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Tanzania is anything but 'a beacon of democracy’

Africa

AFRICA: OP-ED

Tanzania is anything but ‘a beacon of democracy’

Tanzanian President John Magufuli. (Photo: EPA / Daniel Irungu)

Contrary to the apologist views expressed by Dr Darius Mukiza, Tanzania under President John Magufuli has become a country where the brutal suppression of dissent has become routine. Freedom of speech is a distant memory and the legacy of founding president Julius Nyerere has been betrayed.

It is not surprising, in a country with a patronage system as firmly entrenched as Tanzania’s, to find apologists for President John Magufuli among the intelligentsia.

But Dr Darius Mukiza, in responding to Daily Maverick’s Op-Ed on Tanzania of May 20 2019, Human rights continue to worsen in Tanzania as Magufuli cracks down on criticssent in the wrong rebuttal.

The piece was not a product of the sinister Western media with its neo-colonial agenda of dirtying Tanzania’s image, as Mukiza would have us believe.

It was written by Tundu Lissu, a member of parliament, and the chief whip and Justice spokesman for the main opposition party, Chadema. He is also the past president of the Tanzanian Bar Association.

Lissu built his career as a grassroots environmental activist taking on the big Western mining companies over land rights, forced removals of communities and other community struggles.

He has first-hand knowledge of the human rights abuses that he writes about: As a lawyer, he has represented dozens of Tanzanians who have been unlawfully detained, tortured and beaten. Magufuli’s victims that Mukiza, in his ivory tower, tells us do not exist are Lissu’s clients.

Being an MP did not protect Lissu from Magufuli’s abuses of power: He was arrested six times and charged with sedition for calling the president a “petty dictator.”

But when this did not silence the outspoken MP, he was gunned down outside his house, miraculously surviving 16 bullet wounds from assailants sent to finish him off for good. The good news is that last week, after multiple surgeries and intensive rehab, he was able for the first time in 20 months to walk without crutches.

Mukiza reassures us that the shooting was, according to the police, “very unfortunate” and something that “can happen in any country”.

Actually, the circumstances of the shooting were extremely suspicious.

Lissu was gunned down in his driveway in a heavily guarded parliamentary compound. The security guards who were normally on duty were absent. The CCTV footage is missing.

It was a targeted hit: Not a single shot was fired at Lissu’s driver. The driver is in hiding outside Tanzania and has not made himself available for questioning by the police because he fears for his life.

Lissu’s shooting came two hours after Magufuli said on television, in full view of the nation, that “when the country is engaged in an economic war, those who betray the country and oppose the struggle… don’t deserve to survive”.

Later, when parliament refused to pay Lissu’s medical costs, the speaker of parliament revealed that it was Magufuli himself who had withheld authorisation of funds for his treatment.

Mukiza also dismisses the abduction and torture to within an inch of his life of Mdude Nyagali, a prominent opposition activist, blogger and critic of Magufuli, as “the kind of crime that happens all over the world”.

I have news for him, something we learnt in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid: State-sponsored thugs don’t hand out business cards.

These attacks on Magufuli’s critics are not isolated examples.

Bernard Saanane, the personal assistant to Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe, went missing in 2016 shortly after he questioned Magufuli’s academic credentials. He was never seen again.

The journalist Azory Gwanda disappeared in 2017 after exposing dozens of killings south of Dar es Salaam carried out by the security forces.

It was the investigation into the disappearance of Gwanda that brought Angela Quintal and Muthoki Momo of the Committee to Protect Journalists to Tanzania in November 2018, where they were arrested and detained before being deported.

Mukiza wants us to believe that the threat to the rule of law was that Quintal and Momo were working in Tanzania on tourist visas, not the permanent removal from society of the journalist who was reporting on mass killings.

What all these and many other incidents have in common is that despite claims that the crimes are being investigated, the police have not even bothered to round up and charge the usual suspects.

Mukiza’s claim that Tanzania is a beacon of democracy is extremely questionable.

While Tanzania has all the trappings of democracy, including a constitution providing for multiparty democracy and a bill of rights, and made great strides during the previous decades, Magufuli has effectively banned opposition politics since he came to power in 2016.

All opposition public meetings and rallies have been prohibited and even Central Committee meetings of the main opposition party Chadema have been raided and shut down.

Dozens of opposition members are in jail or on trial. MPs are frequently arrested for speeches made under privilege of parliament.

Many are charged with sedition, a law that has been on the statute books since British colonial times, but never before applied with such zealousness. It is basically defined as “making or publishing any statement that makes the government look bad”. Good luck in trying to be in opposition if is against the law to criticise the government.

The leader of the opposition, Freeman Mbowe, was recently released by the high court after being imprisoned for four months with another Chadema MP, Esther Mathiko, because he missed a court date where he was facing charges of sedition. Mbowe has been the victim of severe harassment over a number of years.

If Mmusi Maimane or Julius Malema were jailed for four months and charged for saying unpleasant things about the ANC we would not be proclaiming that South Africa is a beacon of democracy.

The most egregious example of the ruling party’s contempt for democracy is Zanzibar, an integral part of the union. During the elections in 2015, it soon became clear that the opposition Civic United Front was winning what all observers, including SADC and the East African Community, declared to be the best-run elections yet on the islands.

The military surrounded the hotel where the results were being announced and the Chama cha Mapinduzi- (ruling party) appointed electoral commission chairman appeared on television to announce that he was annulling the entire election, citing unspecified irregularities.

How would South Africans react if the ANC, without even the flimsiest fig-leaf of an excuse, cancelled the Western Cape elections because the Democratic Alliance was winning?

The “irregularities” have to this day never been explained and the opposition boycotted a rerun, expecting that it would be rigged to produce a different result.

Mukiza goes on to tell us that President Magufuli is a “pioneer of press freedom”. This is the same Magufuli who warned media owners in Dar es Salaam in 2017: “Watch it: do not think you have the freedom to criticise the government as you wish.”

Mukiza carefully parses his words when he mentions that no journalists are in detention for a “common felony”. I suspect that his definition of common felony excludes journalists and social media activists who are in jail under the Cybercrimes Act for criticising Magufuli and the ruling party, even in the most innocuous terms, on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Mukiza does not parse his words in seeking to justify the persecution of members of the LGBTQ community.

He writes: “There is no mass public harassment of homosexuals in Tanzania, other than those caught in the pants committing the immoral act.” Let that sink in.

Mukiza conjures up a Magufuli who is a giant casting a “global shadow” and mentions a number of public and private projects initiated by him that are under way. There is no space here to respond these claims, some of which Lissu already dealt with in his piece, and no doubt Magufuli is chalking up some achievements.

But Mukiza surely cannot have spoken to international investors, local businesspeople, the development community and donor agencies, civil society, the leaders of the Catholic Church and the Muslim community or European and American diplomats if he believes people think things are going well in Tanzania.

Mukiza and his ilk would have us believe that this hostility is part of some sinister Western agenda because Magufuli is standing up to the imperialists.

The truth is that ever since independence in 1961, Tanzania has benefited from official assistance, both bilateral and multilateral, from Western countries, more than from any other set of allies, China included. The West remains Tanzania’s key economic and trading partner and the main source of foreign direct investment. The annual development budget is almost wholly dependent on the goodwill and generosity of Western countries and the multilateral institutions they control. Tanzania has long been known in development circles as a “donor darling”.

The language of patriotism and radicalism parlayed by the Mukizas of the world is a very thin disguise for Tanzania’s dependency on those he denounces as imperialists.

Mukiza directs us to “study objective data to get the true picture of what is going on in Tanzania.” Yet Article 37 (2) of the Statistics Act of 2015 makes it a criminal offence, under pain of a large fine or six months in prison, to publish “unauthorised” statistics. The only legally available data in Tanzania are official government statistics.

The Tanzanian non-profit Twaweza conducted an opinion poll in 2018 that found that Magufuli’s approval ratings had plunged by 41% since he took office in 2016.

Twaweza’s executive director, Aidan Eyakuze, was warned that he did not have a permit to conduct the research and his passport was seized. No one has dared to publish a poll in Tanzania since.

The interesting take-away from the poll was that the public, after initial huge support for Magufuli’s crackdown on corruption, had lost confidence because they were not seeing results.

Mukiza cites the 2018 Global Peace Index Report (GPI), released by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) in the United States, which ranked Tanzania the “51st most peaceful” country among 163 countries, to refute the claim that human rights are deteriorating.

While I cannot claim to understand how the eminent panel arrived at this determination – and placed South Africa 125th— it might be that Magufuli’s crackdown on the press, opposition and civil society has had a chilling effect. That is one way of achieving peace.

Or it could reflect the fact that the image of Tanzania still benefits from the legacy of its former President Julius Nyerere, whose greatness is evidenced by the fact that Tanzania remained largely peaceful and free from tribalism for decades as its neighbours staggered through coups, wars and ethnic conflict.

Tanzania under Nyerere was a good friend of the liberation struggle and the bonds of deep affection with South Africa remain strong. There is incredible promise in the two countries working together.

It is not, as Mukiza alleges, Daily Maverick that is working to destroy the image of Tanzania. It is the crude authoritarianism of the Magufuli regime.

The reality, which the world is increasingly waking up to, will not be countered through nonsensical propaganda and denial. It will be done by ending repression, removing the impediments to free political activity and ceasing the persecution of anyone who gets in the way of the Bulldozer. DM

Phillip van Niekerk is the president of Calabar Africa, a consulting company that operates through sub-Saharan Africa. In a previous life, he spent 20 years as a journalist in South Africa, working as an Africa correspondent for the London Observer and Editor of the Mail & Guardian from 1996 to 2000.

Disclaimer: Phillip van Niekerk is a personal friend of Tundu Lissu.

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