Dar es Salaam. The Office of Party Registrar is intending to organize a consultative meeting between itself, the Tanzania Police Force as well as leaders of political parties to discuss the growing trend of law enforcement officers interfering with political activities, something which Party Registrar Francis Mutungi criticized, warning that Tanzania “is not a military state.”
Far from doing what they are supposed to do in protecting people and their properties, the Tanzania Police Force is notoriously known for its interference with the East African nation’s political activities, especially those organized by opposition parties.
So blatant has been its violation of the country’s constitution and laws governing activities by political parties that opposition leaders and other pro-democracy activists have labelled the police force “an anti-democratic force.”
It has prevented opposition parties’ forums, including internal meetings, from taking place. Police have on numerous occasions harassed, intimidated, tortured, and detained a number of opposition parties’ leaders, members, and supporters for doing absolutely nothing other than taking part in a legal assembly.
“We have let this situation creates a negative perception to the public,” said Mutungi during a news conference in Dar es Salaam today, September 6, 2021. “We would never wish people to start living in fear [by allowing] that every party meeting invites heavy police’s presence. [Tanzania] is not a military state. The Office of Party Registrar feels obliged to let the Tanzanian public knows that our politics has not reached that stage of senseless tension.”
While the police have never enjoyed a neutral relationship with Tanzania’s opposition parties since the country reintroduced multiparty democracy in 1992, the illegal ban on political activities exacerbated the already bitter relations existing between the two.
Imposed in early 2016 by the late President John Magufuli, the controversial ban on political rallies has been on several occasions cited by the police as a justification for preventing a particular opposition party from organizing an assembly even an internal one.
Magufuli, who died on March 17, 2021, of heart disease, imposed the ban on the grounds that it was distracting him from fulfilling the promises he made during the campaign trail. He said only the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) has the right to organize rallies because it won elections. He allowed only elected opposition politicians to organize rallies but only within their respective constituencies.
Many expected President Samia Suluhu Hassan to lift the ban and allow opposition parties to organize their activities freely. But to their chagrin, the Head of State chose to maintain it, pleading with people to give her some time to fix the economy before starting to address political issues.
Between the time Samia was sworn in as Tanzania’s sixth president on March 19, 2021, and the time she announced that she is going to maintain the ban imposed by her predecessor on June 30, 2020, members of the country’s political opposition enjoyed some relief in organizing their activities.
But this abruptly changed when President Samia indicated that she is not going to lift the ban. Police started blocking opposition parties’ meetings as well as arresting dozens of their members and supporters.
Just over the weekend, police in the Mara region, north of Tanzania, arrested nine members of opposition CHADEMA as part of efforts to block the party’s Youth Wing’s (BAVICHA) attempt to organize a symposium on constitutional reforms.
On August 28, 2021, police in Dar es Salaam prevented opposition NCCR-Mageuzi from organizing its Central Committee (CC) meeting, with the law enforcement agency claiming that there were signs that violence was going to take place at the meeting.
ACT-Wazalendo party leader Zitto Kabwe described Mr Mutungi’s decision to organize the meeting as “an appropriate one.” In a Twitter post, Zitto wrote: “Police have been recklessly violating [the country’s] laws [by] preventing opposition parties from doing their lawful activities. The meeting should not be delayed [so that] political parties can organize their activities freely.”