Samia-Opposition détente is a jaw-jaw far better than war-war
Tuesday March 21 2023
Of the bold moves that have been undertaken in recent months to effect some détente in the political situation in Tanzania, this is probably the most daring. That the main opposition party would have the cheek to invite President Suluhu Hassan to officiate at its political rally, and that she would accept was, until it happened, unthinkable.
Now that it has happened it has raised a number of questions without answers, simply because of its novelty, given our recent history in all matters political. What is the game plan? people are asking. Who is pulling a fast one on whom? Who is the card and who is the dunce? What is the strategic aim of all this, and what is each party expecting as the outcome of the game?
All we mortals know is that the chairman of Chadema — probably the biggest opposition party in the country —announced out of the blue that he had invited President Samia, who is also chair of the ruling party CCM, to be the guest of honour at a Chadema symposium on March 8, commemorating International Women’s Day.
That was clearly unprecedented, and when it was confirmed that Samia had indeed accepted the invite, it was clear that we had moved away from the times when these two political formations were mortal enemies. The very thought that they would open the doors to each other’s activities was mutually anathema. At least that is how casual observers viewed the political chasm between these organisations.
It has been the political culture in the country that opposition political parties have been registered but not openly allowed to operate, only being tolerated as an unnecessary evil that has been foisted on the country by circumstances “beyond our control.” The ruling party has had that stance all the time since former Chief Justice Francis Nyalali produced a report that was adopted by all the structures of the political system, leading to multiparty politics.
The multiparty system limped, huffed and panted under successive regimes headed by Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete, all of them presidents who paid lip service to the new dispensation but did everything to kill it. They were all too hypocritical to say openly what they wanted.
With the arrival of John Pombe Magufuli at the helm, and after being made chair of CCM, a new order was born —one of zero tolerance to opposition. His stance was clear for all to see: The opposition had to be killed, and he did his damnedest to make that a reality. By 2020, he had achieved that, only he died.
Undoing the system
Samia, as Magufuli’s successor, has had other ideas, and she has been meticulously undoing the system that the dead president had crafted, which wanted the single-party rule reinstated and his personal rule extended forever.
That is why he did not allow his own party cadres, who could have won without vote stealing; he replaced them with candidates who had polled far fewer votes in the preliminaries, and then stole the ballots at a strategic level, where his security operatives replaced the returning officers, election observers and even voters, wholesale.
We started hearing people saying they were going to “force him” to change the constitution to “allow him” to rule without end when, in fact, it was he who was making himself president for life. His henchmen/women were busy with all manner of stratagems, including killing or disappearing people who he wanted dead, stashing away slush funds for his project and preparing a compliant base of sycophants who would never challenge him.
In those circumstances, when Magufuli died, Samia found herself with no real support from her own party, and the first steps she took included bringing together all elements of goodwill, notwithstanding political affiliation.
Help country move on
It is not too crazy to think Samia and Freeman could have come to understand that the political conditions of the country require them to come closer together with a view to helping the country to move forward.
March 8 comes across as the ideal moment to break the ice, because the advancement of women’s issues is something there can be little disagreement over. For that reason, I think the choice of the occasion and the date was superb.
That did not stop tongues wagging on both sides of the spectrum. On the opposition side, it might appear that Chadema is selling out, while on the side of CCM, Mama is too eager to appease the very people who want her job and CCM’s comfort zone just to please their sworn “enemies.”
During the meeting, it was refreshing to hear the two main protagonists exchanging good-natured barbs in political conversations, emphasising competition without enmity. Freeman did not miss the opportunity to reiterate his party’s basic demands on political reforms, and Samia stressing the importance of the collaboration shown by the two parties to become a norm, because, she said, there were people who did not want conversations such as this one to take place.
This ice-breaking mode serves as a safety valve that will allow the nation to breathe and should be encouraged. As they say, jaw-jaw is better than war-war.
Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]