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Analysts Fear Samia’s Election Fever May Prolong Tanzania’s Reformist Agenda

Observers note that promised reforms would take longer to be delivered to Tanzanians than was anticipated as electoral uncertainties on the part of ruling officials gather steam.

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Mwanza. Dar es Salaam regional commissioner Albert Chalamila announced on January 14, 2024, that members of Tanzania’s armed forces, including police and the army, would be engaged in a cleaning exercise in the streets of Tanzania’s commercial capital, which would last two days, from January 23 to 24, 2024.

The announcement stunned members of the general public as it came just one day after opposition party CHADEMA announced on January 13, 2024, that it’d organise non-stop and nationwide demonstrations on January 23 and 24, 2024, to force the government to withdraw key electoral bills it has submitted to the parliament.

In normal circumstances, Chalamila’s announcement should have shocked no one. But it did because, in the past, authorities in Tanzania have used the same tactic in preventing people, especially those belonging to the country’s political opposition, from organising rallies in Dar es Salaam that those in power do not approve of.

Should what Mr Chalamila said occur, and CHADEMA fails to organise its rallies in Dar es Salaam due to the presence of service-persons, the development will be another entry in the observers’ notebooks recording the contradictions that the Samia Suluhu Hassan Administration has been displaying for some time now.

Since she assumed the presidency on March 19, 2021, following the sudden death of her predecessor, John Magufuli, on March 17, 2021, President Samia has been branding herself as a reformist leader committed to bringing people and the nation together through undertaking critical legal and political reforms.

In this context, for example, she formed a task force to collect opinions from key stakeholders on the best way to improve political pluralism in the country. The Head of State also appointed a commission to investigate Tanzania’s criminal justice system and recommend ways to improve it, among many other reforms she has been rightly lauded for.

READ MORE: Commission to Investigate Tanzania’s Criminal Justice System Inaugurated

Undemocratic practices

But while President Samia carries out this reformist project, guided by her celebrated 4Rs philosophy, some very undemocratic practices, especially those inhibiting people’s ability to organise and express themselves, have been accompanying it, raising questions about whether the commitment to reforms is genuine or just cosmetic.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this undemocratic trend better than the assault that the Tanzanian state unleashed on the critics of the controversial intergovernmental agreement between Tanzania and Dubai that would give the Emirati logistics company, DP World, some operations at the Dar es Salaam port.

Not only did the police arrest some of the prominent activists of the deal, threatening to charge them with treason, but also the law enforcement agency blocked several public meetings, some expected to take place in a hotel, exposing authorities’ unwillingness to embrace genuine democratic reforms in Tanzania.

READ MORE: Crackdown on DP World Port Deal Critics Intensifies in Tanzania As Arrests Continue

CHADEMA itself, which is Tanzania’s leading opposition party, has not been spared from this assault on civil liberties, which has seen some of its political rallies disrupted by security organs and its senior political leaders frequently harassed and even detained. Freeman Mbowe, the party’s national chairperson, spent 226 days in prison after authorities charged him with terrorism, which they later withdrew.

Authorities have also been targeting artists whose works those in power do not approve, going as far as charging gospel musicians who sing about police brutality in Tanzania and the lack of accountability with spreading “false information.” 

Election fever

What, then, explains these contradictions on the part of the Samia Administration? Aikande Kwayu, a political scientist based in Kilimanjaro, thinks that upcoming civic and general elections will likely inform the administration’s actions and options of which reforms to allow in Tanzania and when.

In 2025, Samia will face a real challenge of convincing the electorates to vote for her amidst emboldened opposition, a high cost of living crisis, allegations of corruption and misuse of public resources in the government, and, not to be forgotten, the scepticism among some electorates whether or not Tanzania is ready for a female president.

It’ll be the first time Samia stands as a presidential candidate and not a running mate, meaning she should be bracing for challenges she didn’t encounter when she escorted Magufuli, her predecessor, on political campaigns. Dr Kwayu believes these prospects frighten Samia, leading her to limit the scope of reforms she promised.

READ MORE: Doubts Over CCM Presidential Candidacy Loom Large As 2025 Nears

“The impending [general] election is driving President Samia to employ methods she may not have favoured previously,” says Kwayu, a leading political analyst in Tanzania. “What interests Samia now is the possibility of retaining power by winning the next elections, not delivering the key reforms she promised Tanzanians.”

Kwayu also believes that President Samia could be walking back on her reform agenda following pressure from her party, the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which fears that if the proposed electoral reforms go ahead as planned, they’ll risk endangering the party’s chances of winning the elections.

Kwayu points to the electoral bills that the government has tabled in the parliament, inviting stakeholders to comment on them, which feature a tiny percentage of the recommendations stakeholders have been giving since President Samia launched her “reconciliation” drive, which involves the recommendations her task force made.

But Deus Kibamba, a Dar es Salaam-based political analyst, thinks that Samia’s intentions are good, but some of her executives, including those in law enforcement organs, have failed to understand the direction their boss has taken, ending up failing her and pitting her against electorates.

But even he believes that upcoming elections serve as a roadblock to Samia’s reformist agenda, which he believes would pick up around 2026 when electoral fever has finally cooled down. Kibamba warns that this doesn’t mean Samia’s intention is not genuine, blaming her administration’s contradictions on “competing priorities.”

READ MORE: Samia Hints at 2025 Run: ‘They Have Started to Provoke Us by Writing in Newspapers that I Will Not Run, Who Told Them?’

“She has many priorities now,” Kibamba, who teaches international relations at the Salim Ahmed Salim Centre for Foreign Relations, told The Chanzo in an interview. “But after that period, I believe she will get back on track.”

Longer than expected

The failure of the proposed electoral bills to fairly feature recommendations that democracy stakeholders had previously shared is consistent with other developments indicating that Samia’s reformist drive will take longer to deliver its promises than it was earlier anticipated.

They include the collapsing of reconciliation talks between CHADEMA and CCM launched immediately after the release of Mr Mbowe from prisons and the hesitancy on the part of the government to implement the recommendations by a presidential commission on the criminal justice system, which, among other things, would limit security organs’ interference in electoral activities.

Not to mention the revival of the constitution-writing process, which President Samia promised Tanzanians and now appears impossible. For this reason, Dr Ananilea Nkya, one of Tanzania’s most prominent political activists, thinks that no meaningful reforms have been achieved since Samia assumed the presidency.

“They are not afraid of elections,” Dr Nkya said, referring to current power holders, “but of the consequences of an increasingly informed electorate.” She implored President Samia not to give up on the reform agenda, including rewriting the constitution, which she said could be her “lasting legacy.”

There is a belief among some observers that, concerning the reform drive, things would look different in 2026 when Samia wins a second term. But to get to 2026, Samia would have to cross the 2025 bridge first, and while CCM is used to winning these elections, nothing can ever be ruled out.
Matonyinga Makaro reports for The Chanzo from Mwanza. He’s available at

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