By Kalisa Aziz and Ssemanda Allawi.
Gearing up for its 6th general election since the restoration of multi-party politics in 1992, Tanzania should be abuzz with political campaigns and the usual hubbub seen in an African presidential election: Political rallies, mass gatherings, empty political promises, and the occasional catchy campaign songs. Not in 2020 but rather expect a landslide victory by president John Pombe Magufuli the Bulldozer, thanks to his unlevelled political playground writes DWC’s fellows Kalisa Aziz and Ssemanda Allawi.
One could blame Tanzania’s looming gloom on the Covid-19 global pandemic International Monetary Fund branded The Great Lockdwon but the reasoning would not stand for the United Republic of Tanzania. President John Pombe Magufuli, (one of the few presidents that refused to implement a lockdown of its state borders) recently declared the country 100% covid free and thus continues to cover up the true extent of the Corona virus in his nation to the utter dismay and disbelief of the international health experts.
As the country prepares for elections scheduled for 28th October 2020 and with a total of 30 million registered voters so far and a cash infusion of 331 billion Tanzania shillings (142 million US dollars) from the coffers of the central government, the biggest issue facing the parliamentary and presidential elections is the sitting government itself. Despite not closing the country’s boarders as a measure of containing Covid-19, president John Pombe Magufuli known as “bulldozer” instead effectively shut down avenues of ensuring fundamental rights and political freedoms targeting his political opponent.
Declining Freedom of Expression and Media Intimidation in Tanzania.
In 1970s throughout 1980s, countries like Uganda, Kenya, DRC and Rwanda were under dictatorial leadership characterized by media censorship and intolerance to political dissent. During this time, Tanzania was considered a model and most liberal country in the region. The country’s newspapers often carried cartoons with political messages which under president Magufuli today is slowly and steadily fading as the president is increasingly attacking freedom of expression.
The president armed with a majority in the house of parliament, has weaponised the laws of his nation and imposed repressive and restrictive legislation with very broad provisions. Critics contend that the purpose is to stifle dissent ahead of next week’s polls. Indeed, the country has passed several restrictive laws analysts argue are repressive and affect freedom of expression in Tanzania. Such legislations include among others;
Perhaps the most commonly contested law is the Statistics Act that was amended in 2015. The act criminalises the publication of statistics without the approval of the government. The interference of government in collection of data was heavily criticised by the World Bank (WB) expressing “deep concern” because the act contravenes International standards and would compromise the reliability and dissemination of information from Tanzania. In a statement, WB noted:
“The World Bank is deeply concerned about the recent amendments to Tanzania’s 2015 Statistics Act, which are out of line with international standards such as the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the African Charter on Statistics…”
The government has ridden the wave of the statistics act by having journalist arrested, suspended and fined for reporting on covid-19 or any other report that is critical of regime.
- The 2020 Basic Rights and Duties of Enforcement Act.
On 10 June 2020, Tanzania’s National Assembly passed a restrictive law, the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments Act (No. 3) of 2020), which amended 13 laws. The law gravely undermining solidarity lawsuits requires an individual making a claim under the Basics rights and Enforcement Act to submit an affidavit showing that the violation of the Enforcement Act has affected the claimant personally. The overly broad wording limits civil society organizations’ ability to pursue legal aid and law-based activities where they have not been personally harmed. The ramifications of this law (intentional or otherwise) have been to silence those who either cannot afford the cost of litigation or who do not seek justice themselves for fear of reprisal. This law is a match stick to ignite the fire that is a human rights violation. The Tanzanian government has also tabled a bill that will prevent human rights defenders and organizations from filing lawsuits on behalf of, or for the benefit of, victims of human rights violations.
- 2020 miscellaneous amendment act
The constitution now grants the government powers to suspend civil society organizations and political parties and interfere in their internal operations. Following this legislation, political rallies have been banned or interrupted with claims of concern over the spread of the Corona virus. Arrests have been made over bogus and tramped up charges against political rivals in key electoral districts in order to influence the vote in favour of incumbent members of parliament. The right to free speech and freedom of peaceful assembly have been completely ignored.
Just three weeks to polls, opposition leader Tindu Lissu’s political campaign was suspended for 7 days by the ethics committee of the National Electoral commission. This went on as Ruling party’s candidate traversed the country canvassing support.
In June 2020, Zitto Kabwe, leader of the opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT), was arrested along with eight senior officials for allegedly violating the blanket ban on gatherings and holding illegal assembly.
The government has not only reigned terror on the opposition but has also attacked the watchdog media that is responsible for protecting the rights of the citizens by reporting crimes committed against them. Under the guise of preventing the spread of false information to prevent vocal dissent and limit the reach of the opposition parties. The government has suspended or completely shutdown newspapers, radio and television stations. The complete disregard for media in Africa by incumbent leaders is per the course but Tanzania is taking it to a new level.
Currently ranked 124th in the world according to the 2020 annual freedom index by reporters without borders organisation, Tanzania has had a precipitous fall from the 80th position and all this in a period of 5 years since Magufuli took office. In June, The Tanzania Daima, an opposition-leaning Swahili newspaper had its operating licence withdrawn for apparently publishing false information against the government and reporting about government’s response to coronavirus.
Mwananchi Newspaper was suspended for six month and fined five million after the media group posted a photo of Tanzanian president in a crowded market which sparked a debate and criticized government handling of coronavirus. In the same month, Tanzania Communication Regulatory (TCRA) suspended Kwanza online TV for 11 months for what government called “generating and disseminating biased, misleading and disruptive content.” The TV had shared US’ embassy heath alert on Instagram which questioned government’s failure to publish coronavirus figures in the country. On 10th August, TCRA put Radio Free Africa on a three-month probation for airing a BBC interview with opposition presidential candidate. TCRA claimed the interview was not balanced.
There have also been reports of government blocking access to social media applications like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter that are fundamental to online activism. This regulation was passed by the CCM – controlled government in August. The regulation criminalises the organisation, planning or support of any form of demonstration on these online platforms.
A deeper search into the media’s relationship with Magufuli Regime reveals a much darker side. In 2017, Azory Gwanda, a freelance-investigative journalist working in rural Tanzania was abducted from his home while investigating mysterious killings in his community. To this day, his whereabouts are unknown. The Tanzanian government has not lifted a finger to investigate the circumstances of his disappearance. Once, the Foreign Minister referred to Gwanda as ‘dead’ but later recanted his statement after an outpouring of discontent from the citizens.
Not long after his death, an opposition member, Godfrey Luema a land’s rights defender also working in rural Tanzania was also murdered outside his home by assailants.
Another prominent victim of Magufuli’s authoritarian regime is Erick Kabendera an investigative journalist stationed in Dar es Salaam. Kabendera published several articles criticizing the government, it’s economy and its failure to weed out corrupt members of the executive. He was arrested in July 2019 and spent 7 months in custody. The charges brought against him were changed 3 times and the court never examining his case because the prosecution kept on requesting more time to prepare for ‘further investigation’. The judicial branch’s inability to stand up to the big classroom bully that is the executive sent a rather loud, ominous and chilling message to journalists.
Just four days to general elections, the government issued a directive to mobile telephone providers suspending bulk messaging and bulk voice calling services in the country, a move many saw as the ruling party’s effort to frustrate opposition party by interrupting communication. A letter signed by Director General of Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority James Kilara; “Considering the adverse impact that abuse of bulk short messaging services or bulk voice calling services might have on the general elections, and in accordance with rule three of the second schedule in the Tanzania communication Regulatory Authority Act of the Laws of Tanzania, the authority hereby directs you to temporarily suspend offering of bulk short messaging and bulk voice calling from October 24 2020 to November 11 2020.”
In total, Tanzania has closed over 15 media outlets over the course of 4 years and constantly threatening to withhold state advertising from privately-owned media, the government has imposed a climate of fear in which self-censorship is growing.
Opposition candidates barred from campaigning.
Arguably, in Africa vote rigging and candidate are not new. In Tanzania, Magufuli and the CCM have shown that they are not above rigging an election. This follows a sharp decline in the popularity of the man himself and his cronies. President Magufuli presented himself as a humble servant of God and always preached the gospel of putting God first in all activities be it economic, political or judicial. He promised justice for all people regardless of political party and social standing but like all seasoned politicians produced nothing but smoke. Due to claims of tyrannical rule, his popularity sank to leading to a popularity vote of only 58% of the total voting population. Whispers of voter intimidation and rigging were not lost to the media.
During the local government elections of November 2019, CCM won 99% of seats which elicited an outpouring of discontent from Britain and the United States of America.
The incidences of human rights violations and political persecution, both documented and undocumented, over Magufuli’s first term are numerous. “Do not test me” were the menacing words Magufuli used when he banned rallies a few months into his presidency. This is the restrictive environment in which Tanzania’s October 28, 2020, presidential elections are to be held. The opposition party CHADEMA has borne the brunt of these brutalities. CHADEMA claims that they have been treated unfairly and are often not invited to seat at the table to discuss and/or debate key legislation affecting the citizens of Tanzania with the president often co-opting institutions and legislative committees.
Furthermore, the party members are in constant fear for the safety of their families and for their own lives. Under the current president, security forces have been accused of the murders of political rivals to the government including Daniel John, a local leader of the opposition political party, CHADEMA. He was found beaten to death in his car amidst a heated local election in the district.
In September 2017, Tindu Lissu – the chairman and flag bearer of CHADEMA was shot a total of 16 times at his home in Dodoma. He was later flown to Belgium for treatment and subsequently sought asylum there. To this day, no one has been tried for the attack on Tindu Lissu’s life. He returned in July for the first time since to run for presidency.
The latest victim is Mbowe Freeman the current leader of opposition in the Tanzanian parliament and current party leader of CHADEMA. He was beaten coincidentally the day after announcing his intention to run against Magufuli.
There have also been claims of kidnapping, disappearances and torture of political opponents while in police custody. In addition to these brazen acts, parliamentary and local election candidates have been dubiously disqualified and voters openly bribed or threatened to vote CCM.
The lack of trust in government to hold free and fair elections by the citizens is quite clear and the natural and predictable outcome is protests, sporadic incidents of violence and localised disruption is likely in urban areas.
Due to the poor economy and civil unrest, a lot of human rights are being neglected and abused by the government. Cases of hunger, unemployment and political arrests are rising steeply. Amnesty international and the European Union have voiced their disappointment about the state of human rights in Tanzania directly caused by the election period. Amnesty International has reported on the effect of the newly enacted laws in Tanzania having a restrictive and repressive effect on the civil society. In 2019 the government of Tanzania passed laws that required NGOs to disclose their sources of funding which is a direct interference with the freedom of Association. This law was used and on 12 August 2020, where Tanzanian government froze bank accounts of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) which paralyzed their operation. After blocking THRDC’s Coordinator, Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa was arrested by Tanzanian police to explain organization’s failure to submit its contractual agreements with donors to the State Treasury, citing 2018 regulations. Police later released him on a police bond, with two sureties each guaranteeing 200 million Tanzania shillings (USD 86206.90) which is too high for any ordinary Tanzanian. Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, urged Tanzanian authorities that in order to reverse the decline in civil freedoms in Tanzania, authorities ensure that civil society organisations carry out their work freely and independently without any fear of reprisals.
However, cries of strife by opposition parties, media and the international community are falling on the deaf ears of the sitting Tanzanian government. Magufuli, who took office in 2015 promised a crack down on corruption and weeding out bad elements from the system has often come under fire himself from human rights groups urged the country to hold itself above the rest and avoid insults and violence.
The opposition is indeed attempting an uphill climb of the Everest. The giant that is the CCM has unwavering support in rural areas where most voters reside and is running multimillion-dollar campaigns with enough air time which the opposition can never counter. This will allow Magufuli and the CCM to secure victory at the October polls. All the above, though is being paid for by the tax payer. The government is ringing the little man for all his worth just so the CCM party can have a majority in parliament come next week. The government has been criticized for its careless spending considering the global health and economic situation right
The incumbent leaders are only able to strut around because of the amendment’s tables in June of this year. Many of the amendments were written to protect the big wigs of the CCM from prosecution during the electoral season.
For example; Proposed amendments to the LAW REFORM (FATAL ACCIDENTS AND MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS) ACT, (CAP. 310) and to the BASIC RIGHTS AND DUTIES ENFORCEMENT ACT, (CAP. 3) similarly state that all suits against the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Speaker or Chief Justice cannot be brought against them directly but instead must be brought against the Attorney General. But by preventing individuals who hold these offices from being held directly accountable in a court of law, the amendments serve to erode accountability in the country for crimes committed during the election period. Experience from around the world shows that individual direct accountability is critical in ensuring great performance by leaders and also discourages wrong doing. The principle of equality ensures that every citizen regardless of political standing, be fought to justice and be held equally accountable for breaking the law. Despite president Magufuli having promised a free and fair elections for all political parties, these amendments reduce the possibility for holding specific groups directly responsible for their actions during this election process.
Indeed, with less than 24 hours to polls, president Magufuli has ensured unfavourable media coverage of elections by arresting journalists, finning and revoking licence to media outlets the government considers critical of the regime, requiring Foreign reporters to be supervised by selected government officials, banning local elections observers from monitoring polls, and very restrictive laws to local groups and NGOs, one can confidently say that president Magufuli has already won Wednesday’s vote widely viewed as flawed and unfair.