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Tanzania: Human Rights Restrictions Mounting

AfricaFocus Bulletin
November 11, 2019 (2019-11-11)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

In a joint press release in late October, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch announced two separately researched reports concluding that “Tanzania’s repression of the media, human rights defenders, and opposition parties has intensified since 2015. … Both reports found that President John Magufuli’s government has adopted or enforced a raft of repressive laws that stifle independent journalism and severely restrict the activities of nongovernmental organizations and the political opposition.”

With a record of decades of political stability, Tanzania appears less frequently in international news reports than many other African countries despite its population of 58 million people matching South Africa for 5th place among the most populous African countries (behind Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The World Bank reports that the country has sustained relatively high economic growth over the last decade, averaging 6–7% a year. For the first four decades after independence it was the key center of African continental support for the liberation of Southern Africa from white minority rule. But in the 21st century, lacking a major conflict or humanitarian crisis, it is likely better known for its tourism industry, its large consumer market, and its $1.5 billion of exports of gold, as well as other opportunities for large investors.

Tanzania´s capital city Dar es Salaam in 1961 and in 2019.

Nevertheless, new doubts are appearing among international financial institutions and foreign investors as well, based on the recent trends towards more authoritarian controls, including denying access to independent statistical information on the economy. In addition to reports from human rights organizations, public opinion polls also show a weakening of support for the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (Party of the Revolution) and President Magufuli. Critics are not yet in the majority, with many Tanzanians still providing at least passive support for the government, including the crackdown on the media. (For example, in 2017 AfroBarometer found that 56% agreed that “the government should have the right to prevent the media from publishing things that it considers harmful to society.”) But if economic disappointment continues to grow along with more human rights restrictions, so could disillusionment.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the joint AI/HRW press release, links to their full reports, and brief excerpts from separate polls by AfroBarometer and by Sauti ya Wananachi (Voice of the Citizens).

Immediately below, in this editor´s note, see additional links on human rights issues. A section with links to recent sources on the economy follows at the end of the bulletin.

On media rights in particular, both the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters without Borders (RSF) track press freedom worldwide, with extensive national-level coverage. Their reports on Tanzania are available at and

Other recent articles on Tanzania highlight crackdowns both on media and on civil society and opposition critics of the government:

Tanzania: Open letter to States for joint action to address crackdown on civic space and prevent a further deterioration of the situation,” Letter from African and global human rights organizations, August 16, 2018

Five things Tanzania's President 'Bulldozer' Magufuli has banned,” BBC, March 5, 2019

Tanzania’s democratic decline raises international concern,” The Citizen (South Africa), May 24, 2019

Tanzania president Magufuli condemned for authoritarian regime,” Guardian, October 29, 2019

Articles by imprisoned Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera, who was imprisoned at the end of July and is still in prison despite declining health, can be found at the following websites:

Kabendera´s last article published before his arrest appeared in the East African (Nairobi), and focused on dissenters within Tanzania´s ruling party.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Tanzania: Climate of Fear, Censorship as Repression Mounts

Repeal Repressive Laws; Investigate Abuses of Activists, Critics, Opponents

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch

October 28, 2019 safe/threats-independent-media-and-civil-society-tanzania

(Nairobi) – Tanzania’s repression of the media, human rights defenders, and opposition parties has intensified since 2015, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in two separate reports today.

Both reports found that President John Magufuli’s government has adopted or enforced a raft of repressive laws that stifle independent journalism and severely restrict the activities of nongovernmental organizations and the political opposition.

“As President Magufuli marks four years in office next month, he must carefully reflect on his government’s record of ruthlessly disemboweling the country’s human rights framework,” said Roland Ebole, Amnesty International’s Tanzania researcher. “His government must repeal all oppressive laws being used to clamp down on dissent, and urgently end human rights violations and abuses.”

“Tanzania should show true commitment to protecting and fulfilling the rights to freedom of expression and association,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to put a stop to harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests of activists, journalists, and opposition members.”

The report by Amnesty International, “The price of dissent: targeted by the State,” and the one by Human Rights Watch, “As Long as I am Quiet, I am Safe: Threats to Independent Media and Civil Society in Tanzania,” were researched and documented separately but their findings were similar. Both organizations carried out research in Tanzania over 2018.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 80 journalists, bloggers, lawyers, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, and members of political parties. Amnesty International interviewed 68 government officials, representatives of nongovernmental and intergovernmental groups, lawyers, academics, religious leaders, and diplomats, and reviewed court decisions, national laws, government notices, and orders.

The president and senior government officials frequently made anti- human rights statements, at times followed by cracking down on individuals and organizations. The dangerous rhetoric, coupled with arbitrary arrests and threats to deregister nongovernmental groups, has stifled independent reporting by journalists and public discussion on human rights violations and abuses including in the context of the upcoming elections.

Both organizations found that Tanzanian authorities undermined the rights to freedom of expression and association and media freedom by enforcing new and existing repressive laws and regulations governing media, nongovernmental organizations, and political parties.

Since 2015, the government has stepped up censorship by banning or suspending at least five newspapers for content deemed critical. These include Tanzania’s major English language daily newspaper, The Citizen, in 2019, and four others in 2017. The Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission shut down a radio station, Swahiba FM, in October 2015 because it reported on the annulment and subsequent rerun of the 2015 elections.

The authorities used the 2015 Cybercrimes Act to prosecute journalists and activists for social media posts. In November 2017, a court in the capital Dar es Salaam convicted Bob Chacha Wangwe, a human rights activist, for “publication of false information” under this law because he termed Zanzibar a colony of mainland Tanzania in a Facebook post. His conviction was overturned by the High Court on the grounds that the court had not properly determined elements of the offense.

The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, adopted in 2018, require anyone with a blog or a website to pay hefty license fees of up to 2.1 million Tanzania Shillings (more than USD900). This law also broadly restricts online content and permits surveillance of cybercafés without judicial oversight.

Tanzania’s government also controls independent research and public access to independent statistical information using the 2015 Statistics Act, denying citizens alternative sources of independently verified information. While amendments to this law introduced in 2019 removed criminal liability for publishing non-official statistics, the authorities still maintain control on who can gather and disseminate statistical information and determine what is factual or false.

“We see a dangerous repressive trend escalating in Tanzania,” Roland Ebole said. “The authorities are denying citizens their right to information by administering only those “truths” sanctioned by the state.”

In 2018, the Commission on Science and Technology (COSTECH) told Twaweza, a Tanzania-based organization, that it was not permitted to publish its Sauti za Wananchi (or “Voices of Citizens”) survey. The survey had indicated that Magufuli’s public approval rating had dropped significantly in 2018. In 2017, COSTECH and the Home Affairs Ministry prevented Human Rights Watch from holding a news conference on its report detailing abuses of Tanzanian migrant domestic workers in Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

In January 2019, parliament amended the Political Parties Act ushering in yet more wide-ranging restrictions on the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly. The amendments gave the Registrar of Political Parties the powers to deregister parties, demand information from political parties, and suspend party members. It also introduced a requirement for organizations and individuals to get approval before conducting civic education, inhibiting citizens’ rights to access information.

Magufuli, in July 2016, announced a blanket ban on political activities until 2020 in contravention of the country’s laws. The ban has been selectively applied against the opposition. Several opposition politicians have since been arrested and prosecuted on trumped-up charges.

In 2017, unidentified assailants shot an opposition member of parliament, Tundu Lissu, and in 2018, unidentified assailants killed two officials, Daniel John and Godfrey Luena, of the main opposition party, Chadema. Although police said they are investigating these killings, no arrests have been made yet.

The Tanzanian government must immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against journalists and politicians simply for exercising their rights to free expression and association, said Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

"The regressive policies and actions have stifled the media, sown fear among civil society, and restricted the playing field for political parties in the lead-up to elections,” Nyeko said. “With only a year to go, this government needs to reverse these patterns of abuse and demonstrate a genuine commitment to the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly as protected in the constitution and under human rights treaties to which Tanzania is a state party."


Tanzanians see country on right track despite persistent poverty

Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 193

Diapatch No. 193 | 14 March 2018

Stephen Mwombela, Lulu Olan’g, and Thadeus Mboghoina

[Excerpts: Full report at economic-management-despite-persistent-poverty

Additional reports from Afrobarometer on Tanzania are available at

This includes tables summarizing answers to all questions in round 7 (May 2017).]


Over the past two decades, Africa has recorded high levels of economic growth. Tanzania has enjoyed Africa’s second-fastest- growing economy, behind Côte d'Ivoire, including average annual growth of almost 7% between 2012 and 2016 (International Monetary Fund, 2016). In line with the well-documented link between sustained economic growth and poverty reduction (Dollar, Kleineberg, & Kraay, 2013), estimates of basic-needs and extreme poverty declined, and the 2012 Household Budget Survey reported that the poverty headcount had dropped from 38.6% in 1991 to 28.4% (National Bureau of Statistics, 2014; World Bank, 2015). In addition to the creation of more and better jobs, Tanzania has recorded an increase in gross national income per capita from $320 in 2003 to $900 in 2016 (Kinyondo & Pelizzo, 2018).

But are these promising macroeconomic trends improving the lives of everyday citizens? Results of the most recent Afrobarometer survey show that Tanzanians think their country is on the right track and are increasingly satisfied with their government’s economic management. But majorities still describe the economy and their own living conditions as bad, and the experience of lived poverty may be on the rise.

Afrobarometer survey

Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in African countries. Six rounds of surveys were conducted in up to 37 countries between 1999 and 2016, and Round 7 surveys are being conducted in 2016/2018. Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent’s choice with nationally representative samples.

The Afrobarometer team in Tanzania, led by REPOA, interviewed 2,400 adult Tanzanians in May 2017. A sample of this size yields country- level results with a margin of error of +/-2 at a 95% confidence level. Previous surveys were conducted in Tanzania in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2012, and 2014.

Key findings

* Six in 10 Tanzanians believe the country is going in the right direction (62%) and the government is handling the economy “fairly well” or “very well” (59%) – both striking improvements from 2014.

* But despite slight gains, about six in 10 respondents still describe the country’s economic situation (62%) and their personal living conditions (58%) as fairly/very bad.

* A majority (57%) of Tanzanians say the country’s economic situation is “worse” or “much worse” than a year ago. But the proportion of respondents who are optimistic that things will improve in a year’s time has almost doubled since 2014, to 38%.

* Popular assessments of the government’s performance have improved on a range of issues, including management of the economy. But only one-quarter (23%) of Tanzanians say the government is doing well on food security, down from 43% in 2014.

* Growing numbers of Tanzanians report going without basic necessities, including four in 10 who went without enough clean water (42%) and without medical care (40%) at least “several times” during the previous year. Three-fourths (76%) say they went without a cash income at least “several times.”


Speaking truth to power? Citizens’ views on politics in Tanzania

Sauti za Wananchi

Brief No. 48 , July, 2018

[Excerpts: for full text, including graphs, visit print.pdf]

1. Introduction

Tanzania’s fifth phase administration, under President Magufuli, started with a bang. Immediately after the new President had been inaugurated in November 2015, a series of high profile actions to tackle corruption and wasteful public expenditure attracted popular support and widespread praise both within and outside the country. A Sauti za Wananchi survey round in 2016 found a very high level of approval (96%) for the President’s performance.

As early as January 2016, however, alarm was already being raised by the government’s decision to stop live TV and radio broadcasts of parliamentary sessions 2 . Since then, though praise and support for the President’s actions from a wide range of actors has continued, it has been accompanied by a regular chorus of critics, largely focussed on two main areas of concern.

First, critics have pointed to a decline in respect for democratic rights and freedoms. New restrictions have been introduced both in law and in practice on the political freedoms of opposition parties, the media, civil society and even citizens. These include bans on political rallies and meetings, the arrest of several opposition politicians for sedition and other offences, bans and suspensions of several independent newspapers, and perceived heavy- handed policing of political matters including freedom of expression.

Second, some have noted signs that the national economy may be suffering. Concerns about food security in late 2016 and early 2017 have eased, but worries about the wider economy have grown to take their place. In part, this has been fed by declines in imports and exports and a tightening of credit to the private sector. It is also grounded in anecdotal evidence of difficult operating conditions both for business and for individual households and citizens’ own views: the proportion mentioning poverty or economic issues as a major challenge for the country rose from 34% in 2015 to 72% in 2018.

At the halfway mark for the first term of this administration, this brief presents data on citizens’ views on political matters in Tanzania. What do citizens understand by key terms such as democracy, constitution and sedition? Do they perceive any change in freedom of assembly and freedom ofexpression in the last few years? What do citizens see as the role of opposition parties, and to what extent do they support controls on Presidential power? Which political parties to citizens feel closest to? And how do they rate the performance of elected representatives, including the President?

Data for the brief come from Twaweza’s flagship Sauti za Wananchi survey. Sauti za Wananchi is a nationally-representative, high- frequency mobile phone panel survey. It is representative for Mainland Tanzania (not including Zanzibar). Information on the overall methodology is available at For this brief, data were collected from 1,241 respondents from the 27th round of the second Sauti za Wananchi panel, conducted between 15 and 24 April, 2018. …

Fact 2: Citizens say they have less freedom than they did three years ago

Across a range of different freedoms, citizens consistently say their freedom has declined in the past three years. The decline is most marked in the case of independent institutions: six out of ten citizens say the freedom of opposition parties (64%), the media (62%) and civil society (58%) has declined. Citizens also say their individual freedoms have declined, including freedom to say what they think about political matters (54%), to form groups or organisations (47%) and to join political organisations (37%).

Fact 3: Support for opposition party rights has increased since 2016

Four out of ten citizens (37%) say opposition parties should criticise and monitor the government between elections in order to hold it to account, up from two out of ten (20%) who felt this way in 2016. A majority still prefer the statement that opposition parties should accept defeat and support government efforts to develop the country in-between elections.

Similarly, support for the right of opposition parties to hold meetings and rallies has increased, from five out of ten (51%) in 2016, to six out of ten citizens (64%) in 2018. The alternative view – that opposition party rallies outside election campaign periods are a distraction – has declined in popularity over the same period.

Public support for multiparty democracy remains strong, largely unchanged since 2016. Five out of six citizens (84%) prefer the statement that many political parties are needed, leaving one out of six (16%) who prefer the alternative, that parties create division and confusion.

Fact 9: Just over half the population approve of the performance of President Magufuli

A little over half the population (55%) approve of the performance of President Magufuli since he came to office in 2015. This is down from 71% a year ago, and 96% in 2016. The drop is such that in a period of two years the Presidential approval rating has gone from the highest rating on record for a Tanzanian President to the lowest.


Recent updates on Tanzania economy

"World Bank contradicts Tanzania's growth estimates,” Reuters, July 18, 2019

Overview from World Bank, last updated Sept. 30, 2019

Barrick Gold reaches deal with Tanzania over Acacia Mining,” Reuters, Oct. 20, 2019

Barrick Gold and Tanzania reach $300m deal on Acacia Mining,” Mining Technology, Oct. 21, 2019

Why Tanzania deserves a bigger share in Barrick Gold deal,” The Citizen (Dar es Salaam), Oct. 26, 2019 – civil society critique of the terms of the deal.

Political crackdown harms Tanzania's infrastructure ambitions,” Euromoney, Nov. 4, 2019

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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