May 12, 2022, was a day that witnessed a rare unity in Tanzania’s political palavers. It was the day when fans, members and political activists from different political parties seemed to agree on one thing.
That the statement by CHADEMA’s national chairperson Freeman Mbowe on the importance of understanding and respecting each other’s viewpoints among key political actors in the country was noteworthy.
Addressing the party’s General Assembly in Dar es Salaam, Mr Mbowe urged CHADEMA’s senior cadres to stop insulting members of other political parties with opposing views on social media.
“I have noticed that some of our leaders denigrate [members of] other parties through social media,” Mr Mbowe said during the speech that lasted for an hour. “This [behaviour] must stop and it must stop now. Let’s respect other [political] parties. Let’s respect their views. When we differ, that is true democracy.”
Mr Mbowe’s rebuttal of ‘uncivil’ CHADEMA members on social media received very positive reactions from people who followed his speech, as seen by many who expressed their pleasure on social media platforms. Some rightly claimed that the comment has revealed Mr Mbowe’s political maturity.
More significantly, perhaps, is the fact that the rebuttal of his fellow CHADEMA members’ unbecoming behaviour on social media seems to be in line with the spirit of the talks between Mr Mbowe and President Samia Hassan Suluhu following the former’s release from prison on March 4, 2022.
The two leaders have agreed to turn the page and engage in politics based on mutual understanding, respect and trust. When the two reached that gentleman’s agreement observers thought the ball had fallen squarely on President Samia’s court in as far as restraining the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) hardliners, the police and other law enforcement organs is concerned.
What many missed was the fact that Mr Mbowe also needed to calm down CHADEMA’s followers who have become militant on social media. These activists, embittered by the ill-treatment they received from the police and by the ban on outdoor and indoor political activities, felt disillusioned and started to vent on social media.
The issue took a turn for the worst when they started personal attacks on those with differing points of view. It was as if members of the political party that has the word ‘democracy’ on its name did not believe in the democratic right of others to have opposing viewpoints.
In hindsight, the behaviours of most of these activists on social media could be attributed to herd mentality. Social media is fast-paced and at times people don’t think adequately enough through what they post.
Going beyond mere words
While Mr Mbowe’s rebuttal is significant, I think restraining CHADEMA cadres’ behaviour on social media should go beyond mere words. CHADEMA should adequately train its cadres and help them to develop the political sophistication and maturity that are necessary to enable it to outsmart CCM.
Political maturity is like sportsmanship in sports. But also political competition is a mind game. It is played in the minds of the people. Emotions must be tamed and strategically deployed to win people’s hearts and, ultimately, votes.
Fortunately, this seems to be the direction that Mr Mbowe wants his party to take as he seeks to reposition the party towards 2025. The past five years or so have not been easy for the opposition, generally, and for CHADEMA, specifically.
To get back on track the party needs to shed off some of its hardline stances and put on reconciliatory garments. This would not make things any easier for CHADEMA. It would, at least, rebuff attempts to project it as the party of NO; the party of trouble-makers who spend their days on social media throwing volleys of personal attacks against their opponents.
Steering CHADEMA into civility
The possibility that it might put the party into a moral dilemma at some point is high, especially on the controversial issue of the New Constitution. Rights are demanded, not begged. And when it comes to this point the temptation is high for aggressiveness, which could wrongly be interested as militancy.
To succeed, in the long-term, Mr Mbowe would need to continue steering the party into civility come what may. For this to be possible, the party must develop a method of constructive passive resistance that is at the same time aggressive but courteous.
This should be a method that gives CHADEMA an upper hand and defeats any political spin on the party’s non-cooperation when issues of national importance are compromised by the powers-that-be.
By publicly warning CHADEMA members about their behaviour on social media, even before President Samia delivers on the gentleman’s agreements, Mr Mbowe has shown that his commitment to the new politics based on mutual respect and trust is real.
Damas Kanyabwoya is a veteran journalist and a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam. He’s available at firstname.lastname@example.org. These are the writer’s own opinions and it does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at email@example.com for further inquiries.