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Tanzania: Reconciliation talks a slow process, says Chadema

By Joseph Burite

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Posted on June 28, 2023 12:46

 © Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan (R) shakes hands with the chairman of the Chadema opposition party Freeman Mbowe (L) at the State house in Dar Es Salaam.(Photo by STR/ Tanzanian State House/AFP) /
Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan (R) shakes hands with the chairman of the Chadema opposition party Freeman Mbowe (L) at the State house in Dar Es Salaam.(Photo by STR/ Tanzanian State House/AFP) /

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s efforts to reconcile her country’s political forces following years of lingering tensions under her predecessor John Magufuli’s six-year rule are being met with wariness as the main opposition party, Chadema, called the whole process “frustrating”.

“Any political process that takes the views of every stakeholder is definitely a frustrating long-term slow process, normally,” says Freeman Mbowe, Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo Party, or Chadema (Party for Democracy and Development) party chairman, speaking to The Africa Report.

“You don’t ask for what you want and get it at the same time, you have to negotiate. There are lots of give-and-takes in the process,” he says.

Chadema’s chief points of negotiation include the party’s demands for a new constitution and a revamped electoral body as prerequisites for free and fair elections.

Mbowe says the party is focused on negotiating a new constitution that will benefit all.

“At this point in time, we thought that it’s important and imperative for the main stakeholders in the political arena,” he says, adding that others, such as civil society, professional organisations, and faith-based bodies will also have an input on the text.

Two parties

“There are only two major stakeholders who are negotiating – our party as the main opposition party and Chama Cha Mapenduzi as the ruling party – because we thought if we put our thinking and focus right, it’s easier to influence the rest of the stakeholders. But we haven’t reached that stage,” says Mbowe.

Since rising to power in 2021, Samia has dropped charges against political opponents and has permitted political rallies while initiating reconciliation talks aimed at normalising political contestation on both mainland Tanganyika and the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar which form the United Republic of Tanzania.

These reforms have been welcomed by the main opposition party, particularly after Mbowe was arrested on trumped-up charges of financing terrorism, just months after Samia came to power. The charges were dropped, but only after Mbowe spent seven months in detention.

Samia had initially focused on improving Tanzania’s economy – after Chadema had launched a nationwide campaign for constitutional review. She said this was not her priority.

Zanzibar stability

Tanzanian political party Civic United Front (CUF), dominant in Zanzibar, is also pushing for a new constitution and electoral body change.

“Time is still there, elections are next year. We are optimistic because we know Mama Samia. She wants to have that as a legacy,” Civic United Front (CUF) Secretary General Hamad Masoud Hamad tells The Africa Report.

“I don’t see any reason she should not allow to form an independent electoral commission by law,” says Hamad, the head of the country’s oldest opposition party.

“It is not the first time we do reconciliation; it is the third. Once bitten; twice shy,” he says.

In the greater scheme of things, the stability of Zanzibar is considered crucial because the archipelago’s politics usually affect those on the mainland, according to political analyst Abdul Juma Kambaya.

It helps that unlike her predecessor Magufuli, who was quick to use military force, Samia believes in talking, says Kambaya.

But should the current reconciliation talks fail, Kambaya fears a community breakdown with entrenched divisions between supporters of CCM and those of CUF.

“I fear there will be a return to the breach of human rights, arrests and a life in fear for citizens,” Kambaya tells The Africa Report.

Chadema leader Mbowe is not so negative about the process, but he is realistic.

“This is a power game,” he says when asked about the possibility of completing the process.

“It is not even a question of confidence or not, you can never take anything for granted from a politician, particularly from the ruling party.”

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