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Wednesday’s Rallies And Freeman Mbowe’s Future As Leader of CHADEMA

Wednesday’s demonstrations served as a ground for scores to be settled around who is likely to continue to lead CHADEMA in the near and even distant future, with Mr Mbowe emerging as an indisputable contender.

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On Wednesday, opposition party CHADEMA orchestrated a highly anticipated public demonstration – the inaugural one sanctioned by authorities since the Jakaya Kikwete era. The significance of this event was profound for both CHADEMA and governmental entities. 

CHADEMA sought to demonstrate their continued ability to draw a substantial audience. At the same time, the authorities aimed to reassure the public of their capacity to impartially supervise a public demonstration against the government, free from significant incidents.

Wednesday’s rallies, therefore, signified a triumph for every Tanzanian longing for a resurgence of ‘normalcy’ in the realm of political events within the nation. It is indisputably a victory for the constitution, underscoring that, in its existing state, adherence to its tenets offers a pathway for all Tanzanians to engage in the country’s political discourse actively.

Both CHADEMA and the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) can perceive this as a triumph, leveraging Wednesday’s events to advance their respective political objectives. 

The rallies bestowed upon President Samia Suluhu Hassan heightened credibility, particularly with the reformist agenda she has been selling to Tanzanians and the country’s development partners.

READ MORE: CHADEMA Closes Dar Rallies With Promise of More: ‘We’re Not Done Yet’

However, the significance of the demonstrations goes beyond constitutionalism and the assurance of freedom of speech and assembly in Tanzania. They also served as a ground for scores to be settled around who is likely to continue to lead CHADEMA in the near and even distant future. 


Talks of factions building within the country’s main opposition party have dominated discussions about Tanzania’s political situation for some time now. There have been some disagreements among CHADEMA’s senior leaders on how the centre-right political party can respond to what they consider a “repressive” state led by CCM.

Two camps formed. One, led by CHADEMA national chairperson Freeman Mbowe, preferred diplomatic approaches to address the challenge, including engaging the government and CCM in negotiations to deliver critical legal and regulatory reforms ahead of elections. The other, led by the party deputy national chairperson (Tanzania Mainland) Tundu Lissu, preferred militant approaches reflecting CHADEMA’s “people’s power” slogan.

Rifts between the camps grew to the extent that some within the party accused Mr Mbowe of being a “sell-out” and that he was co-opted by the government, using the Swahili phrase kuramba asali to suggest that he had tasted the sweetness of honey and now was “betraying” the party. Mbowe vociferously denied these charges.

Talks between CHADEMA and CCM, which commenced immediately when Mr Mbowe was released from prison, stalled after a controversial agreement between Tanzania and Dubai over operations at the Dar es Salaam port by an Emirati logistics company, DP World leaked to the public. Mr Mbowe was among the first to criticise the deal, arguing it doesn’t serve Tanzania’s best interests. 

READ MORE: Are Cracks Forming In Tanzania’s Main Opposition Party?

Key electoral bills that the government tabled to the parliament, featuring a tiny percentage of recommendations stakeholders, including CHADEMA, have shared on how to improve the country’s electoral justice, put a final nail on the coffin of “reconciliation talks” CHADEMA had with CCM. Wednesday’s rallies were organised to protest the very electoral bills. 

So, the demonstrations, which police admitted were entirely peaceful, first symbolised the narrowing of the rift between the two camps mentioned above, as CHADEMA leaders now seem to be speaking the same language. 

Formidable leader

But also, and most importantly, they served as an opportunity for Mr Mbowe to throw off charges of being a sell-out and establish himself as the formidable opposition party leader, which he rightly deserves.

While I may not always align with him in policy matters and occasionally in rhetoric, I must concede that Mr Mbowe consistently conducts his politics with a notable degree of respect and decorum. He consistently demonstrates a willingness to bridge political divides in search of consensus. 

In the annals of Tanzanian politics, no opposition figure has dedicated more time, wealth, and reputation to the political cause of the country. It is essential to acknowledge, without diminishing, the contributions of lesser-known figures who have similarly made considerable sacrifices.

READ MORE: Timeline: Inside Tanzania’s Attempt to Charge Freeman Mbowe With Terrorism

Wednesday’s demonstrations served as a vindication for Mr Mbowe, affirming his unwavering dedication to peaceful politics. His steadfast commitment to dialogue and engagement ultimately prevails despite potential temptations to resort to violent demonstrations. 

Through adept negotiation with the police force, he successfully orchestrated peaceful protests. This accomplishment positions CHADEMA firmly in future endeavours, making it challenging to deny their right to protest, particularly under the pretext of potential violence.

CHADEMA will have intra-party elections in June this year, with the position of the party’s national chairmanship igniting some intense debates online and very wild imaginations. Word on the streets is that Mr Mbowe will face off Mr Lissu in the election. Some anticipate Mr Mbowe will seek no reelection. 

Whether Mr Mbowe runs or not, Wednesday’s demonstrations will serve as another parameter through which his supporters within CHADEMA will measure his performance as a leader.
Thomas Joel Kibwana is an international relations and business development expert. He can be reached at or on X (Twitter) as @thomasjkibwana. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at

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