TANZANIANS are watching and the international community is curious. There is a host of unanswered questions regarding an “invisible olive branch” between the opposition and the ruling regime in the East African country that has been marred by brutal politics since 2015 when John Magufuli became president.
On 9th December 2019, when the country celebrated its 58th independence anniversary, the main opposition party, Chadema, attended the celebrations for the first time in four years, and its chairman who is also the leader of the opposition in parliament, Freeman Mbowe, challenged the president to seize the opportunity and give the nation the necessary “healing and reconciliation” it so much deserves. The event took place in Mwanza City.
He said: “My presence at these celebrations confirms the necessity for reconciliation, love, and national solidarity… Today is a gateway towards building a nation that cherishes love, political tolerance and criticism; a nation built on democratic principles… Mr President, this is a special opportunity for you to make the history of reconciliation in the nation where some of your citizens are moaning, and some are suffering. Seize this chance to reconcile the nation.”
President Magufuli responded immediately: “Yes, thank you so much!” Of course, Magufuli’s calm response surprised many because the ordinary Magufuli is notorious for deriding and insulting opposition politicians in public.
And even though it was Mbowe who publicly threw the reconciliation ball into Magufuli’s court, SAUTI KUBWA understands that the two leaders had communicated prior to the event. None of them has been willing to reveal the content of their private communication, but according to highly placed sources within the government and the opposition, it was Magufuli who made the first move.
Mbowe had to first consult some dignitaries and seek his party’s endorsement before responding to the offer. After a heated discussion, the Central Committee of Chadema approved of the move and sent a special delegation to accompany Mbowe to Mwanza.
Although there is divided opinion and mixed feelings about the move towards the reconciliation, optimists think it is the right thing to do at the moment to salvage the country from plunging into further chaos.
“This is how statesmen should behave. The opposition has done its bit. Now, everyone is waiting for the president’s response,” said one Church leader on conditions of anonymity. SAUTI KUBWA understands that retired presidents, some former prime ministers, diplomats, religious leaders and high-level dignitaries are in support of the move.
At the Mwanza occasion, the body language and statements of the two leaders were clearly conciliatory. But there are fears of betrayal. Some of Magufuli’s aides support the move, but his party zealots think reconciliation would weaken their party and strengthen the opposition. CCM, the ruling party, highly depends on state machinery, particularly the police, to do politics. The reconciliation that would end up restoring civilised politics is not in the best interests of CCM stalwarts.
Insiders have informed SAUTI KUBWA that the just-ended National Executive Committee (NEC) discussed the matter, tabled by their chairman, the president. The conclusion was negative. No public statement has been made about it. Some sceptics think Magufuli is likely to betray Chadema.
But optimists have a different view saying Magufuli wants to use it as an opportunity to brand himself positively. For four years since 2015, Magufuli’s politics have turned Tanzania – once hailed as a haven of peace in the Southern African region – into a police state where the civic space has been fast shrinking.
What would have prompted this change of heart?
In recent months, there has been enormous international pressure on Tanzania silently seeking to restore the country’s seemingly dwindling glory as a beacon of peace. It is understood that a few weeks ago, through some high-level initiatives, Magufuli was expected to host Raila Odinga, Kenya’s opposition figure, whose intention was to inform the former on the necessity of reconciliation as a way forward for a prosperous Tanzania.
Raila, Magufuli’s “friend,” is a firsthand witness and victim of fascistic politics in his country for many years before his political handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta that seems to have stabilised Kenya’s politics, at least for now. SAUTI KUBWA was not able to confirm if he met or talked with Magufuli on the matter.
Local pressure is even worse. The influence of the opposition shook the nation when the public, in huge numbers, heeded a call to boycott the local government election in November 2019. As a result, CCM declared itself a winner with 99 per cent. But this illegitimate victory makes “the winners” uneasy. By all means, there is a stalemate that calls for political reconciliation, which makes Magufuli’s dubious gesture understandable.
On 17th December 2019, as Mbowe spoke to his party leaders gathered in Dar es Salaam for the National Congress – leading to the election of Chadema’s new leadership – he said his party was launching a new slogan towards 2020: “No Hate! No Fear!”
He said: “We are full of hope, not hatred, not fear. We have a true resolve to change this country, not through hatred and reprisals but by goodwill, unity and harmony towards a better Tanzania. Yes, we have been tortured, but we have to overcome evil, anger, hatred, and reprisals. Our aim is to unite, not to separate Tanzanians. The regime’s brutality against us motivates us to work harder and organise better.
“It does not mean we are surrendering. It does not mean we won’t take action if provoked. If they provoke us, we will respond but our aim is learning from the past to prepare for the future. I sent the message to the president and the world… the ball is in his court.”
Referring to Mbowe’s previous statement during the independence celebrations, one media commentator said: “I am very impressed with Mbowe’s speech – calm, composed, candid and relevant.”
Chadema’s step is obviously a pioneering move representative of all other stakeholders of democracy in the country. Ultimately, if it goes through, other players will be part of the process.
SAUTI KUBWA understands that should such a process begin, important issues on the agenda would include the restoration of democracy, doing away with draconian laws impeding the very spirit that the reconciliation seeks to establish, and taking some goodwill gestures such as dropping specific trumped-up charges against some people, especially government critics and opposition politicians.
Another likely item on the agenda would be to find a lasting solution to unfree and unfair elections. This would include seeking to reorganise the recent shambolic local government elections.
Knowing Magufuli’s ego, however, it remains mysterious as to how long this spirit will last. Chadema is currently engaged in the intraparty elections that expect to end on 18th December 2019 with the election of a new chairman. Mbowe is likely to be re-elected for the fourth time since 2004. This would be his fresh agenda towards 2020.