from ALLOYCE KIMBUNGA in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania
DAR-ES-SALAAM, (CAJ News) – POLICE’S heavy-handedness against the opposition has put a damper on the reconciliation process Tanzania desperately desires following crackdowns over the past decade.
By this renewed clampdown, the law enforcers have thrown spanners into the works of talks featuring President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM or Party of the Revolution) and the main opposition Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA or Party for Democracy and Progress).
The other opposition, Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT-Wazalendo), is also part of the truce that was prominent in the month of May.
An air of optimism has blown across the East African nation but tensions have again been high in the past few days.
This comes after police arrested about 20 members of the CHADEMA youth wing during a pro-democracy gathering.
They were arrested in the northern region of Manyara as the opposition party heightens calls for a new constitution ahead of the next elections, scheduled for 2025.
An unnamed party member reportedly fell unconscious during an alleged attack by police and was hospitalised.
Neema Abdallah, a CHADEMA regional person and member of the National Executive Council (NEC) reportedly collapsed a day after the said attack by police during the May 25 arrest.
“The police force should not make legitimate political activities to fight for the new Constitution in the country a criminal offence,” she stated.
“However if they need to arrest any woman, it is important to consider her rights. We can never be afraid of being arrested by the police for fighting for rights in the country.”
Police called the meeting by the opposition as “illegal assembly.”
While the opposition members were later released, their arrest has left a bitter taste.
This was exacerbated this past weekend when police barred some CHADEMA legislators from a stadium to witness the country’s biggest football match, a derby between rivals Simba and Young Africans, at the CCM Kirumba Stadium, in the northern Mwanza.
Apparently, they were denied entry for wearing T-shirts inscribed with calls for a new constitution.
Some sports fans and other stakeholders were allegedly denied entry for similar reasons.
Police have over the years been criticized for partisanship and targeting government critics.
“(Inspector General of Police Simon) Sirro must stop seeing opponents as criminals,” said pro-democracy advocate, Fatma Karume.
“Opposition to CCM is not a crime. Opposition to the government is not crime! It is the basic right of every Tanzanian,” she added.
Before the current fallout among government critics, CHADEMA and police, Tanzania seemed on the right track towards reconciliation.
The meeting of the ruling party and the opposition was a landmark moment poised to end political upheaval.
Poised to culminate in dialogue and reconciliation, the meetings were anticipated to regain Tanzania’s iconic status as a model for peace, stability and leadership in the continent.
This represented a seismic shift from a path of dictatorship and crackdown on government critics, which the country embarked on under the presidency of the now-late John Magufuli.
By bringing together CCM, CHADEMA and ACT-Wazalendo, Hassan has entirely eradicated the divisive policies of Magufuli.
Magufuli ascended to office in 2015 and rapidly after his election, he descended into an iron-fisted leader prominent for purges of his critics even in government, crackdown on the opposition and stifling of press freedom.
Suluhu has been in power since March last year, days after Magufuli’s death from heart complications.
The talks between her party and the opposition have thus been hailed as a major step in healing political rifts.
Her meeting CHADEMA chairman, Freedom Mbowe, on the day of his release in March was hailed as a political masterstroke and paved way for further engagements.
Mbowe was arrested in July 2021 on terrorism charges.
“President Samia emphasised the need to join hands to build the nation, through trust and respect built on the foundations of justice,” the president’s office stated after the meeting.
In February, she met opposition stalwart Tundu Lissu in Belgium, where he has been exiled since 2017 after an apparent assassination attempt.
Lissu, who lost the 2015 election to Magufuli and was arrested at least six times the year he fled, sustained injuries after unknown assailants shot him in his car at his parliamentary residence.
Hassan also lifted a ban on four newspapers, raising hopes of harmony between government and the media.
After the latest action by police, Liberatus Mwangombe, a human rights activist and CHADEMA candidate in the 2020 general elections, dissuaded the party from continuing the engagement with the ruling party.
“CHADEMA must stop this madness of dialogue with CCM,” he charged.
“CCM knows no other language than mass action. You can’t do the same thing and expect a different result. CHADEMA must stop playing with CCM.”
Mwangombe said it was unprecedented that the arrest of CHADEMA youth came days after the party’s meeting with Hassan.
John Mrema, CHADEMA Communications and Foreign Affairs director, hinted the parties remained committed to dialogue.
“What we see is some people, with their own interests in mind, trying to use senior members of the police force to disrupt political reconciliation efforts that have been set into motion by President Samia Suluhu, our chairman Freeman Mbowe and other stakeholders within the country,” he wrote in a media statement.
– CAJ News