Packed Tanzania protests offer hope but reforms remain a distant dream


Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania – As thousands of supporters carrying placards stating their demands marched through Dar-es-Salaam on Wednesday, opposition party Chadema deputy chairperson Tunde Lissu declared to reporters that the rallies were the beginning of a mission to get a new constitution and get the electoral commission truly independent.

Deemed the biggest public demonstrations since President Samia Suluhu Hassan lifted the ban a year ago, they served as a platform for the opposition to dispute a raft of contentious electoral reforms set to be debated in parliament next month.

“We have been asking for these constitutional reforms for 30 years, now we’ll demand them on the road,” said Lissu. “If it’s not possible to get a new constitution over dialogue, it will be obtained in the streets.”

But even as the rallies were deemed successful by onlookers, the big question in Tanzanian politics is how far the government will go to heed Chadema’s demands.

Since taking office in March 2021 with the stated goal of implementing democratic reforms, Hassan has kept observers guessing on what would be her next move.

Her predecessor John Magufuli was different: nicknamed The Bulldozer for his dictatorial tendencies, he governed ruthlessly.

He muzzled the media and banned rallies and public gatherings, forcing opposition politicians like Lissu into exile and others into hiding. Between 2015 when he came into power and 2021 when he died in office, Magufuli also shunned the West and was infamously a COVID-19 denier and vaccine sceptic.

Hassan overturned the ban on rallies and public gatherings in 2023, paving the way for Lissu to return from exile. She also reinstated members of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi who had been expelled from the party.

But during her tenure, there have also been accusations of stifling dissent: Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe was imprisoned for seven months on “terrorism” charges after being arrested during a night-time police raid a day before the party was to hold a forum pressing for constitutional reforms.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *