Tanzania: An Unraveling Democracy?

This past week, with the UN compound bombing in Somalia, the ongoing crisis in Syria, the protests in Turkey, and the outbreak of protest in Brazil, story of the bombing in Arusha received little to no international media attention. When weighed against these other events, the June 15th bombing in Arusha seems like such a small and isolated event. Tanzania is perceived to be one of the more stable countries in the region and the recent events have been deemed by security personnel to be isolated incidents. However, when taking into consideration the political motivation of these crimes as well as the responses of both the authorities and the police, one can’t help but wonder if this situation is a glimpse of a greater problem, one that if not addressed, could threaten the stability of Tanzania’s democracy.

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On Saturday June 15th, Tanzania’s opposition party, the Party for Democracy and Development (CHADEMA) held a rally at the Saweto district stadium, in the Kalonlei area of Arusha city. The rally was the peak of the campaign for by-elections to fill the vacuum for representatives in six Arusha area districts, notably Kalolei, Themi, Elerai, and Kimandolu, origionally scheduled for Sunday, June 16th. What should have been a peace demonstration—exemplifying democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and free speech—quickly turned chaotic when grenade exploded near the center stage as Freeman Mbowe, the party’s leader, addressed supporters. The bomb killed four people, three of which were children, and resulted in approximately 50 to 70 additional causalities. Although the assailant(s) have not yet been caught and the motive has not formally been determined, it is believed that the attack was politically motivated, the opposition leaders being the intended targets of the blast. Arusha is a CHADEMA stronghold and this attack threatens to exacerbate already uneasy political tensions between CHADEMA and the CCM, the ruling party of the government. CHEDEMA officials have previously expressed complaints regarding government crackdowns against opposition demonstration and public rallies.  The National Electoral Commission cancelled the by-election in all six Arusha districts, citing insecurity. The by-elections have been rescheduled for Sunday, June 30th.

In response to this event, Tanzania authorities banned all public gatherings and deployed the Tanzania People’s Defense Forces to keep the area clam. Consequently, when a memorial service was held on Tuesday June 18th, to mourn the death bomb’s victims, the service was perceived as a security threat. The police, liable to disperse any unauthorized rallies, fired teargas into the ground, fired several rounds of warning shots into the air, and made several arrests as the attempted to disperse the crowd. Roadblocks were set up, movement around Arusha became increasingly difficult, and security became a pressing concern for Arusha residents. CHADEMA has long complained of unnecessary crackdown by the Tanzanian government, and this is yet another example. Four deputies of CHADEMA and a dozen supporters were arrested on charges of illegal assembly, but were released on bail on Wednesday, June 19th.

There have always been tensions between CHADEMA and CCM in northern Tanzania; however, these tensions have recently increased as support for CHADEMA has been rising in the region, making the party a serious contender in the next election. Tensions between the ruling political party and the opposition party are not abnormal in and of themselves. In fact, such rivalry is inherent in the democratic system. In a developing democracy such as Tanzania, the way in which the rivalry is expressed is of the utmost importance as it sets precedence for the handlings of a multiparty democracy in the future.

CHADEMA is an opposition party with growing popular support, particularly in northern Tanzania. In a free and fair democracy, if CHADEMA is able to bolster the majority support and win the next election, they should rightfully become the ruling party in Tanzania. The bombers of the CHADEMA rally remain unknown and until the perpetrators are caught, it is dangerous to make accusations regarding who the bombers were; however, given that the bombing took place at a political rally and is considered to be an isolated incident, the assumption remains that the bombers’ motivations were political. Who they were and what kind of association they have are undetermined.

The banning of political rallies by government officials in response to this bombing is concerning. Yes, there is an element of security involved, but there a fine line between national security and the infringement on human rights, which is often blurred. What is more striking was the dismantling of the memorial service. This was not a political rally—although largely CHADEMA supporters were in attendance—it was memorial service for those who had perished in the bombing. Moreover, the police were quick to employ violence and confrontational methods to break up this gathering, rather than first attempting to disperse the group through non-violent means. The overreaction of the police in this instance has the potential to insight further violence as some may feel compelled to respond/reciprocate their treatment by the police. And thus begins a cycle of violence that can quickly spiral out of control. This has not yet been the case in Tanzania, but with the underlying tensions between the political parties and the authorities’ use of violent methods there is festering potential.

Tanzania has been a relatively stable democracy since gaining its independence from colonial rule in 1964, especially when one considers the other countries in the region; however, it transformation into a complete and opened democracy is not yet finished. The next step in the process is the acceptance of alternative political groups and the willingness of the present party in power to relinquish power, when and if another party rightfully wins the majority. With growing opposition towards the ruling party, it is essential that they be granted a platform for the expression of their opinions and ideas. If suppressed, as the opposition party continues to grow, this could seek to threaten Tanzania’s democratic stability.

Jolene Hansell is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law. Currently she is in Arusha, Tanzania, working as a Legal Intern for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. You can email her at jah340@georgetown.edu or follow her on twitter @joleneh340

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The Génocidaires: Rethinking Justice

Genocide is a crime and like any other crime it contains two parties: the perpetrators and the victims. When the story of a crime is told, it is the victim’s narrative that is remembered. Even now, 18 years after the genocide, the atrocities that were committed and the impact the have on the victims both in the past and in the present remains at the forefront of most discussions. Knowing these stories is tremendously important to the reconciliation process, to the memorialization process, and to ensuring that such atrocities are not repeated. However, these stories only reveal a portion of the picture. The stories of the perpetrators (or the génocidaires as they are called in Rwanda) also need to be told, particularly in the case of Rwanda, as they have been instrumental in the reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction of the country.

The Rwanda génocidaires faced criminal justice on one of three levels. Those who were deemed most culpable and responsible for the genocide were brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania; those who were deemed to me mid-level perpetrators with relatively high levels of culpability faced the National Courts of Rwanda; and all other perpetrators were brought before the gacaca courts.

The gacaca courts are a community-based system of justice implemented to alleviate stress on the traditional justicesystem resulting from the high volume of prisoners. Between 2005 and 2011, more than 12,000 gacaca courts tried 1.2 million cases relating to the 1994 Imagegenocide. Despite its ability bring about swift trials, reduce the pressure on the severely overpopulated prison system, and document the genocide into case fact, the gacaca courts have been highly criticized. Human Rights Watch called them ‘Justice Compromised’ in their 2011 Report due the flaws in the trial process that lead to miscarriages of justice. However, given Rwanda’s post-conflict development, it becomes apparent that a tradeoff made in this regard. Although justice was not achieved to an international standard, the sentences brought down by the gacaca courts have greatly assisted in the post-conflict reconstruction of Rwanda.

Travail d’Intérêt Générale (TIG) is a community service organization for prisoners. Those génocidaires who confessed to their crimes were sentenced to reduced prison sentences and/or community service with TIG. In the wake of the genocide Rwanda was in ruins. Buildings, houses, and entire communities had been destroyed in the violence, leaving Rwanda in a perceived state of disrepair. Those perpetrators who have come to work for TIG are participating in development projects to reconstruct Rwanda – the very buildings, homes, and communities they helped destroyed during the genocide. One Rwandan described this very eloquently in reference to one community outside Kigali:

“The people who have made them homeless are the people who have brought them back to life.”

The perpetrators the genocide are quite literally rebuilding the communities they destroyed. They are building houses, schools, and community centers for the victims and in doing so, helping Rwanda transition to a stable post-conflict society. Moreover, this participation in community development has reduced the animosity between perpetrators and victims. Taking responsibility for the crimes that they have committed and actively helping to rebuild what was destroyed during the genocide has played a significant role in the reconciliation process in Rwanda. The victims are grateful for the rebuilding of their community and are satisfied with justice being achieved through community development.

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This brings to light an important question: what is more important, justice or reconciliation? Had these individuals been sentenced to 10, 20, or 30 years imprisonment and not had the option for community service many communities in Rwanda would still be destroyed. Moreover, the continued segregation of perpetrators and victims by imprisonment does not foster reconciliation between these two groups. That is not to say that those who were higher up in the chain of command, those who orchestrated the genocide, should get off with mere community service as their punishment. But it should be noted that these were not the majority. The vast majority of genocidaires were individuals acting not out of malicious premeditation, but rather out of fear and uncertainty resulting from the context of civil war, state power, and pre-conceived notions of ethnicity as Strauss demonstrated in his book The Order of Genocide. For these individual who have sincerely repented their actions, is the unity of Rwanda not more important? In these cases, should reconciliation and post-conflict development not be the ultimate goal? It can be argued that Rwanda is where it is today because of programs such as TIG, so how can we argue with such success? Can justice and reconciliation be achieved simultaneously, or are the mutually exclusive?

Jolene Hansell is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law.  Currently she is travelling to Rwanda with Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar with the Zones of Conflict, Zones of Peace Program.  You can email her at jah340@georgetown.edu or follow her on twitter @joleneh340