Now Tanzania gagging the opposition both inside and outside parliament

Saturday June 18 2016

Supporters of the opposition Chadema. Tanzania

Supporters of the opposition Chadema. Tanzania police have banned opposition parties from conducting planned nationwide protests for fear they could escalate into civil disobedience amid growing allegations that President John Magufuli was abusing his power. FILE PHOTO | AFP 

By JOSEPH KITHAMA

In just seven months of President John Magufuli’s administration, opposition leaders and critics of the ruling Cha cha Mapinduzi regime say they are being targeted for clampdown.

Recently, Arusha resident Emily Isaac was sentenced to three years in prison or a fine of Tsh7,000,000 ($3,200) under the infamous Cyber Crime Act, for posting on his Facebook page a comment criticising those who liken President Magufuli to founding president Julius Nyerere. He paid the fine.

On Thursday, police camped outside a Dar es Salaam preacher’s residence trying to quiz him over a clip that was circulating through social media calling on President Magufuli to ensure that former President Jakaya Kikwete gets indicted for alleged corruption during his 10-year tenure.

This followed questioning of former Zanzibar Civic United Front presidential candidate Seif Sharif Hamad, arraignment of Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe and questioning of ACT-Wazalendo supremo, Zitto Kabwe.

Mr Hamad, the former first-vice president of Zanzibar said Tanzania’s democracy is being extinguished by a crackdown on the opposition. In a lengthy interview with Voice of America (VOA), Mr Hamad criticised parliament’s decision to ban live coverage of its sessions and instead replace it with media programmes edited by parliament officials.

An opinion poll conducted by Twaweza (a non-governmental organisation), found that 80 per cent of respondents of a question on the ban on live parliament coverage were dismayed by the decision.

Kabwe on the run

The government has also banned political rallies and demonstrations, with the police citing a delicate security situation.

Mr Kabwe was on the run last week after police announced that they wanted him for interrogation over political statements he had made at a press conference accusing President Magufuli of dictatorial tendencies. He later surrendered to the police.

Addressing the media, Mr Kabwe asked: “Why has President Magufuli remained silent amid continued harassment of opposition leaders and a crackdown on their meetings and other democratic activities?” He charged that President Magufuli is “sowing the seeds of dictatorship and we, in the opposition we will not accept that.”

Mr Kabwe is one of opposition MPs who have been temporarily dismissed from parliament and restricted to addressing public rallies through the government ban.

Recently, there was a protest in parliament by members when deputy Speaker Tulia Ackson turned down a request by the opposition to suspend the House’s usual business in order to discuss what they considered the urgent matter of the dismissal of over 7,000 students of the Dodoma University over enrolment irregularities.

The opposition camp in parliament is now boycotting sessions chaired by Dr Ackson in a bid to oust her. They also accused the Magufuli administration of interfering with the business of the House.

'Military rule'

Prof Mwesiga Baregu, a political scientist at St Augustine University of Tanzania said the appointment of retired army officers to the civil service was “early indicator of military rule in Tanzania.”

Retired army officers are Maj-Gen Ezekiel Kyunga was appointed Regional Commissioner (RC) for Geita; Gen Salum Kijuu, RC for Kagera and Brig-Gen Emmanuel Maganga, RC for Kigoma.

Others are Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources, Maj-Gen Gaudence Milanzi, Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police, Paul Chagonja, who serves as Regional Administrative Secretary for Katavi and PS Home Affairs, Maj-Gen Projest Rwegasira.

However, a political scientist at the University of Dar es Salaam, Dr Benson Bana, said that the appointment of retired and serving military and police personnel to the civil service is neither new nor bad for governance because it instils discipline in the service.

Addressing a symposium organised by the Mwalimu Nyerere Professorial Chair of Pan Africanism at University of Dar es Salaam journalist Jenerali Ulimwengu accused the government for infringing on freedoms of expression and representation, saying Tanzania had regressed 50 years.

Mr Ulimwengu said the CCM government has never been prepared for competitive politics but was forced by circumstances to adopt the system, and was now struggling to recover from the one-party system hangover.

The essence of the opposition

Political parties

In Tanzania operate under the Political Parties (Registration) Act (1992) which gives requirement of registration and guarantee political pluralism, but a crackdown on demonstrations, rallies and political comments have been a common phenomenon in the past 20 years.

There are 22 registered political parties. Seven parties have representation in parliament with 118 out of 396 members.

Opposition politics in Tanzania is mainly instrumental during election campaigns and in parliament, mainly characterised by opposition boycott of sessions.

The opposition is mainly at odds with the government regarding human rights, democratic practice and corruption but has never managed to get a groundswell of support for a mass uprising or public protests.

Key figures in the opposition tend to come out strongly during electioneering and later resort to holding public rallies risking harassment from police who end up teargassing their rallies.

Private media and civil society movements are accused of being sympathetic to the opposition when they issue statements and write editorials condemning such acts.

This week, the executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre, Dr Helen Kijo-Bisimba, condemned the “evident rising political intolerance that negates the fact that the Tanzania is a multi-party state where the opposition should be allowed to play its role and work as the opposition.”

She told The EastAfrican that denying the opposition their right of assembly and even suspending them from parliament, signals a rise of political intolerance in the country. Continuous harassment of the opposition has left majority of MPs disinterested in participating in parliamentary proceedings, she added.

The opposition in Tanzania has been instrumental in making public corruption scandals such as that of the purchase of radars from Britain in 2011, the 2008 stolen funds from the Bank of Tanzania and the most recent, the embezzlement of funds from the Escrow Account of the Bank of Tanzania.