DODOMA: Tanzania’s main opposition party has held its first mass rally since the lifting of a 2016 ban, raising hopes of greater political freedom in the East African nation.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan this month lifted the ban on Chadema imposed by her hardline predecessor John Magufuli, who was nicknamed “Bulldozer” for his pugnacious style.
Hassan, in power for 22 months, is seeking to break with some of Magufuli’s policies and has made overtures to the opposition.
“Thank God that the day has come when we speak with fellow Tanzanians through this public gathering,” Chadema Chairman Freeman Mbowe told the rally on Saturday, which was attended by thousands in the lakeside city of Mwanza.
The rally marked the 30th anniversary of the party’s political registration.
The supporters sported the party colours blue, red and white and sang songs praising their leaders as a handful of police officers guarded the venue.
“We have been silent for almost seven years but finally, our right is restored and we are ready to move ahead,” Mary Dismas, Mwanza resident, told media.
The move was cautiously welcomed as a gain for democracy by rights groups and the country’s opposition.
Magufuli had banned political rallies early in his tenure, saying it was time for work, not politics but critics said the ban applied only to opposition groups, with the ruling party free to assemble.
Rival gatherings were violently broken up by police and party officials were jailed.
There was early optimism when Hassan, Tanzania’s first female president, reached out to rivals, reopened banned media outlets and reversed some of Magufuli’s most controversial policies but her presidency came under criticism when Mbowe and other senior Chadema officials were arrested in July 2021 just hours before they were to hold a public meeting seeking constitutional reforms.
Hassan, who has battled divisions in her ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, has since made conciliatory gestures towards the opposition.
In early 2022, she met in Brussels with Chadema Deputy Chairman Tundu Lissu, who was the party’s candidate in the 2020 presidential election but lives in exile in Belgium after an attempt on his life in 2017. (Int’l News Desk)