Dar es Salaam. The arrest and arraignment of Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe offers a new test for President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s pro-democratic gesture, a senior US official observed yesterday.
However, she exuded confidence that with both the government and the opposition exhibiting their readiness for dialogue, the matter would be resolved amicably.
Speaking yesterday, US Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ms Victoria Nuland, said during her meeting with President Hassan she expressed the US concerns about the treatment and imprisonment of Mr Mbowe, and pleaded for fair treatment and the rule of law.
“It’s absolutely crucial that his situation be resolved in a manner that is strictly in compliance with the rule of law as expeditiously as possible and as transparently as possible; this is essential for the strength of democracy,” she said.
Ms Nuland said after the meeting, President Samia showed readiness for political dialogue, adding that it was also encouraging that leaders of opposition parties have also expressed their willingness to dialogue with the government.
The US official said: “My sense is that there are patriots on both sides of this question in Tanzania. We really hope you don’t miss this moment and have that democratic resonance”.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs and International Corporation minister Liberata Mulamula said that on the part of President Samia, her promise to meet with the opposition, specifically Mbowe’s Chadema, was still there but due to her efforts to find solution to the Covid-19 pandemic, she has not been able to meet them.
“At the moment, we try to avoid gatherings as we work towards finding vaccination for the people,” she quoted her.
Ms Mulamula said that the President has been in office for only four months and there were many things including building the economy, fighting the pandemic before she could meet with the opposition.
Secretary Nuland also encouraged President Hassan to build on the momentum of actions taken during the first days of her presidency that lifted restrictions on the media and heralded greater dialogue with civil society.
She urged President Hassan to ensure the protection of human rights and fair treatment under the law for all citizens, regardless of political affiliation.
“The President came with aspirations and the opposition were ready to meet her half way, some good initial steps were taken in terms of release of political prisoners, more freedom of the press, and the election rerun in Pemba,” she noted.
“But now we have the difficult situation of Mr Mbowe, so that is a test for both government in terms of transparency and expeditious exercise of rule of law, the fair treatment of him as an opposition leader and someone who deserves respect in that context. But also of the opposition, if in fact President is willing to talk, can you begin a national dialogue on opening political space on the constitution if there are some adjustments needed to be made?”
In addition to reaffirming the enduring strength of the friendship between the US and Tanzania, the two discussed numerous other issues including: partnering in the fight against Covid-19; methods of strengthening democratic freedoms; possibilities for boosting two-way trade and investment.
Others were strategies for countering cross-border threats such as terrorism and trafficking networks; and efforts to expand access to health care, education, and gender equality.
Secretary Nuland commended President Hassan for reinvigorating Tanzania’s commitment to the fight against the pandemic, in particular for the leadership she displayed by receiving the first vaccine shot.
“At home, we have begun to see the economy growing again, we see people begin to gather with family and have weddings and celebrate again together, restaurants open and that is what vaccinations liberates,” she said.
Secretary Nuland is the most senior US diplomat to visit Tanzania since President Samia Hassan assumed the presidency in March this year.