Tanzania marks 60 years of independence as fears grow for freedoms
Tanzania marked its 60th independence anniversary on Thursday, with President Samia Suluhu Hassan hailing the country’s progress even as fears grow over the precarious state of political freedoms in the East African nation.
The former British colony known as Tanganyika won independence in 1961, officially becoming Tanzania after merging with Zanzibar three years later, and adopting a system of multi-party democracy in 1992.
But in recent years, threats to basic freedoms have increased in the country, particularly under the rule of Hassan’s late predecessor, John Magufuli, who presided over a crackdown on the media, activists and free speech.
In an address to the nation on the eve of the anniversary, Hassan said: “The success we have recorded during the last 60 years of independence was powered by democratic administration and rule of law.”
“Our country has… a system that allows citizens to exercise their freedom of expression without any disturbance,” she said, adding that conditions for journalists had improved, with the number of media organisations increasing from just one in 1961 to hundreds today.
Since Hassan took power in March this year, following Magufuli’s death, she has sought to break with some of the policies of her predecessor, who was nicknamed “Bulldozer” for his uncompromising leadership style.
But the arrest of Freeman Mbowe, leader of the main opposition party Chadema, on terrorism charges, has prompted detractors to openly refer to Tanzania’s first female president as a “dictator”.
Ringisai Chikohomero, a researcher with the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies (ISS), said Hassan was hamstrung by her allegiance to Magufuli’s backers in the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.
Although she served as vice president under Magufuli, “she has yet to build her own support base,” Chikohomero told AFP.
“She has to toe the party line otherwise she can be thrown out.”
Hassan has dropped some of Magufuli’s policies, reopening barred media outlets and reversing a ban on pregnant girls and teenaged mothers attending school last month.
She also reinstated an outspoken Magufuli critic to cabinet and launched a Covid-19 vaccination campaign, a clear departure from her predecessor who questioned the existence and seriousness of the disease.
Nevertheless, Chikohomero stressed that her “space to manoeuvre within the CCM is fairly limited.”
The divisions within the party’s ranks have become public in recent days, with Hassan on Saturday accusing internal rivals of trying to smear her leadership with corruption allegations.
In unusually fiery remarks, Hassan said: “This rot happened under past leaders, but these factions are trying to lay the blame on my government.”
In August, the government suspended a newspaper owned by the ruling party for publishing a story saying Hassan would not run for office in 2025.
The CCM has ruled Tanzania since independence.