Opposition fizzling out in East Africa

Monday April 29 2019

Supporters of Tanzania's opposition Chadema

Supporters of Tanzania's opposition Chadema party celebrate in Dar es Salaam after the 2015 general election. The party's chairman Freeman Mbowe has since last year been battling charges of incitement, for which he was remanded late last year and part of this year. FILE PHOTO | NMG  


East Africa is in campaign mode, even though none of the countries will hold elections this year.

Tanzania and Burundi will be going to the elections next year, while Uganda will follow in 2021 and Kenya in 2022.

Only Rwanda has been spared the vagaries of early campaigns, with the next polls expected in 2024.

However, none of the region’s countries has an opposition to speak of, with observers predicting the slow death of democracy in the region.

In Kenya, where the opposition has been instrumental in keeping the government on its toes, a March 2018 handshake between opposition supremo Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta has left a vacuum that even civil society has not filled.

Both Presidents John Magufuli of Tanzania and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda have worked to ensure their smooth re-election, leaving a divided opposition, operating under restrictions.


In Tanzania, a coalition of four opposition parties on April 15 filed a case at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) to block the implementation of the Political Parties Act, 2019 that was signed by President Magufuli in February, which they say is aimed at suppressing pluralist politics in the country.

According to the chairman of the Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema), the law criminalises democracy in Tanzania, contrary to the EAC Treaty.

The Act provides for term limits for political parties’ leadership and punishment for party leaders who violate party laws.

It also seeks to bar political parties from forming defence and security groups, while seeking to enforce peaceful and orderly meetings.

The Registrar of Political Parties will have powers to demand any information from any political party.

This comes after the EACJ in March ruled that some section of the Tanzanian Media Services Act, 2016 violate Article 7 (2) of the 1999 EAC Treaty, which requires partner states to abide by the principles of good governance, including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, social justice and the maintenance of universally accepted standards of human rights.

Opposition rallies

Besides President Magufuli banning opposition rallies outside the election campaign period, the CCM has been encouraging defections from the opposition in what has come to be known as kuunga juhudi (maximising efforts), including the 2015 Ukawa presidential candidate, Edward Lowassa.

Nicodemus Minde, a Tanzanian political commentator, told The EastAfrican that co-opting opposition “is a deliberate tactic by the ruling party to have an easy ride in the 2020 elections.”

“The National Assembly, by virtue of CCM dominance, has also been used to suppress the opposition. This is actually an indication of the bad fortunes of the opposition,” said Mr Minde.

Chadema national chairman Freeman Mbowe has since last year been battling charges of incitement, for which he was remanded late last year and part of this year. Others like Godbless Lema and Peter Lijualikali have also been harassed.

The vocal Tundu Lissu is still abroad after he was shot in October 2017 and his return is still in doubt.

In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza said he is not going to contest in 2020 after his 2015 third term caused a major political crisis. But the opposition is still stifled.