Is President Magufuli of Tanzania becoming autocratic?

Is President Magufuli of Tanzania becoming autocratic?

Dr. John Pombe Magufuli became president of the republic of Tanzania on November 5th, 2015 after securing 58 percent of votes. Since he took the office of the president, many agree that he kept his promise of fighting poverty, corruption and healthcare problems facing the nation.  He fired incompetent civil servants and used funds to address social problems. In April, he fired 9,000 civil servants for producing fake educational certificates. He was praised nationally and internationally when he took funds meant to celebrate Independence Day and used it for anti cholera operations. His government is currently building roads, rail ways and pipelines which could connect with Uganda. His strict leadership and a commitment towards achieving his goals earned him the title of “the Bulldozer.”  As a result of his cutting of unnecessary government expenditure, the hash tag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo became popular and quiet common. On August 2016, President Joseph Magufuli was recognized as the best president in the world by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

President Magufuli, in his two years in office, brought meaningful changes for Tanzanians. However, his method seems to ignore basic human rights such as freedom of speech and press, women rights, and the respect for the multi party system in the country. Some of the measures taken by the president that hampered human rights include:

  1. Violation of women rights

In 2017, Magufuli stated that “as long as he is President, no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school… After getting pregnant, you are done.”  Several human rights organizations criticized such statements claiming that it further stigmatizes young girls who often are victims of sexual abuses. Obviously girls are getting pregnant at an early age because of either sexual violence or lack of awareness about their reproductive health. The statement made by the President is clearly against international principles and standards of women’s rights.

  1. Banning of News papers and Media outlets

Since Magufuli came to power, the media space has narrowed.  The government came up with a new directive which requires registration of blogs and online platforms operating within the country and prohibits media that are deemed “offensive, morally improper or cause annoyance.”  Following this legislation, four new papers were banned. The well known newspapers, the Mwanahalisi and Mawio, were banned for one and two years respectively. Two private radio stations named Radio Five and Magic FM were closed in 2016. Digital whistleblower outlets are also forced to reveal the identities of individuals who release sensitive information about the country or the regime. On January 02 2018, the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority fined five television stations: East Africa TV, ITV and Channel 10 with 15 million Tanzanian Shillings each and Star TV and Azam were fined 7.5 million Tanzanian Shillings.

These stations were fined after they reported voter repression allegations which include intimidation by the President’s camp during the election. Following fines against these television stations, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Deputy Executive Director, Robert Mahoney said “This is deeply disturbing for the future of independent reporting in Tanzania. The authorities must scrap these fines immediately and resist the temptation to use regulation to undermine rights guaranteed by law.”

On the January 02, Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority held a press conference during which the agency said that the five stations violated the broadcasting services regulations adopted in 2005. The authority further stated that the reports covered by the TV stations incite violence which threatens national peace and security.

  1. Anti multi party system approach

Magufuli’s regime has been being criticized for being arrogant and autocratic when dealing with opposition political parties.  Following the government ban of live television broadcasts of parliamentary debates, the opposition called for a public protest to challenge the decision. However, the Tanzanian police did not allow it to happen. Opposition law maker, Honorable Zitto Kabwe criticized such approaches of President Magufuli saying that “…he (President Magufuli) would like to see the country going forward, but he hates democracy, and without democracy, development is not sustainable, because without democracy the institutions of accountability, the inclusive institutions that will enable the country to move forward will not develop.”

In general, it is true that Magufuli brought positive development in the country, particularly by fighting corruption from its grass roots. However, many agree that such development should go hand in hand with the respect and protection of human rights. Development should not in any way come at the cost of denying basic rights of the people. Many democratic countries around the world have proven that development can be achieved by respecting and protecting human rights. It is time for the Magufuli regime to understand that developmental approach could only be vital when protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms are given proper attention.

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