Harris enters the struggle for democracy with a visit to Tanzania

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (AP) — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will come to the front lines of the fight for democracy in Africa on Thursday, spending time in Tanzania as it makes fragile progress in restoring its reputation as a more inclusive government.

Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania’s first female president, has reversed some of the country’s more repressive measures, such as banning opposition rallies, despite coming to power as a member of the ruling party.

It ends the tenure of President John Magufuli, who died in office and gained a reputation for rooting out dissent, arresting critics and forcing them into exile. However, hardliners have been unhappy with some of Hassan’s changes, which could cost them in the next election two years from now.

Harris, the first woman to serve as US vice president, will meet with Hassan Thursday, a notable show of Washington support as the United States deepens its reach into Africa.

“There’s so much excitement here and people are saying it’s like Madam President’s efforts to transform the country are being rewarded with recognition of an economic and political superpower, which is the US,” said Tanzania-based analyst Mohamed Issa Hemed.

During a previous meeting in Washington, Harris told Hassan, “We applaud the progress you have made over the course of your leadership and particularly the work you have done to empower women leaders in Tanzania and the work you are doing have made in support of human rights.”

Harris arrived in Tanzania late Wednesday after spending three nights in Ghana. Much like her first stop, she was greeted with music and dancing as she walked down a red carpet that had been rolled out to Air Force 2. Some of the welcoming guests wore shirts with Harris’ face on them.

Harris is expected to spend two nights in Tanzania and cap off her week-long trip with a stop in Zambia, another country scrambling to strengthen its democracy. She plans to return to Washington on Sunday.

Idayat Hassan, director of the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja, Nigeria, said Harris’ visit could help stoke enthusiasm at a time when there are concerns about a slide back into authoritarianism in Africa and around the world.

“A lot of people are going to want the US to speak out on the issue of democracy, which they think is on the wane and isn’t what it used to be,” she said. “There are more who need reassurance that democracy is here to stay.”

Like Tanzania, Zambia has made uneven strides toward democracy since independence. However, there was a glimmer of hope after the country elected Hakainde Hichilema, a former opposition leader who was once charged with treason.

Zambia has since decriminalized presidential defamation, a law used to stifle opposition. It is also co-hosting President Joe Biden’s second Pro-Democracy Summit this week.

However, Hichilema warned this week that economic progress is necessary to sustain open societies.

“You can’t eat democracy,” he wrote in the Washington Post. “Human rights can support the mind, but not the body.”


Musambi reported from Nairobi, Kenya.

Source : www.washingtontimes.com

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