President Hassan’s decision to end a six-year ban on political gatherings has been lauded by the opposition.
On Saturday, Chadema, Tanzania’s main opposition party, held its first public rally in more than six years in the northwestern city of Mwanza just three weeks after President Samia Suluhu Hassan lifted a ban on political gatherings imposed in 2016.
There was a jubilant reception of party leaders in the city by hundreds of supporters in uniforms with Chadema colours – red, blue and white. There were also poetry performances and contortionists on hand to entertain the supporters who thronged the Furahisha stadium, the rally venue.
In June 2016, Hassan’s predecessor John Magufuli prohibited elected officials from holding rallies outside their constituencies. The former president argued that election season was over and rallies were a waste of time and a distraction from development.
This soon became a blanket ban for political gatherings as the police turned down opposition requests to organise rallies. In some cases, even internal party meetings were disrupted with leaders and their followers harassed and arrested.
But Magufuli himself kept holding rallies and crisscrossing the country by road with his entourage, making numerous impromptu stops to address locals and make off-script decisions.
Critics say his behaviour was part of a plan to crush dissent within the East African country. After Magufuli’s sudden death in office in 2021, Hassan became president.
She made moves to reconcile with the opposition but was also seen as continuing some of the draconian policies of her predecessor – including a seven-month detention of Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe on charges of “terrorism financing”.
On Saturday while addressing the party’s cheering supporters, Mbowe was in a conciliatory mood, urging those gathered to shun hate against ruling party supporters and their leaders as he showered praise on President Hassan.
“Without shame, I stand before you and the world to thank President Samia Suluhu Hassan, for the way she was patient in many meetings that we held as I convinced her to realise the need for reconciliation in this country. This president accepted reconciliation,” said Mbowe.
He described the resumption of rallies as a restoration of fundamental civic rights Tanzanians were robbed of as a result of weak laws.