Dar es Salaam. One of Tanzania’s leading human rights defenders, Onesmo Olengurumwa has asked opposition parties not to field a presidential candidate in the upcoming general election in 2025, urging them to focus on getting more members of parliament, councillors, and village chairpersons.
The national coordinator of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) made the proposal on Tuesday during a wide-ranging, 74-minute interview with a digital media outlet Jambo TV.
The activist proposed that this should be a deal between opposition parties and President Samia Suluhu Hassan that the former commit not to field a presidential candidate. In return, Samia helps opposition parties get more MPs, councillors, and village chairpersons.
Mr Olengurumwa was responding to a question that sought his assessment of the position of opposition parties in Tanzania in the context of the ongoing reconciliation drive spearheaded by President Samia.
He said opposition parties are still “fragile,” thanks to the repression they faced during the previous administration, describing their power as “weak.”
“My advice to opposition parties is, first of all, to thank President Samia for allowing them to continue to operate as, if she wanted, she could pursue policies that would eliminate them,” Mr Olengurumwa began.
“I’d also like to advise them that in the 2025 elections because as things stand right now, it is as if the opposition parties are starting afresh, they should focus on local government elections, councillors, and members of parliament.
“The focus should be to ensure that at least one-third of MPs in the upcoming parliament come from opposition parties, at least one-third of all councillors in the country, and at least one-third of all village chairpersons.
“If they do that in the 2025 elections, they’ll have enough power to field their presidential candidate in the 2030 elections because by then, they might have grounded themselves at the grassroots levels.
“Because when you take part in an election and want to support presidential, parliamentary and councillorship candidates financially, where are opposition parties going to get that money in the current situation? They cannot afford to do that.
“I think in the upcoming election, if we agree that financial resources are a challenge, the opposition should focus on getting more MPs, councillors, and village chairpersons.
“They should not field a presidential candidate because that will mean more financial burden, and it’d prevent their efforts to get more MPs, councillors, and village chairpersons,” he observed.
Mr Olengurumwa quit active politics in 2010 to focus on human rights issues after being a member of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) since 2005, including serving as a member of the party’s youth wing UVCCM’s council for Arusha from 2008 to 2012.
In October 2021, he hinted at seeking CCM’s permission to run as the party’s candidate in the Ngorongoro by-election, announced following the death of its MP, William Ole Nasha, from CCM, but later decided not to do so.
His was among non-governmental organisations (NGOs) targeted by the previous administration for its work, including having his organisation’s bank accounts frozen, which paralysed the organisation’s works for eight months before they were unfrozen under Samia’s administration.
No reason for opposing Samia
During his interview with Jambo TV on Tuesday, a journalist asked Mr Olengurumwa why his organisation issues fewer statements concerning human rights in Tanzania now than it did under the previous administration.
Olengurumwa answered that THRDC issues no statement condemning human rights violations because there are no such violations now, adding that Samia is doing what the coalition has been demanding for many years.
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“When a president speaks on issues that we as human rights defenders have been calling for, we see no reason for opposing him/her lest we seem to be just hating, that we don’t know what we want,” he clarified.
He said he sees no reason to oppose President Samia because she has taken several steps to promote democracy and human rights in Tanzania.
He said Samia is the only president in the history of Tanzania who has put national interests at the centre of her agenda and uses her power not to divide people but to unite them.
“She listens, and she’s god-fearing,” Olenguruma said of President Samia, who, on March 19, 2023, marked two years since she came to power. “She also respects the constitution and respects her people.”
A need for institutionalisation
Olengurumwa said as a country Tanzania should not rely on the president’s goodwill, noting that there is a need to have proper legal and constitutional systems that would put rulers in check.
“President Samia has laid the foundation for building a democratic nation that respects human rights,” he said. “She should go a step further by putting in place systems that will protect the gains obtained.”
“She should ensure we have an independent parliament and judiciary,” he added.
Olengurumwa called President Samia “an opportunity” that Tanzanians should utilise to build a just and fair nation, warning that the country cannot be so sure of her successor’s philosophy and approach.
“Women naturally have a personality of pitying [and] of caring,” he noted. “It is such an advantage to have a female president. We must support her while reminding her of more work that needs to be done.”