It will take time to understand the full implications of the rapprochement between the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and opposition party CHADEMA on opposition politics in Tanzania. In the end, it may turn out to be either a clever plan or a miscalculated move by the latter.
What is much befuddling, however, is the fact that the May 20 roundtable meeting between CCM and CHADEMA was a result of pleas made by the latter to President Samia Suluhu Hassan in April 2021.
CHADEMA had been asking for an audience with President Samia, who doubles as CCM national chairperson, to kick start what they called a ‘negotiated settlement’ to the political crisis caused by the government’s stifling of the political and civic space in the previous six years.
The efforts led to the February 17 meeting between President Samia and CHADEMA deputy chairperson (Tanzania Mainland) Tundu Lissu, who is currently living in exile in Belgium, two subsequent meetings between President Samia and CHADEMA national chairperson Freeman Mbowe and the May 20 meeting between CHADEMA’s delegation and CCM delegation at the State House in Dodoma.
Many observers and some opposition supporters were eager to learn what transpired during the last meeting. But it appears that this quest for information is far from being finished as press conferences held by spokespersons of the two parties on separate occasions did little to shed enough light on the issue.
CCM Secretary for Ideology and Publicity Shaka Hamdu Shaka held a press conference on May 23, telling journalists that the party will make public what was discussed in the meeting when the right time comes. On the same day, CHADEMA Secretary-General John Mnyika offered a more detailed briefing about the meeting at a press conference in Dar es Salaam than that of Mr Shaka.
However, Mr Mnyika revealed so little on the outcomes of the meeting as far as what progress, if any, was made on contentious issues such as the Ne Constitution, the ban on political rallies, the ex-CHADEMA nominated MPs or whether there was still a stalemate.
But Mnyika noted that as far as the New Constitution was concerned, CHADEMA’s proposals on the table were on how to kick-start the constitutional making process, the stages to follow, the formation of the bodies to oversee the process and the timeline/schedule of the process, which should definitely be before the 2025 General Election.
On the rights issue, Mnyika said CHADEMA’s proposal was for the creation of the truth and reconciliation commission. The failure by the two parties to divulge much more details about the outcome of the meeting means they won’t bother for the time being to fully answer the pertinent questions that need to be answered about the meeting.
Questions won’t go away
But the questions won’t go away. It is important to note that CHADEMA refused to recognize the CCM-led government after claims, which were supported by some election observers, that the 2020 General Election was anything but free and fair.
It is for that reason that efforts to seek an audience with President Samia came as a surprise to many opposition supporters who might have expected resistance and non-cooperation to pressure for the much needed electoral and constitutional reforms.
Journalists who attended Mnyika’s press conference on May 23 raised very important questions that were answered unsatisfactorily but would have to be fully answered soon enough to enable the public to understand what exactly is going on.
How, for instance, can CHADEMA refuse to appear before the presidential task force formed to collect public views on Tanzania’s political situation, including on the New Constitution, and then go ahead to initiate negotiations for the same things in closed-door meetings with the same President who formed the taskforce?
Isn’t the refusal to co-operate selectively done? Isn’t negotiating with CCM for what are CHADEMA’s constitutional rights tantamount to begging? Doesn’t that put CHADEMA in a weak negotiating position?
What does CHADEMA expect to achieve by negotiation with CCM? Is it the organs of the government, including the Registrar of Political Parties and the police, to mention just a few, which are largely blamed for the deteriorating state of political affairs in the country?
In the press conference, Mnyika could not hold back from throwing volleys at the Registrar’s office for stoking conflicts within opposition political parties and urged President Samia to dismiss both the Registrar Francis Mutungi and the Deputy Registrar Sisty Nyahoza.
Answering some of the questions raised in the press conference, somehow defensively, Mnyika referred to CHADEMA’s preamble that says the party believes in politics that is beyond partisanship and which puts national interests first as the reason that pushed the party into seeking negotiations with CCM.
The burden lies with CHADEMA
Of course, it is clear that the burden to explain lies more with CHADEMA than with CCM. The main opposition party’s option for negotiations rather than confrontation is the right path, undoubtedly.
But it could lead to a trap. Not being in a position to explain to its supporters exactly what transpired in the meeting is the first risk CHADEMA has taken. People want to know exactly what transpired in the meetings and whether there was some progress on contentious issues.
Mnyika’s call for calm, understanding and patience for the meeting because, as he rightly said that reconciliation is not a single day process event, puts CHADEMA in a bind. If the party finds out soon enough that CCM won’t budge on contentious issues, will it call off the negotiations? Wouldn’t the party be expected to show the same patience and understanding?
Politics might be unique in this part of the world. But it is difficult to see how détente, as opposed to popular demands and people power, could force CCM to willingly usher in political reforms or allow level playing-field multiparty politics after refusing to do so for the past 30 years.
The opposition, in most neighbouring countries, defeated the ruling party using the voting power of the masses. Electoral and constitutional reforms came after.
It is very clear that not everyone within CHADEMA agrees with talking with CCM or at least with the manner of the talks.
Mr Mnyika explained away dissent within the party over the talks by saying that the negotiations have the blessings of all organs of the party. But disagreements over the talks risk fermenting conflicts within CHADEMA in a manner not seen before. How prepared is the party to deal with this situation?
Putting the negotiations to the test
CHADEMA’s resolve to negotiate was put to the test when, just a few days after the talks, several of its members were temporarily arrested for holding what police described as an illegal meeting on the New Constitution.
CHADEMA’s more difficult test would be to ensure quick results on pending issues while talks continue. These include the lifting of the ban on political rallies and indoor meetings and the demand for an independent electoral commission. The lack of results is very dangerous for the viability of CHADEMA as the main opposition political party.
Mr Mnyika’s insistence on giving President Samia the benefit of doubt also carries some risks. Some might ask, for how long? A year has passed since she became the Head of State. Has she done anything to rectify political and human rights violations of the previous six years?
A way out
One of the cards that CHADEMA could play if they, eventually, fail to get what they wanted from negotiations, however, would be to go back to the streets and publicly accuse CCM of failing to seize the chance of dialogue to end the political stalemate.
They would say, “We sought peaceful solutions to our problems but we failed.” The only problem is that for that to happen the negotiations would have to have a timeframe and be as transparent as they could get.
Protracted negotiations behind closed doors could give room to propaganda and for accusations and counter-accusations when the aims of the meetings would not be reached.
The public won’t know who speaks the truth about what transpired during the meetings because the negotiations were ‘secretive’ after all.
Damas Kanyabwoya is a veteran journalist and a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam. He’s available at email@example.com or on Twitter as @DKanyabwoya. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.