Chadema marched and nothing happened... In Dar, that’s huge

Sunday January 28 2024

Tanzania's Chadema Party Chairman Freeman Mbowe (C) gestures as he arrives at the party's headquarters after being released from Segerea Prison in Dar es Salaam on March 14, 2020. PHOTO | AFP


How does one dance with a giraffe? A gorgeous creature, herbivorous and calm, perhaps ungainly as it runs or tries to drink water, but otherwise graceful. Peaceful. With a kick that can dispatch a full-grown lion in one strong action. How, indeed, does one dance with such a creature? You get where I am going with this, I hope.

Collective action against the state is our post-colonial legacy. Our forebearers didn’t just step back and let Europeans take their land. There was a patchwork of responses ranging from collaboration and partnership to wars of resistance. We lost.

Now, we are Tanzanians. Along the way, we were collectivised and shaped into citizens in a modern nation-state. And so our relationship to the state was codified. The state has the monopoly on violence. The citizens are expected to engage the state through calm and rational mechanisms: Our elected representatives, activism, at the top end is the march.

Read: ULIMWENGU: We’re paying dearly for failure to talk

This is how we ended up with a nation-wide Chadema march this week. It was an utterly mundane event. It was also exceptional.

My description of Tanzania’s state-citizen relationship is designed to keep your eye on the power imbalance here. From independence movements against the British to democracy marches that end at the UN offices, there it is.


We, the people, must act a certain way. The only party in this relationship that has the power to break the peace comprehensively is the state. It has done so, repeatedly, and in my lifetime. This is what makes the Chadema march this week exceptional: So rarely are Tanzanians allowed to freely engage in such mass action.

“For our safety,” the state tells us. Because we cannot police ourselves, and bad things might happen if we rally…

Oh, look. Nothing happened. The biggest opposition party in Tanzania held a march and nothing happened, except that very many people got their 10,000-plus steps in for the day.

But, if you have been paying attention to the arc of modern Tanzanian history, nothing happening is a huge statement in and of itself. I think Tanzania works in the “negatives.” You have to squint to see it. Our silences can whisper or scream, our inactions are laden with compromises and a fiercely protected notion of “peace.”

Because Chadema tested the waters and “nothing happened” yesterday, the way is opened for more “nothing” to happen as 2024 and 2025 roll out.

Read: EYAKUZE: Thanks to Samia it is going to be quite ‘boring’ in Tanzania

And, for “nothing” to happen, often a lot of skilled planning has to go into it. Ask any surgeon who performs a delicate operation, or better yet the engineers who build layers of redundancy into airplanes. This week’s “nothing” is the result of a rather impressive course correction.

There was a time when Tanzania may have become a land of soldiers on every corner, tanks inside cities, with something happening every day.

Instead, here we are, boring as ever. Stage-managed into predictability. How does one vulnerable little citizenry find itself in a pirouette with a giraffe of a state, stepping delicately to the chords of a tightly conducted political orchestra? Who knows. It is a beautiful, dangerous thing to behold, isn’t it?

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]