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Hassan mends some fences with the opposition

Balancing support from the ruling CCM against the need for reform, President Samia faces a test case

President Samia Suluhu Hassan's attempts to restore some democratic rights without alienating supporters of her predecessor John Magufuli are bearing some fruit (AC Vol 62 No 15, Clearing up after the bulldozer). But her reform credentials may depend on how the government handles a terrorism case against a opposition leader.

The latest olive branch was extended at a conference on multiparty democracy last month, chaired by Zitto Kabwe, leader of ACT Wazalendo, where President Samia was the guest speaker.

Opposition political parties were effectively banned by Magufuli, and critical diplomats expelled.

Samia's promise of dialogue at home and tentative offer of a new constitution and independent electoral commission have been welcomed by diplomats after the bruising years of the 'bulldozer' president.

'Progress has been made by President Hassan despite existence of many problems. I understand that progress is being made for positive evolution,' Rita Laranjinha, managing director of Africa at the European External Action Service, told the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee at a hearing on Tanzania in December.

'There is a situation even with the new President where leaders, members and supporters of the opposition face harassment, illegal detention and intimidation,' said David McAllister, the chairman of the committee at a hearing.

The test case will be the fate of Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) chairman Freeman Mbowe, still on trial on terrorism charges, widely viewed as trumped up (AC Dispatches, 9/08/21, Trial of opposition activists will test President Hassan's reform credentials). Mbowe's trial, now into its fifth month, has been adjourned to 19 January. The United States and European Union have both made representations on Mbowe's behalf.

At the meeting, Kabwe urged President Samia Suluhu to look at 'using all legal channels' to have the charges against the Chadema leader dropped, phraseology that prompted an angry riposte from Chadema vice chair, Tundu Lissu, who demanded that the government 'simply scrap the charges without any conditions whatsoever'.

'If you have broken the law you lose the respect of the government and others, although forgiveness is also an option', was the President's non-committal response.

Continued tensions between the two main opposition parties; Chadema who boycotted the meeting, and Kabwe, could give Samia Suluhu, who faces a difficult balancing act within her own Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, more room for manoeuvre and delay.

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