Tanzania president’s style a sign of iron-handed man, critics say

Sunday October 8 2017

Tanzania opposition Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe.

Tanzania opposition Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe speaking to reporters on September 14, 2017 at the Nairobi Hospital on the status of Tundu Lissu, who is receiving medical care after being shot by unknown gunmen in Dodoma. PHOTO | AGGREY OMBOKI | NMG 

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Since he took over from Jakaya Kikwete in October 2015, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has maintained a tempo of no-nonsense man.

He started by fighting corruption, sacking corrupt ministers and dismissing lazy workers on the spot whenever he visited government institutions unannounced.

Initially, he was seen as a disciplinarian out to inject work ethic in the Tanzanian civil service and eliminate corruption as a hands-on president.

But now, his critics say that these were signs of an iron-handed man that Tanzania has never experienced since independence in 1961. It is now apparent that President Magufuli’s government has assumed a no-nonsense approach towards opposition parties in Tanzania.

In June 2016 — barely a year after taking power — President Magufuli’s government banned opposition rallies on grounds that the campaigns were over and that the opposition should wait till the next campaigns in 2020. 

The police had to fire teargas to disperse an opposition rally in Kahama District just a few hours after the ban was announced.

Chadema national chairman Freeman Mbowe had been scheduled to launch his party’s countrywide rallies to oppose President Magufuli’s leadership style.

Opposition leaders and rights activists immediately condemned the indefinite police ban on political rallies saying it amounted to “outright violation” of freedom of expression.

The police banned all political rallies calling them unlawful and likely to breach the peace. The president later relaxed the ban and allowed only elected officials to conduct rallies within their constituencies.

In January, former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa — who contested the 2015 presidential elections — was briefly arrested by police in Geita region for allegedly holding a meeting without a permit.

In July, the president of Tanganyika Lawyers Society Tundu Lissu, was arrested for having referred to President Magufuli as a dictator.

His arrest followed a statement he made three days earlier calling for “the dictator and his government, to be isolated politically, diplomatically and economically.”

Mr Lissu is currently recovering at a Nairobi hospital after unknown gunmen sprayed bullets on his car.