West News Wire: After a 2016 ban was lifted, Tanzania’s largest opposition party launched its first large-scale demonstration, igniting hopes for further political freedom in the East African country.
This month, President Samia Suluhu Hassan removed the embargo on Chadema put in place by her conservative predecessor John Magufuli, known as “Bulldozer” for his aggressive demeanor.
After 22 months in office, Hassan is attempting to depart from some of Magufuli’s ideas and has courted the opposition.
Chadema Chairman Freeman Mbowe addressed the crowd on Saturday in the lakeside city of Mwanza, saying, “Thank God that the day has come when we talk with fellow Tanzanians through this public assembly.”
The celebration commemorated the party’s political registration’s 30-year anniversary.
The supporters sported the party colours blue, red and white and sang songs praising their leaders as a handful of police officers guarded the venue.
“We have been silent for almost seven years but finally, our right is restored and we are ready to move ahead,” Mary Dismas, Mwanza resident, told AFP news agency.
The move was cautiously welcomed as a gain for democracy by rights groups and the country’s opposition.
Magufuli had banned political rallies early in his tenure, saying it was time for work, not politics.
But critics said the ban applied only to opposition groups, with the ruling party free to assemble.
Rival gatherings were violently broken up by police and party officials were jailed.
There was early optimism when Hassan, Tanzania’s first female president, reached out to rivals, reopened banned media outlets and reversed some of Magufuli’s most controversial policies.
But her presidency came under criticism when Mbowe and other senior Chadema officials were arrested in July 2021 just hours before they were to hold a public meeting seeking constitutional reforms.
Hassan, who has battled divisions in her ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, has since made conciliatory gestures towards the opposition.