Charts: Tanzania, democracy and open (/closed?) budgets

Is democracy on the decline in Tanzania? With newspapers being suspended (and suspending themselves?), TV stations fined, opposition politicians and other government critics arrested (or shot), and political rallies banned, there are some very clear grounds for concern.

And the 2017 Democracy Index – a global index published this week by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) – would seem to agree. Tanzania’s score on the index has dropped, driven by a sharp drop in one particular dimension: civil liberties.  Continue reading

Charts: Public support for presidential term limits in Tanzania

The question of presidential term limits came up this week. The Second Vice President of Zanzibar, Seif Ali Idd endorsed the idea of increasing the presidential term from 5 to 7 years, which had previously been raised by, among others, the CCM MP Juma Nkamia. Last year, former President of Tanzania, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, said he wished President Magufuli was not constrained by term limits and could remain in power for many years.

President Magufuli has always shunned the suggestion, saying he “will respect the Constitution. … I’ll pass the mantle to the next president when the time comes.” But what do citizens think? Continue reading

Another Tanzanian newspaper is suspended. This time, by its own management

“Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.”

Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University and author of “On Tyranny, twenty lessons from the twentieth century

Nipashe Jumapili, a Sunday newspaper owned by media tycoon Reginald Mengi, has been suspended from publication for three months. This makes the paper the fifth to be suspended since President Magufuli came into office in November 2015, after Mawio, RaiaMwema, MwanaHalisi and Tanzania Daima. What makes this case different, however, is that the paper was not suspended by the government’s Information Services Department, but by its own management.

The paper announced the decision on Sunday afternoon, explaining that an article published in the paper that very morning had fallen short of their own standards, that it had put at risk the good relations that exist between Tanzania and Rwanda. They also offered personal apologies to Presidents John Magufuli of Tanzania and Paul Kagame of Rwanda for having published the article.

Nipashe Jumapili, 14/1/2018: “JPM akerwa wanaomtaka adumu urais kama Kagame”

The government issued a statement welcoming the paper’s decision. It came with a clear message to the Tanzanian press: “We must remind ourselves, journalism is more than a business, it is a profession, and so you have a major responsibility to respect journalistic ethics and accountability.”

The paper’s offending article discusses President Magufuli’s reaction to calls for him to stay in office beyond two five-year terms. The President recently dismissed such suggestions as unconstitutional, which was widely covered in the Tanzanian media.

“JPM akerwa wanaomtaka adumu urais kama Kagame,” ran the headline: Magufuli disappointed by those who want him to stay in office like Kagame. The article ends with a description of changes made to term limit laws in Rwanda and Burundi in recent years. With Kagame visiting Tanzania right now, there is some sensitivity in the timing: drawing attention to the difference between Tanzania and Rwanda’s positions might embarrass one or both presidents.

Since it has come up, lets indulge in a brief digression on term limits – a topic which for many years has been beyond discussion in Tanzania. Each time an incumbent president reached the end of their second term, the international press would express first doubt, then surprise, then praise when the outgoing president made no attempt to change the rules or block the handover to their successor. Tanzanians would only shrug: it simply wasn’t an issue. Unlike in Rwanda.

There are signs that this is no longer the case. CCM politicians and other have made several calls for changes in recent months, which the President has dismissed. In most cases, the suggestion is that the length of the presidential term could be increased from 5-7 years. But some are also asking whether the President might be looking for a way to stay in office beyond two terms. Answers are often uncertain.

Lets get back, though, to the main issue at hand – Nipashe Jumapili’s self-imposed suspension. Self-censorship has always been part of the media. All over the world, editors and their advisors make daily decisions about what they should or should not print. Sometimes, whether for legal or political reasons or something else entirely, they decide it’s not worth the risk.

But too much self-censorship becomes a cause for concern. When editors are fearful, important stories never see the light of day, and democracy recedes a little further into the darkness. 

And has there ever been such a extensive and transparent act of self-censorship as suspending your own newspaper for three months?

Nipashe, 15/1/18

The Monday issue of Nipashe – the suspended paper’s weekday sister paper – has two prominent stories on its front page. The first – “Kumradhi Rais Magufuli, Paul Kagame wa Rwanda” – addresses the matter directly: Asking forgiveness from President Magufuli, Paul Kagame of Rwanda. The second is hardly any more subtle: “Neema tano ziara Kagame Tanzania” – Five good things from Kagame’s visit to Tanzania.

It brings to mind a medieval court, where a courtier finds they have inadvertently insulted the King. Rather than wait for the King to have their head removed, the courtier rushes to prove their remorse by subjecting themself to brutal punishment, hoping to earn the King’s mercy.

The suspension may have been decided by the media house’s own management in an extreme case of anticipatory obedience. Or it may have been “negotiated” by a grovelling editor or proprietor, hoping to escape a longer or more comprehensive punishment. Sunday papers make little money and have little influence in Tanzania: the weekday version is what matters.

Might it be possible that this shouldn’t be considered a case of self-censorship at all?

Has Zitto revealed fake news on Tz economic growth?

The Citizen, 2/11/2017

Zitto Kabwe was arrested last week. He must be getting used to this by now, as he’s been held and questioned by the police on several occasions over the past couple of years.

What’s new this time, however, is that along with the by-now commonplace charge of “sedition”, he has been charged under the Statistics Act – the first such charges brought since the Act became law in 2015. Specifically, he and his party, ACT Wazalendo, published their own analysis of official economic data from the Bank of Tanzania (BoT), suggesting that the official GDP growth figures had been manipulated, and that actual growth was 0.1% rather than the BoT figure of 5.7%. And somebody decided that these are sufficient grounds to have him arrested.

I am not an economist and cannot either confirm or reject Zitto’s claim. I hope others will try to do so. But I can put forward some related data on the state of Tanzania’s economy that might help shed some light on the situation.

Let’s start with Zitto’s figures, however. His argument is essentially that up to now, GDP growth in Tanzania has stuck fairly close to the rate calculated using inflation and money supply figures. The most recent data, however, show a marked diversion, led by a sharp drop in money supply. In other words, the two blue lines on this graph stayed fairly close until this year. So something must be wrong with the latest figures, in his view.

Whether or not this argument holds water, however, we can also examine other data that can tell us something about the state of the economy. I have four more charts for you, starting with the money supply (the amount of money held in Tanzania, either in cash or in bank accounts):

It’s up and down a bit, but it shows one thing pretty clear: that growth in money supply in Tanzania has dropped considerably since early 2016. Before that, the amount of money circulating in Tanzania had been growing at around 15% each year. But that has now dropped to around 5% this year.

Next up, let’s look at another important proxy for a nation’s economic health: imports and exports. If the economy is doing well, demand for imported goods and services and production of exports should be on the increase.

When it comes to exports, the figures are up and down, showing no clear trend. But imports of goods and services into Tanzania are down considerable since January 2015: down by roughly 35% in just over two years.

We can also look at credit to the private sector. Again, this can be a good measure of economic health: if the economy is strong, banks will be happy to lend money.

As with imports, so there has been a decline here: prior to 2016, lending to the private sector had grown at a rate of around 20% a year. This has now dropped to just 1% in the latest available figures, for July 2017.

Finally, an indicator that perhaps affects most Tanzanians lives more immediately than any of those presented above: food prices. This is a complex area, as higher prices can be good for producers just as they are bad for consumers. But price increases would suggest demand is outstripping supply. And if prices go very high, it would suggest there might be a serious food shortage.

It’s good to see that prices have come down considerably since the start of the year – when reports and evidence of food shortages were widespread, despite initial government denials. But it’s noticeable that prices are still well above where they were at this time in the season in 2015 and 2016.

I want to end with two questions:

First: Bank of Tanzania figures tell us that money supply growth is down, imports are down, credit to the private sector is sharply down, and food prices remain high. What does this tell us about the state of the Tanzanian economy?

And second: an opposition politician is arrested and charged for pointing to what he describes as significant anomalies in official data. What does this tell us about the state of Tanzanian democracy?

This post originally appeared on

Yesterday was Access to Information Day 2017. Meanwhile, in Tanzania …

Mwananchi, 29/9/17

As we marked Access to Information Day, 2017 …

… the communications regulator – TCRA – held a consultation on proposed new online content regulations. Among other things, the regulations would require all bloggers and online forums to register with TCRA, to identify any readers or users who post comments or other content, and to pre-moderate all user-submitted content. The implications for blogs and other platforms for public debate and whistle-blowing, including the hugely popular Jamii Forums, would be devastating. Continue reading

“Acacia surrender”: Tz newspaper coverage of mineral concentrates saga

Nipashe 15/6/17

On Wednesday, the President of Tanzania, John Magufuli, met with the Chairman of Barrick Gold, John Thornton, who had flown in from North America for the purpose. The State House communications team released a video, shot on the steps outside the meeting, in which the President and Mr Thornton shared their versions of what had transpired. This dominated the headlines on Thursday, with most papers presenting the meeting in a very particular way.

More on that in a moment, but first, here’s the video: Continue reading

Wapo! The song that got rapper Nay wa Mitego locked up – A rough translation

Nay wa Mitego, on release from police custody

Tanzanian rapper, Nay wa Mitego was locked up on Sunday, for a song. He was released on Monday, after the intervention of President Magufuli and the new Minister of Information, Harrison Mwakyembe, and permission was given for the song to be played.

The President also offered some advice to revise the lyrics, and an invitation to meet and discuss how the song could be “improved”.

The BBC has more details, and this background context is also significant.

Here’s my rough translation, compiled with some assistance from others better qualified than myself. A word of warning though: much of the Swahili in the song is not to be found in any dictionary, so our translations and interpretations are open to challenge – I will happily make corrections if you point them out. And apologies that my translation has lost most of the (considerable) poetry of the original.

Wapo! (There are!), by Nay wa Mitego

What you plant today is what you will reap tomorrow
It’s been written that men must earn through sweat
I ask now who has seen tomorrow
Get moving and if you sleep you have nothing Continue reading