“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.

Continue reading

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

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?