Highs and lows as Tanzania marks 30 years of multiparty system

Friday July 01 2022
Political parties pic

Tanzania does not lead in the region for the most number of registered political parties compare to some of her neighbours.

By The Citizen Reporter

Dar es Salaam. Today marks 30 years since the re-introduction of multiparty system in Tanzania, a journey that continues to define the political landscape with every General Election cycle.

The long experience, from 27 years reign under the one party system to the three decades of pluralism has shaped Tanzania’s political psyche as its people’s governance culture evolves.

It is a journey marked by many twists and turns, has made heroes and heroines, and yet saw many more who sacrificed heavily to lay the road and sustain the budding democracy.

The journey is by no means finished. Tanzanians are at the moment in dialogue over the type of future the country’s democracy should assume.

Today, the recollections of the past provides room for reflection as stakeholders collectively envisage the future of Tanzania among members of the international community.

Just as agitation for pluralism was a bug that swept continents in the past, will a new constitutionalism order be the defining moment in this new era?


In the late 1980s and early 1990s, African constitutional systems which had for long been controlled by one political party system opened up to allow participation of other parties.

By the 1990s, many monopolistic parties across the continent adopted multiparty systems for political inclusivity. Post-independence populations were yawning for a new political order they believed would allow for more freedom and entrench the people’s voice in governance.

Thus across Africa, public demand for many political parties increased to end one-party systems.

Prior, a few groups such as those of some intellectuals, some private media, workers, farmers, private human rights activists were already at work demanding democratic space before their struggle was hijacked by authorities.

The transitional pressure on multiparty democracy in Tanzania began in the first half of the 1980s towards the end of the rule of the first President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

In 1983, the University of Dar es Salaam organised a workshop, whereby one of the presentations focused on the need for multiparty democracy in Tanzania.

The following year, 1984, a prominent human rights activist, who was known by the name of James Mapalala, distributed an open letter to President Nyerere calling for the revocation of one party system.

Mr Mapalala and a few other people were found with the letter and arrested. While others, including two University of Dar es Salaam academics, were arrested but released after only a few days,

Mr Mapalala remained in custody for about two years until his release in 1989 due to changes that were sweeping the world, calling for more political parties.

This is around the time that the system was spreading fast in countries around the world.

The following year, 1990, Mwalimu Nyerere made it clear that it was no longer a betrayal in Tanzania to discuss a multiparty system.

As pressure on taking concrete steps towards the change for the multiparty system increased, the government continued to promise for a referendum or a presidential commission to ask whether Tanzanians wanted such a change or not.

On February 26, 1991, a group of 10 people met at the then Agip Motel in Dar es Salaam and announced that they were demanding for the formation of an independent commission, the National Commission for Constitutional Change. The group called itself as NCCR-Mageuzi.

Due to the many changes in many countries, especially Europe, one government after another in Africa reached an agreement to establish such a system.

Gabon held its first multiparty parliamentary election on September 16, 1990. Ivory Coast, following massive protests, held its first presidential and multiparty parliamentary elections on November 25, 1990.

The President of Togo, also following rallies that supported the establishment of a multiparty system, approved amendments to the Togolese Constitution to allow a new system, and a constitutional referendum was arranged before parliamentary elections on February 20, 1994.

The Mozambican parliament unanimously approved a constitutional amendment to establish a multiparty system and finally a multiparty election was held on October 27-29, 1994 to elect Members of Parliament in that country.

In Congo (Brazzaville), due to the recommendations made by the national assembly, the government planned a multiparty election to be held in August, 1992.

The President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, who for long advocated the rule of a one-party system, abandoned his stance and promised to allow the formation of more political parties.

The General Election under the multiparty system was held on March 23, 1990. In Zambia, the Constitution was amended to remove the monopoly of one party.

On February 19, 1991, hardly a week before the group of 10 announced the formation of the NCCR-Mageuzi, with fiery lawyer Mabere Marando one of them, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi formed a commission to gather views about whether Tanzania should remain in the one-party system or enter a multiparty system.

The commission was led by Judge Francis Nyalali.

On that day President Mwinyi named only two members of the commission, its chairman who is Chief Justice Francis Nyalali and his Secretary, Julius Sepeku. A few days later the President named other members of the commission, including Mabere Marando.

Mr Marando was announced on the radio as a member of the Commission.

However, in his view, he felt it was inappropriate to ask Tanzanians about their rights.

He thanked President Mwinyi for his appointment and told him he could not take part in the commission. He withdrew from it.

Even before the constitutional and legal changes allowed the system of multiparty politics, there was a national construction and reform committee in the country, comprising businessmen, lawyers, activists and students.

The committee eventually formed a party in 1991 called NCCR-Mageuzi.

After the multiparty system officially reintroduced, NCCR-Mageuzi was registered on July 29, 1992.

Another party, the Civic United Front (CUF), was formed by James Mapalala after those who defected from NCCR-Reform and those who resigned from the KAMAHURU party decided to merge.

The fourth party to be formed was the United Democratic Party (UDP) of John Cheyo.

Other parties that followed were Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema), UMD (Union for Multiparty Democracy) and TADEA (Tanzania Democratic Alliance)

According to a book ‘Activist Origins of Political Ambition’ by Keith Weghorst, among the young people who became involved in multiparty politics even before the system was officially reintroduced were Ismail Jussa and James Mbatia.

On page 16 of the book, Weghorst writes: “Neither Ismail Jussa nor James Mbatia planned to enter politics ... it was after he (Mbatia) was expelled from the University of Dar es Salaam he found himself attending the meetings of the leadership committee of NCCR-Mageuzi on June 21 and June 22, 1991, which led the movement for the reintroduction of a multiparty political system.”

In Tanzania, the revolutionary activists who led the movement include Mabere Marando, James Mapalala, Bob Makani and Edwin Mtei.

Being 30 years today since the official reintroduction of the multiparty system, Tanzania has greatly changed unlike how it was during the mono-party system.