Has Tanzania passed “peak freedom”? Or is the latest Freedom House rating a temporary blip?

Tz Freedom House 2015Tanzania’s freedom rating has dropped. The latest annual report by Freedom House on political rights and civil liberties around the world showed that Tanzania’s score dropped from 3.0 to 3.5. It’s may sound like only a small change, but the scale of these ratings only goes from 1 to 7. (1 is the most free, 7 is the least.) More significantly, it is the first time Tanzania’s rating has dropped for over 20 years.

This chart shows Tanzania’s rating for each year since 1994, just as multi-party democracy was being reintroduced.

In the first half of the chart, 1994 to 2004, Tanzania’s freedom rating improved rapidly from 6.0 to 3.5. Since then, only in 2010 was there an improvement, to 3.0, tantalisingly close to the 2.5 score at which a country is classed as “free”, rather than “partly free”. But the latest report, with data from 2015, shows Tanzania’s rating moving in the wrong direction.

Is this a temporary blip, that will be quickly addressed, or has Tanzania passed “peak freedom”?

There is a brief note in the online version of the report that explains why Tanzania’s rating declined:

“Tanzania’s civil liberties rating declined from 3 to 4 due to the passage of the Statistics Act and the Cybercrimes Act, which imposed restrictions on freedom of expression and had a chilling effect on the media, academia, and civil society.”

To be precise, the countries political rights rating remained stable at 3, and the civil liberties rating dropped from 3 to 4, so the average – the overall freedom rating – dropped from 3 to 3.5.

But the key point is that these new laws led directly to the change in the country’s freedom rating. So it would be easy to move back up to 3.

Equally, with a new Media Services Bill coming soon, the score could drop further by next year’s report. The version of the bill that was first presented to parliament last year is not encouraging.

As with the Corruption Perceptions Index that I reported on a few days ago, the data for this report largely relates to the time before President Magufuli was elected. It is likely that his actions will determine whether Tanzania continues to slide, or turns the situation around.