Tanzania: Ban on opposition meetings lifted, new sign of political openness
LTanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced on Tuesday the lifting of a ban on meetings that had hit the opposition since 2016, in a new signal of openness that was welcomed by political parties and human rights groups.
The head of state said this in a meeting with leaders of political parties. “Now the ban on political gatherings has been lifted,” he said.
“You are all free to criticize the government,” assured them the first woman to lead the East African country, which came to power in March 2021 after the sudden death of authoritarian John Magufuli.
The presidential years of the person known by the nickname “bulldozer” due to his brutal and uncompromising style were marked by repressions against the media, freedom of expression and political opposition.
In June 2016, eight months after being elected, he banned public gatherings of political parties. In fact, the ban only affected the opposition, as the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party that had been in power since independence in 1961 could hold meetings wherever and whenever it wanted.
Freeman Mbowe, the leader of the main opposition Chadema party, “welcomed” the announcement on Tuesday, insisting on “great caution”. “We are waiting for other government officials to implement (this decision),” he said.
Zitto Kabwe, leader of the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT Wazalendo), told AFP he was “euphoric”: “This right has been taken away by the state with an illegal presidential decree. The president has taken everything back. It’s normal, but it’s huge.”
Samia Suluhu Hassan’s rise to power was interrupted by Magufuli’s tenure as her vice president.
The head of state especially contacted the opposition and allowed the reopening of the banned media.
The optimism engendered by these early decisions was dampened somewhat by the July 2021 arrest of Freeman Mbowe and three Chadema officials in Mwanza (west), where they were supposed to have attended a rally demanding constitutional reforms.
But after a seven-month trial on “terrorism” charges, prosecutors dropped the charges against the four and released them. Samia Suluhu Hassan took on Freeman Mbowe after his release.
A few weeks ago, he met Chadema’s vice president, Tundu Lissu, during his visit to Brussels. The latter, a 2020 presidential candidate against John Magfuli, has been living in exile in Belgium since the 2017 assassination attempt.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Oryem Nyeko told AFP that Tuesday’s announcement was “a very important gesture that we hope will help correct the regression of civil and political rights under Magufuli’s presidency.”
“But the president should go beyond this announcement,” he believes: “Concrete steps should be taken to restore a fair democratic game in Tanzania.”
Following this “welcome step in the right direction”, the government should “go further and work towards better protection of human rights, particularly by repealing or amending the law on political parties”. in his statement.
The opposition parties are waiting for constitutional reforms in connection with the presidential elections in 2025.
“We need an independent electoral body to hold free and fair elections,” Freeman Mbowe said, calling for reforms to ensure freedom of expression and association.
“Next steps 1/ new law on political parties; 2/ the new electoral law and 3/ the start of the new constitutional process,” said Zitto Kabwe.
Samia Suluhu Hassan said on Tuesday that “other reforms are coming to ensure that the rights of all parties are respected” and assured that her government is “ready to restart constitutional reforms”.
03/01/2023 18:42:17 – Dar es Salaam (AFP) – © 2023 AFP