Intelligence brief: Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan meets previously jailed opposition leader Freeman Mbowe for 2nd time

    Bottom line up front

    • President Samia's political charm offensive seems to be working. Having previously met exiled leading opposition figure Tundu Lissu in Belgium, before sitting down with Mbowe on same day as terror and money laundering charges against him were dropped, Samia is successfully bringing her political enemies closer.
    • Mbowe's Chadema, biggest opposition party in Tanzania looks to be gradually coming to realisation that it has limited options if it were to stick to confrontational politics.
    • Mbowe seems to be doing well in treading a tricky line between "partneship with Samia" which risks dissatisfaction within his party, and sticking to hardline, confrontational stance prefered by many in his party which in turn could attract strong response from Samia, and essentially taking Chadema back to Magufuli era's informal ban on political activities.

    What happened?

    The East African reports

    Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Monday evening held talks with the leader of the main opposition party, Freeman Mbowe, at State House Dar es Salaam ahead of the opposition party's general meeting.
    “We are aware of what the two have talked about, but it is not for public consumption just yet,” said Gervas Lyenda, the Chadema spokesperson for the coastal region.
    No further communication, from both Chadema and the presidency, has been released about the meeting.
    Mbowe, the chairman for Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema), is expected to take part in the party’s Central Committee meeting on Tuesday leading up to the executive council on Wednesday.
    This is the second time the President is meeting Mbowe this year.

    Analysis:

    Muted reaction

    Reaction from Chadema leaders and supporters was noticiably muted, with leading figures looking completely indifferent, except for a few who tweeted about the meeting.

    Coincidence?

    Was it a coincidence that the Samia-Mbowe meeting has happened two days before Chadema's highest decision-making body meets in Dar es Salaam today? Reports suggest otherwise. According to sources, Mbowe was summoned to the State House "to be advised on certain issues which are expected to feature heavily during the opposition party's supreme council meeting" today.

    Betrayal?

    President Samia has her fair shair of "haters" among leaders and supporters of Chadema, some of whom are hellbent on faulting each and everything she does. However, the anti-Samia sentiments within the opposition party are more to do with the majority hardliners who are affiliated with "wanaharakati wa mtandaoni" (social justice e-activists) rather than the party itself. It is likely that among the hardliners, Mbowe's meeting with the president is tantamount to betrayal.

    Any repercusions?

    Not a single chance. Mbowe's powers within Chadema, which have always been high, have just received a boost from his stint in a jail on economic sabotage and terrorism charges. He is more popular than ever. And there is no way his meeting with the president would attract any reprisal from his colleagues.

    Viable option?

    Because majority of Tanzanian voters are not affiliated to any political party, hardline stance on the side of Chadema might do more harm than good. For example, while boycotting elections could be justifiable withing the party circles, majority of non-party member Tanzanians may very well distance with Chadema on basis of "they always boycott elections."

    Moreover, the boycotting approach has not been successful, and the party's strong presence online has not made much difference either. Mbowe becoming President Samia's partner-in-national development is really only viable option for him and his party to solidify their position as the biggest opposition party in the country, and improve their pospects for the coming civic elections in 2024 and general election a year later.

    Conclusion:

    After half a decade of political repression under the deceased President John Magufuli, which saw Chadema and other opposition parties having their legitimate political activities - such as indoor meetings and public ralies - banned, the Samia-Mbowe meeting is not only ushering in a new era of political reconciliation and tolerance but also puts the East African nation of 60 million plus in a better position to fight terrorism (Tanzanian troops are in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo battling against ISIS-linked insurgents).

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    Evarist Chahali

    Evarist Chahali

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