European Union envoy recall shakes Tanzania relations

Saturday November 10 2018

Tanzania's President John Pombe Magufuli.  AFP PHOTO | FILE

Tanzanian President John Magufuli came to office three years ago promising to nip corruption in the bud, reinstate discipline in the civil service and improve revenue collection. But it is his democratic credentials that are in the limelight. PHOTO FILE | NMG 

CHRISTOPHER KIDANKA
By CHRISTOPHER KIDANKA
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Tanzanian President John Magufuli came to office three years ago promising to nip corruption in the bud, reinstate discipline in the civil service and improve revenue collection. But it is his democratic credentials that are in the limelight.

On November 2, Tanzanians were surprised by news that the European Union had recalled its ambassador to Tanzania, Roeland van de Geer, “for consultation concerning the human rights situation in the country” before the bloc reviews its relations with the country.

According to a statement by the EU, the envoy is expected to brief the EU headquarters on the human-rights situation in Tanzania.

Mr van de Geer was known for his critical stance on issues like the arbitrary arrests of politicians, the crackdown of opposition parties and ban on political rallies, and violence against those who seem to be critical to the establishment.

During the 39th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, the EU expressed concern over the violation of human rights in Tanzania, citing arbitrary arrests of human-rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and members of parliament.

In a statement released during the session, the EU said that a free and vibrant civil society and a strong independent media were crucial in the fight against corruption in Tanzania.

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The statement noted that there have been increased arrests of opposition members of parliament since 2015, with restrictions of assembly imposed on leaders of opposition parties.

The European media’s reporting on President Magufuli has been negative recently, highlighting his statements against family planning, discontinuation of pregnant schoolgirls, and targeting of lesbians and gays.

Two weeks ago, Dar es Salaam regional commissioner Paul Makonda launched an anti-gay crackdown. He formed a 15-man team to identify and arrest people engaging in same-sex relationships, which according to Tanzanian law is criminal.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry later clarified that Mr Makonda was voicing his own opinion and the planned crackdown did not have national government blessing.

On trade, Tanzania has spoilt the pie for Europe to enjoy free entry of its products into East Africa by refusing to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and the EAC.

Kenya is keen to ink the EPA due to its lucrative cut-flower business, and has tried to convince other member states to sign the deal.

According to former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, the agreement is antithetical to the country’s as well as the region’s trade and development prospects.

“As a Least Developed Country Tanzania already enjoys the Everything But Arms preference scheme provided by the EU. If we sign the EPA, we would still get the same duty-free access, but in return, we would have to open up our markets to EU exports,” he wrote in an OpEd to The EastAfrican in July 2016.

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