Tanzania: Defiance or Dialogue in Tanzanian Political Soap Opera

When the Opposition walked out on President John Magufuli in Parliament last November, it turned out to be a dramatic first episode in Season 1 of the trending Tanzanian political soap opera.

For lovers of action movies, the series has not disappointed ever since. It has continued to be thriller with major twists and turns in the Seasons unfolding since the beginning of the year.

There has been a lot of suspense and tension in the plots and counterplots of the drama, all pointing to a showdown whose finale looms large in the horizon.

And now some observers have warned, it will be difficult to deal with the deadlock without the parties swallowing their pride.

Political analysts say it has degenerated into a battle of egos, and if the actors are not careful, it can spark an "all-out war" pitying the ruling party and Opposition.

Many trace the bad blood between the President and his critics to that infamous walk-out in the august House in protest against Zanzibar President Ali Mohammed Shein's presence.

There was still so much anger caused by the controversial nullification of the Isles' election results a month earlier.

Things were to get worse after the government decided to limit the live coverage of parliamentary sessions, and formulated standing committees the Opposition alleged were the making of the State House.By the time the last budget session ended the war had escalated.

The marching orders delivered against some opposition MPs by deputy speaker Tulia Ackson did not help ease the tension.

Seeing their main avenue to air out grievances openly had been blocked, the Opposition organised rallies across the country. That too, was stopped by a police order.

Dr Magufuli also added his voice on the matter saying he was not going to let politics derail him from delivering his development agenda to Tanzanians.

Last week, after a series of internal meetings to discuss the challenges the Opposition was facing working with the new government, the Chadema's Central Committee resolved to defy the ban.

Party chairman Freeman Mbowe announced they are going to launch 'Operation Ukuta' (a coalition against dictatorship). The Opposition has declared September 1 its "Defiance Day'.

They will hold rallies and demos across the country against what they say are the President's 'dictatorial tendencies'.

Opinion is divided on whether or not that is going to be a smart move by Chadema and its allies against the government

The authorities, first the Registrar of Political Parties, have condemned the decision saying the rallies are illegal. President Magufuli has warned the Opposition not to dare him.

Plot thickened

As the plot thickened after the announcement of 'Defiance Day, the police summoned Mr Mbowe at the weekend for questioning over allegations that he had uttered seditious statements.

Meanwhile, the prevailing political drama has caused uneasiness in the country as more and more voices urge the protagonists to find common ground through dialogue.

A political analyst at Mzumbe University, Dr George Shumbusho, said the two parties will have to relax their hardline stances before sitting down at table.

He blamed Chadema for deciding on nationwide demonstrations before exhausting "all avenues" to resolve its differences with the government.

Turning to Dr Magufuli, the don had no kind words either: "The President is supposed to serve all Tanzanians equally.

He is not the President of CCM members only. I hope he will see reason and agree to meet Chadema to discuss the political situation in the country."

The Executive Director for Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Dr Hellen Kijo-Bisimba, concurs.

She says the government and political parties should hold talks, but condemned the ban on political rallies saying Tanzania is "not in a state of emergency".

Dr Kijo-Bisimba says Chadema must not be subjected to a different set of rules from the ones applied to CCM. She notes that the Opposition has the right to fight for its political rights.

In a interesting development, former Prime Minister and now a member of the Chadema Central Committee, Mr Edward Lowassa, over the weekend called for dialogue to defuse political tension in the country.

"It is not right to bar political leaders from conducting their business. Several of the orders currently being issued (against the opposition) will not help... it is important that we all sit down and have a dialogue because not a single person can claim to own this country," he said.

Prof Gaudence Mpangala of Ruaha University College told The Citizen that the government was supposed to initiate dialogue from the word go.

"Maybe there was no malice on the part of the government, however before announcing the ban, they were supposed to bring together all key stakeholders and explain to them why it was intended to outlaw political rallies," he said.

"That didn't happen and the result is that it is being widely viewed as a deliberate ploy to undermine the Opposition."

Source: Tanzania Daily News.