Tanzania’s president ends 6-year ban on opposition rallies
Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan lifted a ban on opposition rallies on Tuesday, an action seen as an attempt to reconcile with political rivals seeking the restoration of democratic traditions. The ban was originally imposed by Hassan’s predecessor, John Magufuli, in 2016. Magufuli, who ruled for six years and was known for his authoritarian leadership style and crackdown on dissent, had banned political rallies early in his tenure, saying it was time for work rather than politics. However, critics claimed the ban only applied to opposition groups, with the ruling party allowed to hold rallies while those of rival groups were often violently broken up by police. In lifting the ban, Hassan, the country’s first female president, stated that political gatherings were a right for all and promised to ensure security during rallies, but also urged politicians to practice “civilized politics.”
Zitto Kabwe, a Tanzanian opposition leader, welcomed the decision as a first step towards greater political reforms. The opposition has hoped that Hassan will bring greater political reform to Tanzania and there was early optimism when the new leader reached out to rivals and allowed the reopening of banned media outlets. Hassan has also dropped some of Magufuli’s most controversial policies, including a ban on pregnant girls and teenage mothers attending school, and introduced a vaccination campaign for COVID-19 that her predecessor had mocked.
Despite these actions, Hassan’s presidency has faced challenges. Freeman Mbowe, a prominent opposition leader, was arrested in July 2021, just hours before his political party was to hold a public forum. Mbowe was later released and the charges against him were dropped, with Hassan promising to heal the rift. However, critics have labeled Hassan a “dictator” and doubts remain about her commitment to political and media freedoms. In addressing leaders on Tuesday, Hassan promised “more legal reforms are coming soon” to make Tanzania’s political environment more inclusive and stated that all are “free to criticize the government wherever you see challenges, so that we address them for the benefit of our people.”
Since taking office, Hassan has faced division within her Chama Cha Mapinduzi party and has shuffled her cabinet three times in 2022 as internal conflicts became more apparent. She has accused rivals inside the government of attempting to damage her leadership and suspended a party-owned newspaper for publishing a story saying she would not run in elections scheduled for 2025.