A win for freedom of expression in Tanzania!

The East African Court of Justice ruled earlier today (March 28) that several sections of Tanzania’s Media Services Act “violate the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community”. The case was brought by the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) and the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders’ Coaliation (THRDR), and was strongly contested by government lawyers.

Key paragraph from the ruling of the East African Court of Justice against Tanzania's Media Services Act
Excerpt from the ruling of the East African Court of Justice against Tanzania’s Media Services Act, March 28, 2019
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“Is this sanction proportionate?” The diplomatic response to attacks on media freedom in Tanzania

We’ve seen a display of unity from eight embassies / ambassadors / high commissioners to Tanzania today, responding the suspension of The Citizen newspaper with a series of tweets:

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The Citizen gets suspended. And for what?

The Citizen newspaper was suspended today by the Government of Tanzania, for a period of seven days.

The paper has reported that their front page article from Saturday 23 February was given as the reason for the suspension. Here’s the offending front page:

The Citizen front page, Feb 23, 2019

And here’s the article itself, in image form, as published in the paper:

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“Traditional healers” and us. What it means when children are being murdered in Njombe

The Citizen front pages, Jan 30 and Feb 3, 2019

The tragedy is unspeakable, the acts incomprehensible: eleven children murdered in and around the town of Njombe in the space of a few weeks. There are, it is feared, likely to be more whose bodies have not yet been discovered.

Terror now grips the local community. Rumours swirl – more children taken, this businessman is involved, that politician. We can all, surely, understand how panic and fear can fuel a demand for revenge or justice that can all-too-easily boil over into mob-violence. The killing of several people suspected of involvement in the children’s deaths cannot be justified, but it can at least be understood.

Killing children for personal gain cannot. What greed or desperation can possibly motivate someone to do such a thing? What makes them think it will work?

I feel this personally. I lived in Njombe for several years, the names of people and places are familiar. Friends are telling me of their despair, of the sense of chaos. It hurts.

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The digger and the bulldozer – Zitto Kabwe’s arrest

Zitto Kabwe at Kisutu Magistrate’s Court, 2/11/2018. Photo from The Citizen

“For a citizen, there is no patriotism greater than criticising your country’s government. The bigger patriotism is to defend your country, not the government. Your country.”

Zitto Kabwe

Zitto Kabwe is different. He seems to lack the restraints that hold many back. He has a fierce intellect that allows him to dig further and deeper into complex issues than others are able. He has an apparently inexhaustible supply of energy and determination that allows him to stay on top of ten different issues at once. And he doesn’t seem to know when it would be wiser – or safer – to stay silent. Continue reading

Are political party defections in Tanzania diminishing CCM or enhancing its grip on power?

Guest post by Aikande Kwayu

Waitara and Polepole, from The Citizen, July 29

Ongoing party politics in Tanzania show that restrictions over civic space – freedom of assembly, etc – are not adequate to ensconce the rulers’ appetite for power. Many other supplementary tyrannical actions seem to be necessary. One of these appears to be defections of councillors, Members of Parliament and village chairmen from opposition parties to the ruling party, CCM. Continue reading

Learning from the Tbilisi OGP Summit: Hope and ideas in an age of closing civic space

In the opening plenary session of the latest Open Government Partnership summit, one panellist offered his definition of open government: government of the people, by the people and for the people. That probably sounds familiar – the phrase is borrowed from a popular definition of democracy, most famously deployed by Abraham Lincoln.

Does this mean the definition of open government is essentially the same as the definition of democracy? In many ways it felt that way at the 5th OGP Summit last week in Tbilisi, Georgia. Continue reading

Does Kinana’s resignation signal the final goodbye to CCM’s 2012 rebranding strategy?

I am delighted to be able to provide space for this guest post from Aikande Kwayu, but also sad that it is necessary. Aikande has very understandably decided to close down her own blog following the introduction of the Online Content Regulations. This is a big loss.

Does Kinana’s resignation signal the final goodbye to CCM’s 2012 rebranding strategy?

Aikande Kwayu

Rebuilding party and country, one brick at a time – from June 2015

Rampant corruption scandals in the country and bitter internal conflicts among party members in 2008, threatened the survival of CCM – the ruling political party in Tanzania, which has been in power from the independence era to date. In 2009, a committee, chaired by the former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, was formed to prevent the party from breaking up. The weakened party was further exposed in the 2010 general elections in which its votes’ share dropped from 80% in 2005 to 64%. To rescue the situation, the party leadership deployed a party rebranding strategy, which could be traced from 2012. In the 2012 party anniversary celebrations, the then chairman of the party President Jakaya Kikwete emphasized the need to restore (kukihuisha) and to give the party new image (taswira mpya) and attraction (mvuto) to society. He further illustrated the rebranding urgency by shedding (kujitoa gamba) the party’s old image. To do so, the party needed a vibrant, agile and smart secretariat. It was in that context that Gen. Abdulrahman Kinana was appointed as the Secretary General of CCM. Continue reading

Fees, licences and lots of uncertainty: What’s in Tanzania’s new “online content” regulations?

I blog, mostly here. I post on social media, mostly Twitter. I help run a few websites. I read and watch a lot of news articles, blogs, social media posts, YouTube videos and more, and sometimes I post a comment.

As of last month, if you do any of these things in Tanzania, you may well be breaking the law. You could be fined, or even given a prison sentence, for doing something that has become for many a normal, everyday part of twenty-first century life.

Tanzania’s new Online Content Regulations (posted online by government, also available here) came into force last month. They are a game-changer for anyone who does anything online in Tanzania.

So what do the regulations say? What is allowed, and what is not? And what are the penalties for anyone who breaks the law? Continue reading

Tanzania, the Economist, and the battle of fake news: who is Dr Herman Louise Verhofstadt?

By IFLA – http://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11174, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57084301

The Economist rarely pays much attention to Tanzania – once or twice a year at best. So when they published not just one but two articles on President Magufuli in a single issue earlier this month, heads turned. The headlines are striking – “Tanzania’s rogue president – Democracy under assault” and “How to save Tanzania” – and the contents even more so. Tanzania is undergoing “a sickening lurch to despotism,” the paper writes, where “opposition politicians are being shot; activists and journalists are disappearing.” This is happening under “an authoritarian and erratic” President Magufuli, who is “fast transforming Tanzania … into one of Africa’s more brutal dictatorships”. Continue reading