Tanzania: Pentagon Think Tank Accuses Tanzania's Magufuli of Political Repression

Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli.
11 September 2020

Tanzania's "democratic experiment" is imperiled by repressive laws and political violence being carried out by the country's ruling party, a think tank affiliated with the US Defence Department warned on Tuesday.

Over the past five years, President John Magufuli "has banned rallies, muzzled the press, cowed and co-opted independent institutions and committed overt and covert violence against political opponents and 'dissenters' within the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party," said an analysis by the Washington-based Africa Centre for Strategic Studies.

"Tanzanians today live in a climate increasingly filled with fear and reticence to exercise their rights lest they run afoul of a raft of new restrictive laws or suffer physical retribution," the think tank added.

The ruling party's anti-democratic actions could thus call into question any claim of victory it makes in the national elections scheduled for next month, the centre predicted.

"This will necessarily have consequences for ties between the Magufuli government and democracy-supporting regional and international actors."

The analysts drew a sharp contrast between President Magufuli's autocratic rule and founding President Julius Nyerere's commitment to democratic norms.

Mwalimu Nyerere "conceived of African liberation as the building of inclusive democracy, a free press, tolerance of criticism, respect for minorities and limits on power," the Africa Centre observed.

Under President Magufuli, however, Tanzania has witnessed "a pattern of murders, assaults and disappearances" aimed at opposition activists and figures within CCM who criticise the country's direction.

"Violence has become deeply embedded in CCM's current calculus of control," the Pentagon think tank stated.

The Africa Centre quotes independent commentator Andrew Bomani, whose father worked as an aide to President Nyerere, as lamenting: "We had come to believe in a form of exceptionalism that such practices could never happen in our country."

Media freedom

Freedom of the press has also deteriorated markedly since President Magufuli came to power in 2015, the assessment noted.

It cited the country's descent from 70th to 124th place in the annual global press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. That drop was the most precipitous of any country in the world during the past five years.

Many of the restrictions imposed on the Tanzanian society have been tightened this year on the grounds that such measures are needed to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the think tank notes.

President Magufuli has simultaneously claimed, however, that Tanzania has been purged of the virus. And the government has stopped publishing statistics on the number of infections in the country.

"Tanzania's lack of transparency in response to the pandemic is widely seen as having accelerated the virus's spread in East Africa," the Africa Centre stated.

Hope remains, however, that Tanzania will return to a democratic path.

Mwalimu Nyerere's legacy, along with interventions by faith-based bodies, can serve as "a source of resilience in navigating the way forward," the centre said.

In addition, "regional engagement is vitally important given Tanzania's historical role in continental affairs," the analysis suggested.

"This, however, must go beyond traditional diplomacy, given that the CCM is still viewed as a senior leader and mentor by fellow ruling liberation movements."

Much depends on these African leaders "overcoming their aversion to confronting the CCM", the think tank observed.

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