What you need to know:
- Samia was constitutionally sworn into office as the country’s sixth President following the death of John Pombe Magufuli in March 2021
Dar es Salaam. Was President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s ascendancy to the presidency a blessing in disguise for the champions of Tanzania’s democracy?
This may be a rhetorical question, but one which presently occupies the minds of many pro-democracy advocates who continue to search for the illusive political common ground for Tanzania under the multiparty system.
President Samia was constitutionally sworn into office as the country’s sixth President following the death of John Pombe Magufuli in March 2021. She had served under Magufuli since November 2015 as Vice President.
Once she assumed the most powerful office on the land, President Samia has confounded the political divide, signalling several reforms that included charting a possibly new approach to the management of politics in the republic.
Given, the new president inherited a toxic environment arising from the scars of the divisive 2020 General Election which left the country’s democratic credential in tatters, with aftershocks of the ruling party, CCM, commanding 99 per cent of all elective positions. It was an election like never before and which the opposition, which disputed the outcome, argues that it took Tanzania many decades back of its nascent democracy.
Her predecessor had clamped down on alternative voices, stifling the space for freedom of speech and association, which left rival parties barely able to function. But slightly over a year and half into her tenure, President Samia has given pro-democracy campaigners a glimmer of hope that things could change for the better.
While some prohibitive restrictions remain, the President has opened avenues to engage the leaders of political parties and has appointed a task force under former University of Dar es Salaam Vice Chancellor Rwekaza Mukandala to collect views on likely sweeping changes to reset the country’s democratic clock.
As the country reminisces its 30 years journey of the return to multiparty politics in 1992, all eyes will be on the recommendations of the Mukandala Task Force whether it would bare the envisaged vision for a new chapter in the country’s political reconciliation.
The task force had its mandate expanded in March to collect more views from stakeholders and members of the public on several issues of political governance. It remains unknown when they will present their final report to the president.
From the views that have so far been presented to the task force, themes around electoral reforms, the new constitution making process, good governance and national reconciliation have dominated.
These are themes not very far from President Samia’s own vision captured in an unprecedented opinion piece she wrote for publication as part of the marking of 30 years of Tanzania’s pluralism.
President Samia said in her article that the country was facing a similar difficult situation as was the case of 1992 when the law was repealed to end the single party rule.
“There are wars being fought, including in the developed world; the liberal democratic system is passing through challenges; and great powers are fighting for global domination. These are challenges that leaders of the current generation must overcome as my predecessors did,” she wrote.
President Samia warned of rigidity when handling matters of national interest above sectarian ones as she explained her leadership’s 4Rs namely; ‘Reconciliation’, ‘Resiliency’, ‘Reforms’ and ‘Rebuilding’.
“In building a better Tanzania I aspire to create a society that lives in harmony and understanding. I wish to foster unity regardless of our political, religious or ethnic differences.
“This will only be possible by creating a society in which everyone enjoys equal rights before the law, where there is no discrimination and where there are equal economic opportunities for all,” wrote President Samia.
The President said she believes that reconciliation would not be attained where discrimination remained and some people were denied economic and civic rights.
Political leaders and analysts largely agree with President Samia’s approach but fell the rubber will meet the road when the time comes for the unveiling and implementing of the outcome of the Mukandala task force as well as the many ‘to-do-list’ presented to her directly by the parties she was enging outside the mandate of the task force.
Tanzania’s ex-envoy to Sweden Dr Wilbrod Slaa says it will be important for the country to chat its own path for an all-inclusive democracy. The ex-opposition leader feels a new constitution would provide the framework for such an engagement.
Other commentators are of the view that envisaged reforms, especially on the laws governing political parties, the electoral process and the security agencies should be hastened as the country looks to holding its next General Election in 2025, in which President Samia has already indicates that she will seek a renewal of her current mandate.
A level playing ground for all Tanzanians to feel a sense of belonging would be key, with University of Dodoma (Udom), Dr Paul Loisulie saying that President Samia’s engagement portrayed a leader out to cement national unity and reconciliation.
“Our president likes reconciliation in the manner she has sat with different groups to iron out misunderstandings. She has often emphasised on the importance of dialogue,” said Dr Loisulie.
ADC party Secretary General Doyo Hassan Doyo said: “As a political leader, I see the good intentions of the President to end political division and tension in our country. All leaders should help the President attain her vision.”
The task force has been challenged to offer the best possible route to get the new constitution on track. Currently, CCM favours the process to start where it stuck with the draft document from the Constituent Assembly while other players feel a new law guiding the process should be enacted to allow, either a fresh start on the process or at least incorporating the views as presented in the draft of the commission led by Judge Joseph Warioba.
The chairperson of the Tanzania Constitutional Forum, Dr Ananilea Nkya, says that the task force should be pursue the road to public participation in the process to get the new mother law. Dr Nkya says a committee of experts should be recommended as a mechanism to iron out any differing views in the process. She has welcomed all the initiatives for political reconciliation and harmony as country searches for a stable democracy.
“Our position is that we need a new constitution that will be based on the views of Tanzanians. We need a constitution that will lay down the foundations for running the country altogether instead of the President doing everything,” says Innocent Siriwa, who is the ADC Deputy Secretary General (Mainland).