Tanzania Elections
Tanzania 2020 General Elections

How State Apparatuses Silence Voices of Democracy
Tanzania elections
Tanzanians queue to cast their votes in the presidential election, at a polling station in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015.

Tanzanians are heading to the polls later this month on October 28, 2020 to elect presidents (for both Tanzania and Zanzibar), members of the National Assembly (and House of Representatives for Zanzibar) plus councillors for various wards countrywide. Several factors make this year’s general election unique since the reintroduction of multiparty democracy in Tanzania in 1992. Most profound of these factors however, is that this time around, people will be voting in an environment that has been dominated by political repression since the election of Mr. John Magufuli as the fifth President of the United Republic of Tanzania five years ago.

Political parties have been banned from conducting political activities; the press has been muzzled, dissidents arrested and detained, others killed or disappeared mysteriously  and freedom of expression almost unknown to many, just to name a few developments that characterize the last five years in Tanzania.

The current political situation in the country would not have been possible if state organs were not collaborating with the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM). The collaboration is working to ensure the maintenance of its hegemony at the expense of the nascent democratic development that Tanzanians envisaged when they welcomed the reintroduction of multiparty democracy back in the country. 

Using the police for example, the government of Tanzania harasses arrests and detains opposition politicians and activists, mainly for doing political works or expressing their opinions on platforms like social media. On June 23, 2020 for instance, police in Kilwa region in the Southern part of Tanzania arrested the leader of the opposition party ACT-Wazalendo, Mr. Zitto Kabwe and eight other party members while attending an internal meeting, which the police described as ‘illegal’. They were never charged, and after spending a full day in detention, Mr Kabwe and other party members were released the following day on bail. This is just one example of several cases where police interfere with opposition politicians’ activities in the country

Historically, civil society institutions have played a very instrumental role in condemning incidents such as these and to some extent have been able to secure some notable successes in improving Tanzania’s civic and political space. This however has recently turned them into a target of the very repression. The Office of the Registrar of Non-governmental Organisations has been used by the government to intimidate, suspend and deregister NGOs that are critical to the government. On June 24, 2020 the registrar suspended Inclusive Development for Citizens (IDC - Tanzania), a local organisation dealing with issues of inclusion for the excluded for allegedly violating the law guiding the operations of NGOs in Tanzania. This was after a reported failure by the organisation’s leadership to respond to a 30-day notice issued to the organisation requiring it to provide to the registrar, among other things, annual activity and audited financial reports for the year 2019, funding contracts, as well as the yearly strategic plan. IDC - Tanzania is associated with Maria Sarungi-Tsehai, an outspoken critic of President John Magufuli’s administration. Other NGOs that have been the victim of these forms of intimidations are the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) and the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), which on different occasions, have been required to explain why they should not be punished for allegedly failing to operate legally in Tanzania. THRDC is temporarily suspended its operations because of these circumstances.

In circumstances like these, one would expect that because Tanzania is a democracy, political parties would enjoy relative freedom in holding those in power to account. Nevertheless, this is also not the case. The Office of Political Parties’ Registrar has been policing opposition political parties in Tanzania, regularly threatening them with de-registration merely for doing their political work. On June 12, 2020, the Office of Political Parties Registrar demanded the opposition party ACT - Wazalendo to clarify reports that its leader Mr Zitto Kabwe had held talks with the British High Commissioner in Tanzania, Ms Sarah Cooke at her Masaki residence, which the Parties Registrar purported was against the law regulating political parties in Tanzania. The Registrar has also intimidated political parties that seek to cooperate in the upcoming general elections, calling such a thing illegal and threaten the parties with deregistration if they go ahead with their plan. 

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) has also been responsible for shaping the political climate in Tanzania in favour of the ruling CCM. The electoral body has been criticised that it lacks both the autonomy and independence essential for it to be able to oversee free and fair elections in Tanzania. Among many other things that demonstrate this, all of the NEC’s officials are appointed by the president with no parliamentary vetting: chairperson, director of elections, and commissioners. Also, NEC uses District Executive Directors (DEDs), who are also appointed by the president, as returning officers during elections. Human rights bodies contested in court the use of DED in vain. During the nomination process for the October 28th election, several opposition candidates were disqualified from the process. It came with no surprise then when NEC announced on September 18, 2020 that 20 parliamentary candidates from the ruling party have passed unopposed. In other words, they have already become members of parliament because of the disqualification of their opponents. 

It is very rare to find these repressions reported in the media because the government has applied both legal and extrajudicial means to silence the media and journalists, making them unable and unwilling to report on issues critical of the administration. Those who go against the government pay the price. On June 23, 2020 for example, the government banned Tanzania Daima newspaper accusing it of breaching the law and professional ethics. This was the second time Tanzania Daima was banned following a previous 90 days ban in 2017 on allegations of publishing false information. The government also, through the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), on July 7, 2020 suspended Kwanza TV, an online television network for 11 months for allegedly generating and disseminating ‘biased, misleading and disruptive content’. This was not the first time that TCRA shutdown Kwanza TV, as, on September 27, 2019 the regulator shut down the channel for six months, on alleged grounds of ‘airing misleading information, according to the station’s statement.’ TCRA also intimidate media outlets to make them less critical of the government. On August 10, 2020 TCRA summoned the management of Radio Free Africa (RFA) for interrogation, accusing it of violating the conditions of its license after it aired an interview with Mr Tundu Lissu, Chadema’s presidential candidate in the October 2020 elections where he claimed that he was denied by the government to pay his last respects to late former President Benjamin Mkapa. According to the TCRA, the local radio station was guilty of violating the regulations by airing Mr Lissu’s claims without seeking clarification from the government spokesperson.

The involvement of the state apparatuses in silencing democratic voices in Tanzania has also had another chilling effect: an absolute lack of equality in the treatment of the parties and their candidates by State apparatuses responsible for enforcing various laws governing elections. The Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) embody such inequality. It has handled differently corruption allegations when they involve the ruling party CCM and the main opposition party Chadema. In June 2020, the PCCB said to question 69 sitting and former Chadema legislators following embezzlement claims directed to the party. The Bureau reported on August 25, 2020 to have arrested Chadema’s parliamentary candidate for the Mtama constituency, Mr Suleiman Mathew, accusing him of offering a bribe worth 1,540,000/- (TZS) to an election officer. PCCB said Mr Mathew allegedly delivered the money to influence the electoral process in the constituency in his favor. When similar allegations brought up against CCM stating that the party’s electoral primaries muddled with massive corruption, the PCCB said they would leave CCM to investigate those claims. 

By and large, this is the context within which Tanzanians will be voting in the October 28th polls. If anything, all these incidents suggest that this year’s general election cannot be expected to be free and fair. This is because the amount of interference by the State organs in influencing the election outcomes in favour of CCM both legally and extrajudicial has been erroneously as demonstrated in this article. Opposition parties and their supporters, however, choose to participate in the election. Both them and other rights activists in Tanzania have called on both regional and international bodies to pay close attention to the developments in the country, and where necessary, make sure that the NEC is forced to declare only the legitimate victor in the polls.