Tanzania’s journey back to democracy hits a hurdle

Tanzania president, Samia Suluhu Hassan

from ALLOYCE KIMBUNGA in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania
DAR-ES-SALAAM, (CAJ News) THE continued detention of opposition leader, Freeman Mbowe, is a blemish in the lauded crusade by President Samia Suluhu Hassan to retrieve Tanzania from dictatorship, which her predecessor, John Magufuli, allegedly plunged the country into.

Skepticism now persists on whether progress spearheaded by the inauguration of Hassan will continue or whether repression will once again prevail under the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) led government, the longest-serving ruling party in Africa.

If an interview held by the president with an international media outlet and the reaction by the opposition to the sentiments attributed to Hassan are anything to go by, a legal tussle is on the cards and it will take time before the widening rifts are mended.

Mbowe, the chairman of the Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA – Political Party for Democracy and Development), has been detained since his arrest on July 21 in the north-western town of Mwanza, hours before he was due to launch a programme calling for constitutional reform in Tanzania.

He was arrested with ten others, who have since been released. Others were informed that they had been arrested for illegally gathering and contravening coronavirus (COVID-19) prevention measures.

Other party activists and a lawyer were arrested early August during planned protests against his arrest and continued detention.

All other individuals have been released but the former presidential candidate remains behind bars on charges related to economic crimes and financing terrorist activities between May and August 2020.

It is unclear why the state waited until last month to arrest him.

“The timing of his arrest raises questions around whether this was a tactic to silence critical voices and the onus is now on the authorities to provide evidence to back-up the charges or else promptly release him,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, lamented.

The handling of the matter by police has exacerbated matters, considering he was not presented in court until five days after his arrest.

Local laws do not specify how long a suspect may be held before being taken to court but through such Tanzania apparently has violated regional and international human rights standards that state has a legal obligation to present an accused person promptly before a court of law, usually within 48 hours of their arrest.

This is a blemish in the leadership of Hassan, who has received praise, even among some critics, since she assumed the presidency from the late Magufuli in March.

She has dismantled some dictatorial systems of her predecessor, particularly the stance on COVID-19. The virus wreaked havoc while Magufuli denied its existence.

Muchena added since Hassan’s inauguration, her administration had taken some encouraging steps towards allowing greater freedoms of expression, media and association in the country.

These were a pipedream under Magufuli, in power since winning an election, the opposition claimed it was rigged, in 2015.

Hassan has also pledged to meet opposition members and other stakeholders to discuss reforms to the constitution.

Hence, with Hassan proving a reformist, the case against Mbowe has been concerning.

“This case is a concerning development that casts doubt on whether that progress will continue or whether repression will once again be the order of the day,” Muchena said.

Oryem Nyeko, of the Human Rights Watch Africa Division, said, “These latest arrests heighten concerns that the Tanzanian government may be backtracking on recent promises of reform.”

An interview the president has granted to a foreign media outlet has added fuel to the fire.

“He (Mbowe) was out of the country for a long time. I don’t know why he fled but when he returned he started creating trouble with calls for a new constitution,” she is quoted as saying.

In the now-divisive interview, she apparently accused the opposition legend of “calculating” his arrest so it would appear it was linked to calls for a new constitution.

CHADEMA further enraged by such sentiments, has hinted at legal action, possibly after Mbowe’s appearance set for Friday (August 13).

John Manyika, party secretary general, told media in Dar es Salaam lawyers handling the leader’s case were taking “appropriate action” on the statements attributed to Hassan.

“The public will learn the legal action to be taken following the statements made by the president,” Manyika said.

– CAJ News

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