Dar es Salaam. There was a look of ecstasy on the faces of many women who participated in an event organised by the opposition CHADEMA women’s wing BAWACHA to celebrate International Women’s Day when President Samia Suluhu Hassan addressed the enthusiastic crowd.
In Moshi, Kilimanjaro region, the event epitomised the current national mood of reconciliation and efforts to build a more unified, cohesive, peaceful, and prosperous Tanzania. At this event, Samia sat next to CHADEMA national chairperson Freeman Mbowe, the person planning to remove Samia’s party from office.
Not for nothing that Samia, who on March 19 will mark two years since she became president, described what happened on Wednesday as “unprecedented.” Far from considering them as foes, the Head of State described CHADEMA as an ally in building “a new culture of politics” in Tanzania.
“The new culture [of doing politics] can’t be accepted immediately [by some Tanzanians],” Samia, 63, told the CHADEMA women who cheered her every word. “There are hindrances from both ends, mine [within the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM] and yours [opposition].”
For Samia, Wednesday’s “milestone” signifies her commitment to building a new nation from almost seven years of divisive and polarising politics overseen by her predecessor, contributing to a wanton injustice.
The first female president of Tanzania wasted no time on Wednesday in making this clear to her fellow women from CHADEMA, assuring them that reforms are coming no matter how long they will take.
“Just for your assurance, reforms are happening [that will allow us] to build a new nation, a Tanzanian nation with the political competition without violence,” the Head of State noted. “That’s where we want to go.”
Of course, President Samia is acutely aware that the project to bring about these reforms will not be without opposition, even from her party, CCM. She revealed to the public how her decision to lift a ban on political rallies elicited “intense debate” from CCM senior cadres when she shared it with them.
“When I presented the idea of lifting a ban on political rallies to my party [CCM], a bitter debate ensued, just like what Mbowe received when he invited me here,” Samia revealed.
An intense debate, especially on social media, accompanied Mbowe’s announcement that President Samia would grace a function by CHADEMA women commemorating International Women’s Day. Some went as far as describing the move as “colossal” to CHADEMA’s oppositional politics.
Cognizant of this debate, President Samia told Mr Mbowe: “So, Mr Chairman, it turns out we both have conservatives in our parties.”
But Samia does not think that this is a permanent situation, expressing her hope that more doubters will be won over when the ongoing process starts yielding one fruit after another.
President Samia used the occasion to reiterate her past commitment to reviving the stalled constitution-writing process, acknowledging that while she cannot go as faster as other stakeholders would have wished, the process will commence the soonest.
“Nobody is saying no to demands for the New Constitution,” the Tanzanian leader made it abundantly clear. “Even my party has said let’s go and revive the constitution-writing process. So, very soon, I’ll form a committee, after consulting other political parties, that will carry out that exercise.”
Speaking earlier during the event, Mr Mbowe brought to Samia’s attention how, for far too long, the administrative system in Tanzania has been relegating supporters of opposition parties to the status of second-class citizens, calling for deliberate interventions to end that.
Mr Mbowe understood how a leader’s attitude informs their administration, pointing out that an authoritarian leader begets an authoritarian administrative system.
“It is my hope, Madam President, that your intention to unify the nation will be adopted by those under you, those in your government, [and] in various institutions responsible for dispensing justice in our country,” Mr Mbowe said.
Mbowe told President Samia that “democracy can never be an option” and that “no nation has ever prospered by embracing dictatorship and discrimination.”
He assured Samia that while remaining open to the ongoing reconciliation efforts, CHADEMA, an opposition party, will maintain its duty to hold the government accountable for its actions.
“As an opposition party, CHADEMA will continue to hold your government and your party to account effectively, Madam President, without any fear, so that not only you can govern well but also so that CHADEMA can become a ruling party in the future,” Mr Mbowe noted.
Earlier speakers touched on several issues affecting women in Tanzania, from police brutality and lack of access to reliable and quality social services to the skyrocketing cost of living and unemployment.