Democracy Dims in Tanzania as Opposition Leader Remains Behind Bars?

When Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan took office in March, she  vowed a U-turn in politics from her predecessor, the late John Magufuli. But the arrest of opposition leader Freeman Mbowe in July has dimmed hopes that Hassan will her turn back on Magufuli's iron-fisted style of rule.    

On this day, Neema Mwakipesile got a chance to read her favorite book, after spending 15 days in police custody.   

She was accused of organizing a protest to demand the release of  opposition  party leader Freeman Mbowe.                                                            

Mwakipesile says the police feared her as though she were a terrorist or had done something wrong. They also would not allow her to meet with lawyers or members of her family.   

Freeman Mbowe, the leader of the Chadema Party, was arrested last month in the port city of Mwanza, where he was to address a meeting to discuss constitutional reforms.

In a court appearance, prosecutors accused Mbowe of taking part in conspiracies to blow up fueling stations and fund terrorist acts.    

The Chadema Party denies the charges and claims the arrest aims to weaken the opposition party and its call for a new constitution.     

Gerva Lyenda, a Chadema Party spokesperson, says that party members firmly believe that the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi Party continues to remain in power because of the weakness of the current constitution. "The Chadema Party’s first demand is a new constitution," Lyenda said.   

In an interview with the BBC last week, President Samia Hassan denied her government was targeting the opposition, and instead accused it  of  wrongdoing.   

Hassan said that every party is free to have its own constitution, timetable and delegates. What is not good, she added, is to demand the freedom to do political violence.    

Both Mbowe and Chadema have denied all government accusations of backing terrorism or fomenting violence.  

Victor Kweka, an analyst, says it appears there is no level playing field for politics in Tanzania.   

Kweka said that such events paint a picture of unbalanced politics that rely on the ruling party and not a democracy that allows opposition parties to perform their activities, participate in political meetings and hold rallies as other countries are doing.

Meanwhile, Neema Mwakipesile says she is still experiencing trauma from her 15 days behind bars.   

She says despite the challenges, pro-democracy activists will continue their push for their goal.    

Source: Voice of America