Tanzanian President Samia Sulf Hassan on Tuesday lifted a ban on opposition gatherings imposed in 2016 by her powerful predecessor as a prelude to political rivals seeking to restore democratic traditions.
Hassan has come under pressure to overthrow the hardline policies of John Magufuli, who died in 2021 after six years of hardline rule in a country once seen as a beacon of democracy in East Africa.
Magufuli came to power in 2015 as the nation’s no-nonsense man, but presided over an ongoing crackdown on dissent and political freedoms, earning him the nickname “Bulldozer” for his authoritarian leadership style.
When he first took office, Magufuli banned political gatherings, saying it was time for work, not politics.
But while opposition rallies were violently dispersed by police, the ruling party was free to assemble and the ban only applied to opposition groups, critics said.
In withdrawing the ban, Hassan, a supporter of the ruling party who became the country’s first female president when Magufuli died, said political gatherings were a right for everyone.
“I am here to declare that the ban on political gatherings has been lifted,” Hassan said at a gathering of political leaders invited to the parliament building in Dar es Salaam.
“Governments are responsible for ensuring safety during public gatherings, but I urge all politicians to practice civilized politics.”
Tanzanian opposition leader Jit Kabwe said the decision was the first step toward greater political reform.
“I’m thrilled! This is a right taken away by the country through an illegal presidential decree. President Samia has cleaned up the mess. It’s normal, but huge,” he told AFP in a WhatsApp message.
The opposition hopes Hassan will turn the page on Magufuli’s uncompromising rules, and there is early optimism when the new leader reaches out to rivals to allow banned media outlets to reopen. did.
She also dropped some of Magufuli’s most controversial policies, such as banning pregnant girls and teenage mothers from attending school, and covid-19 vaccinations that her predecessors derided. Introduced campaign.
But her presidency was overshadowed in July 2021 when prominent opposition leader Freeman Mbowe was arrested hours before his party held a public forum.
He was later released, the charges against him were dropped, and Hassan promised to heal the rift.
However, critics branded her a “dictator” and questions remained about her commitment to political and media freedom.
Speaking with leaders on Tuesday, Hassan promised that “more legislative reforms will be coming soon” to make Tanzania’s political environment more inclusive.
“We are free to criticize the government wherever there is a problem, to address the issue for the benefit of the people,” she said.
Hassan has fought divisions within the Chama Cha Mapinduzi party since taking office. He replaced the cabinet three times in 2022, as cracks in the cabinet were exposed.
She has accused rivals in government of trying to undermine her leadership and last year suspended a party-owned newspaper for publishing an article that she would not run in the scheduled elections in 2025. .