Until 2015, Tanzania was on course to a matured multiparty democracy. Despite massive support for democracy, progress was cut-short and a decline ensued. Since 1992, when plural politics was re-introduced in the country, the public’s trust in democracy, compared to other forms of governance, has been on the rise.
When Nyalali Commission on whether or not to introduce plural politics gave its verdict in 1991, only 21 per cent of Tanzanians preferred multiparty democracy. In 1994, the University of Dar es Salaam conducted a survey and found that 36 per cent of people supported multiparty democracy. The number crossed 51 per cent in 1999 from research conducted by Bernadetta Killian for her PhD thesis. In 2021, an Afro-barometer survey, with an even larger sample than previous researches, showed that 77 per cent of Tanzanians supported multiparty democracy.
However, this massive support for democracy is not being reflected on the ground, particularly during the period between 2015-2021, whereby political activities have been curtailed, civic space narrowed, media largely repressed and outright rigging of the civic elections of 2019 and general elections of 2020 took place.
The current state of democracy in Tanzania is similar to that of 1992 when plural politics was introduced, whereby both legislative bodies in Tanzania and Zanzibar are held by the ruling party Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), with the majority of 97 per cent.
Police have continued to harass the opposition, denying them the legal right to conduct public rallies and whereby a leading opposition figure Freeman Mbowe of CHADEMA is in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges. Moreover, the constitution-making process had stalled and demands for an independent electoral commission have reached deaf ears.
Most of these undemocratic actions mentioned above took place during President John Magufuli’s regime, who passed away on March 17, 2021. The new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, brought fresh hope but this did not last. Three months into the new regime and political activities continued to be curtailed and the police enforced a ban on political rallies. Even the parties’ constitutional gatherings were disrupted. This was still the case by the time Registrar of Political Parties Judge (Retired) Francis Mutungi called for a meeting of political stakeholders to hold dialogue with the police on an acceptable way forward.
By this time, our party, ACT-Wazalendo, had taken over the leadership of the Tanzania Center for Democracy (TCD) – a platform for dialogue amongst political parties with representation in the Parliament. ACT-Wazalendo saw the dialogue with the police as an important step towards ending the stalemate with the law enforcement agency.
However, other parties like NCCR-Mageuzi and CHADEMA declined the invitation outrightly as they felt that the Inspector General of Police is not a policymaker and demanded that ministers responsible for the police and the political parties should be present instead. I wrote a letter to Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa and copied the Registrar of Political Parties, requesting that the meeting be attended by the ministers in question and the request was granted.
However, the Registrar of Political Parties scheduled this meeting for October 22-23, 2021, which clashed with TCD’s pre-announced conference on Justice, Peace and Reconciliation. This led to a lot of confusion and disagreements and in the end, neither meeting was able to take place.
A new date was agreed and President Samia decided to grace the now-famous Dodoma Conference on the State of Multiparty Democracy in Tanzania. It took place from December 15 to December 17, 2021, and the Registrar of Political Parties widened the participation to include civil society organizations, religious institutions and prominent and influential individuals in the field.
The mentioned TCD conference will now take place in the last week of February 2022. It is suggested that the February conference should build on the Dodoma Initiative by the Council of Political Parties.
Why ACT-Wazalendo attended the Dodoma Conference
After consultation within the party, ACT-Wazalendo decided to attend the Dodoma Conference but with a clear agenda and to hold a dialogue on a way forward. In this, a quotation from Julius Nyerere, the founding President of Tanzania, was an inspiration: “If a door is shut, attempts should be made to open it; if it is ajar, it should be pushed until it is wide open. In neither case should the door be blown up, at the expense of those inside.”
The door was pushed open and ACT-Wazalendo’s delegation moved in with clear agenda. I led the delegation comprising of myself, as the Leader of the Party; our party’s Acting National Chairperson Ms Dorothy Semu; our Secretary-General Ado Shaibu; the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees Ms Mhonga Ruhwanya; and our Chief Legal Counsel, who doubles as the Minister for Trade in Zanzibar, Omar Said Shaaban.
Four issues were on our agenda:
One, that the ban on political rallies is lifted and that the Political Parties Act cap 258 is replaced with a new law on political parties in order to improve the political space in the country.
Two, that the National Elections Act cap 343 is replaced with a new law that would create an independent electoral commission and this new electoral commission would serve from national to lower levels.
Three, that the establishment of a New Constitution, which has stalled is completed.
And four, that the CHADEMA national chairperson Freeman Mbowe is released unconditionally to pave the way for a national healing process.
On Mbowe’s release
In the three days conference, I, as the TCD Chairperson, was asked to give a brief speech, before President Samia delivered her address. I took the opportunity to hammer our agenda number four in a humble manner so that the authorities neither feel ambushed nor embarrassed. I pleaded with President Samia to use legal means to ensure that charges against Mr Mbowe are dropped. She responded on the possibility of forgiveness. The latter has caused an uproar from CHADEMA leaders as they believe that their leader is innocent of the charges against him. I believe that too.
I consider Mbowe’s case as politically motivated and therefore political intervention as a necessity. I had consulted with Mr Mbowe about the matter prior to this when I visited him in jail on Tanzania’s independence day. I had delivered some books for him on that day and we held discussions.
The uproar did not disturb me because I had the mandate from the man behind bars. I have to state clearly that Mr Mbowe never asked for forgiveness and neither did I ask for forgiveness for him. The dispute on this is a matter of interpretation which I have no control of.
In her speech, President Samia stated: “Public rallies are the legal right of political parties” and stopped short of unbanning them. She instead called for the political parties to formulate rules for self-regulating. The conference discussed in detail on this matter. There were strong submissions against this ban and it was agreed that President Samia is advised to lift the ban on political rallies immediately once the Council of Political Parties approves the said self-regulating rules.
Honest and open discussions
The discussions within the conference room were very honest and open. Participants raised very serious issues including, but not limited to, 2019 and 2020 electoral fraud, human rights abuse during the elections in both Mainland and Zanzibar, police disruptions targeting the opposition and the stalled constitution-making process.
There was a call from the majority of participants for a national healing process and an appeal for the government to accept that mistakes took place and open a new chapter for our democracy. Quotations from the president on “there exists wounds, lamentations, misgivings and ill-feeling” were widely used in the conference room to influence the need to start afresh, build trust amongst each other and take steps to strengthen our institutions of democracy.
The ruling party’s defensive approach ended on day two, and the opposition then ceased its attacks on the ruling party. There was then a change in the atmosphere, kick-started by ex-premier Mizengo Pinda, a member of the CCM Central Committee, who openly suggested that the ruling party must give concession on the issue of an independent electoral commission.
He said, “I feel ashamed every time CCM is declared a winner by 90 per cent of the votes in a country we all know it is impossible.” Consensus started to be built around some issues and that more work needed to be done on unresolved issues.
The Dodoma Resolutions
Day three started with Judge (Retired) Joseph Warioba, an ex-premier, summarizing key issues which had no disagreements from participants and drove the conference to build a consensus on the constitutional question. Four issues had a clear affirmation from participants (the Dodoma Resolutions):
One, that the existing Political Parties Act be reviewed and new legislation enacted to ensure that political parties rights had priority over provisions of any other law which may be used to curtail these rights. Here the reference was to the Police Ordinance Act which is always used by the police to frustrate political parties.
Two, that an Independent Electoral Commission must be created under a new elections law. It was agreed that the process to draft the bill must start immediately.
Three, that the process to establish a New Constitution be completed, although only once the new elections act is in place. This is so that an independent electoral commission supervises the constitutional referendum process.
And, four, that public rallies should be enjoyed by political parties according to the law once the self-regulating rules are in place.
In total, 80 issues were raised in the three days’ discussion and a Task Force was formed to take charge of the follow up of the implementation of the issues raised and to agree on the timeline for the implementation.
As a political player, I take the Dodoma Resolutions as a starting point towards a more inclusive political dialogue in the country. These resolutions include pertinent issues of concern raised by political activists over the last five years. The next steps could be harder but if all political players and key stakeholders are involved hurdles could be overcome.
In the process of implementing what was agreed, it is crucial that key players who did not participate in Dodoma Conference are approached and convinced to get involved. Some boycotters may demand concessions including tete a tete with the Head of State, I opine that let it be granted.
Reconciliation is a process
Tanzania has gone through hell in the last five years. If one writes our history and a foreigner reads a chapter about the last five years, they would not believe that they are reading about Tanzania.
If the opportunities presented by the Dodoma Initiative are not grabbed, tension will continue and create an enabling environment for a repeat of the last five years. I have learnt from my party compatriots from Zanzibar that reconciliation is a process, not an event.
The Dodoma Resolutions are a step in the right direction for Tanzania to return to its democratic path. It is important that I finish this article by insisting that it is not necessary for all of us to agree on everything.
As Levitsky and Ziblatt write in their seminal work, How Democracies Die, about coalitions to defend democracy, “Coalitions of the like-minded are important, but they are not enough to defend democracy. The most effective coalitions are those that bring together groups with dissimilar – even opposing– views on many issues.”
A door has been opened, let us rebuild our democracy!
Zitto Kabwe is ACT-Wazalendo party leader and former Member of Parliament. He’s available on Twitter at @zittokabwe. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.