CHADEMA Pro-Democracy Demos: Will Tanzania’s Opposition Party Prove Doubters Wrong?

With Tanzanians seeming reluctant to participate in demonstrations, as past attempts have shown, CHADEMA will have a unique opportunity on Wednesday to show that a different reality is possible.

Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s main opposition party, CHADEMA, expects a final notification today, January 23, 2024, from the police on whether or not its planned pro-democracy protests will go ahead on Wednesday amidst doubts about whether the centre-right party will bring people to the streets and accomplish its intended goals.

CHADEMA has invited its members, supporters and Tanzanians, in general, to come out en masse on Wednesday to protest against the proposed key electoral legislations, the high cost of living crisis and the stalled constitution-writing process, three key agendas it believes top Tanzanians’ priorities.

Things went slightly awry on Monday after the Dar es Salaam special zone police commander Jumanne Muliro contradicted the CHADEMA national chairperson’s earlier explanation that the law enforcement agency had allowed the demonstrations to go as planned.

Muliro, in an interview with the state broadcaster TBC, said no such agreement had been reached, adding that police would give their written response to CHADEMA today. As of writing, CHADEMA has not communicated any different message to its members and the general public.

But securing authorities’ permission to organise the demonstrations is just one of CHADEMA’s challenges in bringing attention to issues its leaders think are of high priority through protests. Another challenge will be convincing Tanzanians to come out and join them on the streets and make the demonstrations a reality.

Doubts

Some wonder if people will go out on the streets to join CHADEMA in their demonstrations. These include veteran journalist and political commentator Jenerali Ulimwengu, who thinks that circumstances in Tanzania are insufficient to make people opt for public rallies to communicate their dissatisfaction with the state.

READ MORE: Analysis of the CHADEMA Political Rallies

Speaking in his show, Jenerali Ulimwengu Exclusive on The Chanzo, Mr Ulimwengu, while responding to a question from journalist Sammy Awami, said that at least two reasons stop Tanzanians from going on the streets to protest. The first concerns their fear of police abuse, and the second is their relative relief from economic hardship.

“There are safety valves that make Tanzanians afraid of having their legs or arms broken [through protesting],” Mr Ulimwengu analysed. “Because we have to be honest, the economic situation here [in Tanzania] is not that bad [compared to neighbouring countries]. [Tanzanians] have never suffered from a serious hunger. It is very different from, say, Kenya.”

Kenya, Tanzania’s East African neighbour, has a rich history of people going to the streets to demand changes from their government. The themes of these demonstrations range from the high cost of living and corruption to electoral injustice and police brutality.

Mr Ulimwengu said Tanzania’s political culture is very different from Kenya’s, urging observers to use different criteria in examining it from those they use in analysing other countries. He says the economic situation in Tanzania could be unsatisfying to many, but it’s not comparably worse either.

“An average Tanzanian labourer can have a good lunch after long and hard-working hours at just Sh1,500,” or US$0.60, Mr Ulimwengu observed. “How will you convince that person to go on the streets to protest? That will never happen in Kenya. The [economic] situation is relatively worse in Kenya than in Tanzania.”

Studies 

Mr Ulimwengu’s analysis echoes the results of the 2018 Sauti za Wananchi findings by Twaweza, which revealed that 65 per cent of polled Tanzanians said they are unwilling to use demonstrations to express their dissatisfaction with their government. Only one in four Tanzanians said they are likely to do so.

READ MORE: Is Twitter Replacing Street Protests in Tanzania?

In recent years, Tanzanians’ reluctance to participate in demonstrations has been demonstrated in various protests organised by opposition parties and other activist groups. 

In 2018, for example, a self-styled activist, Mange Kimambi, organised mass demonstrations to protest what she termed “authoritarianism” under the late John Magufuli. However, very few people heeded her call to come on the streets to protest.

In 2020, CHADEMA and the opposition party ACT-Wazalendo announced they’d organise demonstrations to protest election results that gave the victory to the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi’s (CCM) Magufuli, citing massive irregularities that dominated the elections of that year. 

Those demonstrations didn’t materialise as many people ignored calls to come out of their houses to protest.

On numerous occasions, opposition leaders have criticised what they term as the lack of interest on the part of Tanzanians to participate fully in fighting for changes they want to see, relegating those roles to politicians and activists who can achieve less without the support from the people.

No doubt

The Chanzo asked Mr John Mrema, CHADEMA director of communications and protocol, if he thinks people will heed the party’s call to come out and participate in their Wednesday demonstrations this time. He said he does not doubt that. 

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

“It’s not the matter of thinking,” Mr Mrema said during an interview. “These are people’s demonstrations, and we expect thousands of Tanzanians to come forward and participate in them as the demonstrations carry people’s agendas. CHADEMA is just an organiser, but the real owners of these demonstrations are Tanzanians themselves.”

Since the start of the week, CHADEMA has been promoting the demonstrations, moving around the streets of Dar es Salaam to announce the rallies to the people, pleading with them to come out en masse on Wednesday to participate in demonstrations. Mr Mrema said he has no reason to be pessimistic.

“They will come to join us because these demonstrations carry people’s agenda,” Mr Mrema insisted. “The election agenda, which seeks to ensure fairness in elections, has been a people’s cry for a long time. No one also has been spared by the high cost of living crisis, especially the skyrocketing inflation. And so is with the issue of the new constitution that Tanzanians have been waiting for years without success.” 

Additional reporting by Lukelo Francis.

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