The release of Tanzanian opposition leader raises cautious hopes

Freeman Mbowe leaves the Supreme Court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

  • Tanzanian opposition leader Freeman Mbowe has been released from prison.
  • He spent seven months in prison.
  • There is hope that the country will enter a new chapter.

The release of Tanzanian opposition leader Freeman Mbowe last week raised hopes for a relaxation of political freedoms in the East African nation, but observers say much more is needed to turn the page over years of authoritarian rule.

The surprise move on Friday by prosecutors to drop terrorism charges against Mbowe, who had spent seven months in prison, was followed by a meeting hours later between him and President Samia Suluhu Hassan, during which the couple promised the to defend democracy.

READ | Tanzania drops terrorism case against opposition leader Mbowe

The meeting raised optimism that Hassan’s appointment led to the death of her autocratic predecessor John Magufuli in March last year, with the then new president reaching out to the opposition and reopening banned media.

But her presidency fell under the shadow when Mbowe was arrested in July, along with other officials belonging to his Chadema party, just hours before they were to hold a public forum calling for constitutional reforms.

On Friday, Chadema’s secretary general John Mnyika said he hoped Mbowe’s release would “open a new chapter of truth and justice in our nation”.

“I will be even more relieved when Tanzania gets a new constitution, an independent electoral body and to see that the rights of the people are respected as important aspects of democracy and development,” Mnyika said on Twitter.

Political reforms

Opposition parties called for political reform in the run-up to the 2025 presidential election, calling for a level playing field.

“Observing the rule of law and possibly (making) some constitutional reforms will help to improve the political space going forward,” said Richard Mbunda, a lecturer in political science at the University of Dar es Salaam, “said Mbunda.

Mbunda added:

The shift will depend in particular on the political will, particularly by the President, to address the key issues of democracy and the rule of law raised by the opposition.

Hassan had come under increasing pressure to drop the case against Mbowe, who was concerned about rights at home and abroad, with his supporters dismissing the accusers as politically motivated and aimed at crushing dissent.

Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa, the national coordinator of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, told AFP that the release of the 60-year-old marked “a political milestone for President Hassan”.

But Amnesty International warned late on Monday that the Hassan government needed to do much more to turn the Tanzanian slide into an autocracy and must “stop arming the law to target opposition and critical voices”.

Mbowe’s release “should mark the end of attempts by Tanzanian authorities to crush political opposition and peaceful dissent,” said Sarah Jackson, the deputy director of the Watchdog for East Africa.

Since Hassan took power after the sudden death of Magufuli, who was nicknamed “Bulldozer” for his compromising leadership style, she has tried to break with some of his policies.

She has also made conciliatory overtures to the opposition, and last month met the deputy chairman of Chadema Tundu Lissu in Brussels. Lissu was the party’s candidate in the 2020 presidential election, but is living in exile in Belgium following an attempt on his life in 2017.

On Tuesday, Mbowe told his supporters that the ceasefire with Hassan could pave the way for a better future.

He said in a speech:

I believe this will get us somewhere and solve many political problems.

Other opposition politicians also sounded a note of hope, with Zitto Kabwe, leader of the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT Wazalendo), calling the meeting between Mbowe and Hassan “a very positive movement”.

“It is not just a one-off event,” he told AFP, adding: “It is already introducing (a) new dispensation into our politics.”

“I am very excited about the political situation in the country and I am confident that the 2025 elections will be conducted a little more honestly than before.”

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The release of Tanzanian opposition leader raises cautious hopes

Source link The release of Tanzanian opposition leader raises cautious hopes

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