Tanzania’s Illiberal Tilt
Tanzania’s High Court has issued a temporary injunction blocking the new regulations; nonetheless, the government is still getting its way. For example, after the influential online whistleblower site Jamii Forums stopped publishing in mid-June because it was in violation of the rules, other bloggers voluntarily followed suit.
Media outlets are not the only victims of Magufuli’s crackdown; civil-society organizations are also being targeted. For example, in late 2017, the government began what it called an NGO “verification” exercise, ostensibly to update the federal database of non-governmental organizations, but more likely aimed at curtailing the number of groups operating beyond government control. Registration was so costly and time-consuming that many organizations were forced to choose between closing and operating illegally.
African governments have joined dozens of civil-society groups in calling for Magufuli to reverse course. But at the moment, an atmosphere of impunity is emboldening those intent on silencing human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition leaders. In April, efforts to organize anti-government protests were met with official threats and intimidation. One police official even warned that anyone who ignored the government’s ban on demonstrating would be “beaten like stray dogs.”
Such threats come amid a surge in political violence. In September 2017, for example, Tundu Lissu, an outspoken government critic, was shot during a failed assassination attempt. Two months later, Azory Gwanda, a freelance journalist who wrote several news stories about the murders of local officials and police officers, was abducted and is still missing. And in February, machete-wielding assailants murdered opposition politician Godfrey Luena outside his home.
Why are Magufuli and his supporters so intent on stifling dissent? Some analysts believe the president is attempting to cement power for the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party. Others argue that Magufuli’s anti-corruption drive pushed CCM elites into the arms of the opposition, and that his political survival depends on removing the threat they now pose.
Whatever the reason, there is no excuse for government-sanctioned attacks on freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Two years ago, Magufuli – who is known as “The Bulldozer” – came to office vowing to end graft and curb wasteful government spending. As noble as these goals are, they will be overshadowed if he continues his campaign against those who entrusted him with their hopes.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2016.–project-syndicate.org