By the time the leader of opposition ACT-Wazalendo Mr Zitto Kabwe pens an opinion piece on this platform on what transpired at the stakeholders’ meeting to discuss the state of multiparty democracy in Tanzania already there had been enough debate on the legitimacy of such an endeavour and if Tanzanians should expect anything of substance from the gathering.
But Zitto’s piece, which boldly described the meeting that took place in the capital Dodoma between December 15 and December 17, 2021, “the first step for Tanzania to return to its democratic path,” further galvanized that debate instead of putting it to sleep.
While many discussed Zitto’s reflection on the meeting just passingly – others commending it, others dismissing it as an empty talk – a young and upcoming lawyer, human rights activist and CHADEMA member Mr Alphonce Lusako, took a step further by writing a rejoinder to Zitto’s piece.
A mockery for democracy
Also published by The Chanzo, Lusako’s piece described Mr Zitto’s piece “nothing but a mockery for Tanzania’s multiparty democracy and the process for political reconciliation that Tanzanians are dreaming for.”
Lusako based his conclusion – that what happened in Dodoma sought neither to improve the status of multiparty democracy in Tanzania nor reconcile the opposition and the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and its government – on two major foundations.
The first one concerned how the Dodoma meeting went ahead at proposing what should be done in future while keeping quiet on what has happened in the past five years; and the scond one concerned the choice of people who played a central role in organizing the meeting whose legitimacy Lusako said was questionable.
Lusako’s conclusion makes a lot of sense, I should admit, but they come short of defence to boycott the meeting, something which CHADEMA, together with opposition NCRR-Mageuzi party, did.
It is one thing to say that it would be better if the meeting should have been organised in a particular way favourable to opposition parties. It is totally another thing, I think, to dismiss an entire initiative just because it was not organised in the ways you wished it would.
The latter point reveals two important issues that those who hold such a view might even be unaware of. One, such a view smells selfishness and self-aggrandizement; a feeling that if something does not make sense to me it cannot make sense to anyone.
If you paid a close attention to the recent discussions on who is right between those who took part in the meeting and those who boycotted you might have seen how this sense of superiority was playing out.
But the second issue that comes out clearly when you read Lusako’s rejoinder – and those who attacked ACT-Wazalendo’s decision to take part in the meeting – is the lack of understanding both of the philosophy behind the process of reconciliation and the current political context within which such a reconciliation is being sought.
On October 5, 2017, speaking at the opening of the high-level symposium ‘Challenging the Conventional: Can Post-Violence Reconciliation Succeed?’ in Bogota, Colombia, the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan remarked that when travelling to post-conflict countries, he often hears disappointment about progress on reconciliation.
“But reconciliation is a long-term process, not an event,” said Mr Anan. “For it to succeed, everyone must be committed. If it is not promoted with sincere intentions or if complicated realities are reduced to sensational headlines, the process is doomed to fail.”
Reconciliation does not just entail taking but also demands that a party to such a process must also give. To quote former South African president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela: “In the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process, which requires more than just a legal framework. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.”
Changing political environment
A few things also need to be said about the lack of appreciation of the current political context and opportunities it offers towards building a democratic nation. Whether we like it or not, President Samia Suluhu Hassan is not the same as her predecessor John Magufuli.
This means that we cannot engage with her in the same way(s) we used to engage with Magufuli.
Magufuli said publicly that he needs no one’s advice on how to run the country. This explains why what happened in Dodoma in December never took place during Magufuli’s time.
In contrast, Samia appointed a number of advisors – from economy to politics – immediately after taking the oath of office. While we may not have access to the president herself at least we can reach her advisors and lobby for reforms.
Magufuli prosecuted and imprisoned a number of opposition politicians but Samia freed a large per cent of them although the case against CHADEMA national chairperson Freeman Mbowe remains an exception, a case I consider to be a blot on Samia’s legacy.
Not a single opponent of Samia has sought refuge abroad and those forced in exile by Magufuli are considering the option to return to Tanzania.
It is not my aim to cover Samia’s wrongdoings or defend her administration’s reprehensible actions to maintain a ban on political rallies or ignoring of the call for constitutional changes. I only mean to say that at least Samia has shown some levels of reasonableness with which she can be engaged.
Choosing hope over despair
Four resolutions were reached during the Dodoma meeting namely the need to review the existing Political Parties Act; that an Independent Electoral Commission be established under a new elections law; that the process to establish a New Constitution be completed; and that the ban on political rallies is lifted.
A task force to follow up on these resolutions have already been followed and the final recommendations will be submitted to the government. I rest my hope that the recommendations will be worked based on the wishes and aspirations of those who took part in the meeting.
Should the government fail to honour its commitments to reforms, and choose to shelve the recommendations instead of implementing them, I should therefore put the blame on it, not on those who chose to participate in the dialogue.
I choose hope over despair for to hope is to live.
Vicent Kassala is a human rights activist and ACT-Wazalendo member based in Dar es Salaam. He is available at email@example.com. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect on the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.