Tanzania in fresh crackdown on freedom of the media

Saturday November 30 2019

A newspaper vendor reads a newspaper at his newsstand in Mwanza, Tanzania on September 19, 2015. The government has threatened journalists with legal action if they quote foreign sources in articles. PHOTO | DANIEL HAYDUK | AFP

By The EastAfrican

The Tanzanian government last week threatened legal action against journalists using foreign sources in their reports.

In a series of tweets, chief government spokesperson Dr Hassan Abbas accused reporters of spreading ‘’foreign propaganda’’ and “fake news’’ by quoting international organisations and foreign representatives.

“Some news outlets in the country have been approached, used and act as agents in spreading fake news, rumours and propaganda against our country from international organisations and representatives of foreign countries” reads one of the tweets.

Mr Abbas accused journalists of neglecting the principles of their profession by failing to fact-check.

“The government has made enough explanation, given enough warnings and enough pardons. Now we will take stern legal measures,” he added.

The onslaught on media freedom came hours after the British and American embassies in Tanzania issued statements questioning the legitimacy of the country’s civic elections, which were held across the country last Sunday.


The embassies said the government’s refusal to accredit observers before the polls and elimination of opposition candidates during the election process were cause for concern.

“We are deeply concerned about the handling of the civic elections,” wrote British High Commissioner Sarah Cooke.

“The lack of accreditation for credible domestic observation, co-ordinated disqualification of opposition candidates, and their decision to boycott have all denied Tanzanians the opportunity to decide their local leaders in a free, fair and transparent manner.”

In its statement, the United States added that these irregularities eroded faith in the outcome, in which the long-ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi won over 99.9 per cent of hundreds of thousands of seats contested.

Opposition boycott of Sunday’s vote for local leaders and councils, meant that CCM ran almost entirely unopposed in Dar es Salaam as just two out of 576 polling stations fielded opposition candidates.

The boycott was called by chairman of the leading opposition party Chadema, Freeman Mbowe, who dismissed the elections as unworthy of the name and claimed that harassment and exclusion of party members made a fair vote impossible.

“Our party believes it is wiser not to support such electoral cheating. To continue to participate in elections of this kind is to legitimise illegality," said Mr Mbowe.

While congratulating winners on tour this week in Nzega, Tabora, President John Pombe Magufuli argued that the boycott and crushing defeat of the opposition were valid.

“Even withdrawing is democracy, because if you think you are not strong enough, would you compete against a stronger opponent?” asked President Magufuli.

This is not the first time that foreign missions have criticised Tanzania for the way it has handled an election.

In 2015, several missions all spoke out with concerns over the manner in which semi-autonomous Zanzibar’s presidential election was handled.