President of Tanzania Forewarns Newspapers Against Spurring Dissent

Tanzanian President John Magufuli

On Friday, January 13, 2017,  the president of Tanzania, John Magufuli, forewarned newspapers against spurring dissent, with a stern rebuke “Your days are numbered!” This demanding reprimand was aimed at newspapers believed to provoke dissent. However, others are afraid that his remarks will only add to opposition against the government. There is a huge concern that Magufuli’s administration is going to push citizens into believing that they have no voice.

The Bulldozer of Policy

In the past, “the bulldozer” has been a nickname Magufuli has earned for his zeal for enforcing his policies. He has even attained some acclaim from Western benefactors for his anti-corruption drive and getting rid of lavish public spending. However, the feeling does not appear to be mutual. Strong enemies accuse the president of more and more demoralizing democracy by limiting dissent and suppressing freedom of speech. Although the constitution of Tanzania supports freedom of expression, quite a few other laws encourage self-censorship and keep a tight rein on the ability of the newspapers to operate successfully. Around 40 pieces of the legislature have been found as hostile to the journalists.

Tanzania’s National Security Act, for example, permits the government to discipline any investigative journalism that gets involved in the material it believes to be off the record. Possibly, the most notorious of these antipress decrees is the 1976 Newspaper Registration Statute, which authorizes powers that be to register or prohibit newspapers “in the awareness of peace and good order.”

In 2009, the publishing supervisor of MwanaHalisi, which had been closed in 2008, tried to sue the government, charging that the closure was illegal. At the end of 2011, the case was still undecided. Magufuli declared opposition protest illegal in 2016. Some secretly-owned newspapers have published editorials disapproving Magufuli’s treatment of the economy and some governance problems.

“We’re not going to permit Tanzania to be a dump yard for inciting [newspaper] subject matter. Under my administration, this will not be taking place,” Magufuli expressed at a gathering in the northwestern city of Shinyanga. Magufuli blamed two newspapers, which he did not name, of looking for trouble. “Whenever you read them, they are full of inciting content … their days are numbered,” he said.

Journalists Facing Legal Harassment

With the President of Tanzania forewarning newspapers against spurring dissent, journalists are on pins and needles in Tanzania. With the arrests of two individuals arrested for offending President John Magufuli on social media, many journalists are questioning their career. It has increased concerns among newspapers and specialists in Tanzania that an environment of fear and self-censorship is being created in news studios all over the nation.

These situations have created a condition where journalists are unwilling to narrate some of the tough stories. Instead, it has created a fear that their freedom of speech will be sabotaged powers that be. In the meantime, editors play it safe out of worries that their books, magazines, and newspapers could get put away.

In June, a man was charged for using abusive language against Magufuli on WhatsApp social media app. This comes after another case just a few weeks before where an individual was sentenced and send to prison for three years for using Facebook for calling Magufuli an “idiot”.

Freedom of Speech Under Fire

In 2015, Tanzania enacted a strict cyber crimes law under which numerous individuals have been indicted for violations, as well as offending the president. The action is punishable by more than three years in prison. With these strict regulations on the rise, for some citizens, the future of journalism in Tanzania appears to be questionable.

Many citizens are conflicted with the President of Tanzania’s warning newspapers against spurring disagreement. They feel that if they are not able to express their differences on issues, then it puts their freedom of speech in danger. One person, on Facebook, who called President Magufuli a bwege, which means “stupid person,” in Swahili was condemned to prison for three years of incarceration or pay a $200 fine. They chose to make the payment.

By Jomo Merritt
Edited by Cathy Milne

The Star: Your days are numbered, Magufuli warns newspapers over dissent
Deutsche Welle: Tanzania’s Magufuli leads fight against corruption
The East African: Tanzanian President Magufuli warns newspapers over dissent

Image Courtesy of GovernmentZA’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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