Tanzania: ‘People are exercising their freedom of speech’ says Zitto Kabwe

By Abdul Halim, in Dar es Salaam

Posted on Wednesday, 9 June 2021 14:01
Opposition politician Zitto Kabwe, leader of ACT Wazalendo in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Emmanuel Herman

Tanzania's Zitto Kabwe - leader of the opposition party Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) Wazalendo, who served thrice as member of parliament - speaks to The Africa Report on the fate of the opposition since Samia Suluhu Hassan came into power, rapprochement with Kenya and what Tanzania can do to help Mozambique fight insurgents.

Since Samia Suluhu Hassan took over in March following the death of Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, members of the opposition have been in a more relaxed mood, contrary to what they experienced five years ago during the previous administration.

In an exclusive interview with The Africa Report, Zitto Kabwe – leader of the opposition party ACT Wazalendo, sits down to discuss how life has changed since Magufuli passed on and Hassan took over.

This interview was conducted in English and Kiswahili and has been slightly edited for clarity.

The Africa Report: What has changed for the opposition since Samia Suluhu Hassan came into power?

Zitto Kabwe: To answer this question I need to put it into context. In terms of freedom, the situation has changed. People are exercising their freedom of speech. The media now reports on issues that they were not able to during Magufuli’s time. However, nothing has changed in terms of laws: for example, police chief Simon Sirro is still the head of a law enforcement institution.

He is the same person who was enforcing dictatorial directives from the late Magufuli. Therefore, if he is told to implement them again, he can still do so. For us as political stakeholders, the most important laws such as the Political Parties Act, Media Service Act and Elections Act are still the same. There is some freedom, but there has been no legal change, so anything might happen at any time because bad laws still exist.

What is the next step for Tanzania’s opposition now?

The most important thing is to push for legal reforms that are needed to re-establish the democratic environment in the country. The Political Parties Act should be revised to remove all provisions that criminalise politics.

What can you do to make this happen?

I have made some efforts already. For example, as a political party, ACT has written a letter to the president and highlighted issues that need to be addressed: 1) review of the Political Parties Act; 2) review of the Elections Act; 3) release of all prisoners who were jailed over political reasons and 4) look at how to engage all political actors so that we can have an independent electoral commission ahead of the 2025 poll.

Democracy cannot be achieved where there is injustice such as human rights abuses and oppression of democratic activities.

Do you back the rapprochement with Kenya?

Yes, it is very important for the East African Community to function smoothly and I fully support President Samia’s approach towards maintaining a cordial relationship with Kenya but it has to be more.

We have to do the same with Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan so that the EAC operates smoothly and there is free movement of goods and services. We are a common market.

What should Tanzania do to help Mozambique fight the insurgents?

Tanzania and Mozambique must work together: first, to identify the root cause of insurgents in northern Mozambique and second, to make intervention necessary so that the matter is addressed.

The fundamental issue plaguing northern Mozambique is poverty, therefore, the two countries must work together to address poverty in southern Tanzania as well. This can be done by establishing a free trade zone area. We can call it Ruvuma Free Trade Area Zone where people can work and goods can move easily. We need a development approach for the two regions in conflict and not just a military solution.

Do you agree with Tanzania’s minister of foreign affairs Ambassador Liberata Mulamula’s stance that Tanzania will not send troops to Mozambique?

I don’t agree with that because it is not about whether to send troops or not. The necessary interventions must be a mix of economic and military solutions. Ruling out military intervention is wrong and supporting a 100% military intervention is also wrong. Social solutions should also be addressed because the people in in northern Mozambique and those in southern Tanzania have the same culture.

The available resources (such as natural gas) are also the same in both regions. There must be a joint investment in the area that can enable those in the private sector to participate: they can work in Palma town within Cabo Delgado in Mozambique and live in Mtwara or vice versa, because the two places are only about 86 kilometres apart. Palma is almost 3000 kilometres away from Maputo. Therefore, the solution is economic but that does not rule out military intervention.

Samia Suluhu Hassan is from Zanzibar; has having her as head of the country worked to the benefit of the people in the semi-autonomous region?

No, because once you are the president of the United Republic, you’re supposed to serve without fear or favour. So I don’t see how Zanzibar will benefit from having a president from there. I believe that her presidency will promote the union, try to solve its challenges and find a balance.

Is the ruling party Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party strengthened in Zanzibar since she is from there?

I don’t think so because we had a president from Zanzibar before. The answer cannot be about individuals. It is about equal programs for the parties so I don’t see her as strengthening one side. Zanzibaris have never complained about having a president in the union. Their issue is structural weaknesses of the union.

Since your party is in an inclusive government in Zanzibar, do you fear you may lose ACT?

No, that cannot happen because the ACT support in Zanzibar is based on politics, not on whether somebody from CCM is president of the union or not. That’s not an issue at all.

What we need to do is ensure that governance is based on the principle of justice. Once that is done, people’s rights will be respected and democracy prevails. However, this cannot be achieved where there is injustice such as human rights abuses and oppression of democratic activities.

How do you see Tanzania ahead of 2025 elections?

I think what we will have to do to steer Tanzania after 2025 is what we are doing right now. We must work hard to create an open environment for free and fair elections where people can elect their leaders: whether for Zanzibar’s House of Representatives or for the union parliament, whether for the president of Zanzibar or for the president of the union.

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