime said the law enforcers are ready and well organised to manage gatherings that would be held by all political parties in the country. He explained their involvement in the provision of security will largely depend on prior information to hold a meeting as directed by the laws of the country.
“As the Police has promised major operational and disciplinary changes under the leadership of Inspector General of Police (IGP), Camillus Wambura, citizens should expect to see wisdom and prudence exercised in carrying out our duties without affecting the law, peace, stability and unity of our country,” he said.
A senior lecturer at the University of Iringa, Dr Cornelius Simba, commended President Hassan’s decision to lift the ban saying it was exactly what people wanted. He also expects politicians both from the opposition and those of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) to behave sensibly and to be constructive in their criticisms. “When you disagree on a certain issue, then come with an alternative solution,” he recommended.
Prof Martha Qorro, a communication specialist from the University of Dar es Salaam, advised that politicians should consider their words carefully before speaking, as reckless language could be disastrous.
“We are building one society, one nation. Let our politics be decent. Let’s stand together on issues of national interest. I view political parties as institutions that build the country for its development, so no reason to quarrel,” she said.
Further, Constitutional and Legal Affairs Minister, Damas Ndumbaro, said the President had directed that various laws related to political issues be amended. “Fortunately, we have the Law Reforms Commission,” he said, “and I will meet with them on this. All the relevant laws will be worked upon. We have already started with the Political Parties Act,” he said.
Tundu Lissu to return
In a clear sign that opposition leaders have established some trust with the government of President Hassan, the exiled former presidential candidate, Tundu Lissu, has announced plans to return to Tanzania. Lissu, who was shot 16 times in an assassination attempt in 2017 in Dodoma, has spent most of the years since in Belgium.
Mr Lissu used his New Year greetings to inform Tanzanians that he would step on the soil of his country once again on January 25, 2023.
“This has been a long and very difficult period in my personal life and in our life as a party and as a nation,” he said.
The former Singida North MP, Tundu Lissu was evacuated to Kenya, after an assassination attempt in Dodoma in September 2017, and later taken from the Nairobi Hospital to Belgium for further treatment. He had been shot multiple times at his house as he was arriving from a parliamentary session. His assailants have never been apprehended.
In his speech, Mr Lissu noted that whatever happens, this year will be a very important year in the history of Tanzania. “It is a year in which, if we decide with the sincerity of our hearts, we will get a new and democratic constitution, with an independent election system, which cares and protects the rights of the people and which lays a solid foundation for the accountability of our leaders to the people and their representatives,” he said.
He said that President Samia Suluhu Hassan and her party (CCM) plus her government have already publicly promised that they are ready to start the long and difficult journey (to finding a new constitution).
“We are responsible for responding to the President by showing, and demonstrating in action, that we too are ready and prepared for that journey. I personally and our party are ready and prepared for that trip. So I am returning home for the trip,” he explained.
He emphasized that he is coming back for the great work that lies ahead, the work of the new constitution and a new beginning for the nation. “I am returning home to participate in writing the first new page of the ‘365-page book’ for this year 2023.”
“I believe that, with our unity and our love for our country, we will write a good book!”