OP-ED Opinions 

News24.com | Tanzania continues clampdown with new restrictive laws that undermine development

2019-07-10 09:24

Tanzania’s human rights comes in the form of sweeping new legislation, rushed through its parliament last week, that places new punitive restrictions on civil society organisations and tourism, writes Paul Mulindwa.

While the government of Tanzania trumpets its Vision
2025 – a lofty plan to become a middle-income country within the next six years
through sustainable development – it continues to thwart real development with
its ongoing campaign to clampdown on fundamental freedoms in the country.

Its latest attack on human rights comes in the form of
sweeping new legislation, rushed through its parliament last week, that places
new punitive restrictions on civil society organisations (CSOs) and tourism in
Tanzania.  

The Written Laws
(Miscellaneous Amendments) (No 3) Act of 2019, which was published at the end
of May, presents amendments to eight different laws including the NGOs Act,
Companies Act, Statistics Act, Societies Act and Films and Stage Plays
Act. 

The changes to the NGO Act give the
Registrar of NGOs sweeping and wide discretionary powers to suspend non-governmental
organisations and evaluate, investigate and suspend their operations. The legislation
requires these civil society groups, including community-based and self-help
groups, to publish their annual audited financial reports in mainstream media
imposing a cost burden that could bankrupt small, grassroots organisations. The
authorities can also refuse to register any organisation – such as churches or
mosques – without giving a valid reason. In terms of these
amendments, affected NGOs do not have a clear legal recourse to challenge such
decisions.

The Companies Act amendments likewise give the
Registrar of Companies broad new powers and wide discretion to de-register a
company on the basis of undefined terms such as “terrorism financing”
or “operating contrary to its objectives”. The changes allow the registrar
the discretion to deregister companies for associating with or supporting the
activities of NGOs. The implications of this for business, as well as employment
and communities’ access to services, are serious.

In a country with a booming tourism sector – tourism
comprises 15% of the national GDP – and a marketing campaign to attract
international film production, lawmakers also enacted changes to the Films and
Stage Plays Act that could harm both these industries. The legislation makes it
illegal for tourists and filmmakers to leave the country without first
submitting to the authorities all raw footage and photos and locations where
they were shot during their stay, in order to receive prescribed official
clearance.

In enacting these new restrictive laws, the government
of President John Magafuli, which has adopted the United Nations 2030 Agenda
for Sustainable Development, fails to understand how the repression of human
rights negatively impacts development. Civil society is a vital stakeholder in
the process of sustainable development and by taking steps to restrict the work
CSOs, this administration is undermining its own sustainable development – and
Vision 2025 – programmes.

Intention to exclude
citizen participation

The fact that the new laws were rushed through
parliament with a “certificate of urgency”, allowing civil society
unacceptably little time to review, consult and provide feedback, indicates an
intention by government to exclude citizen participation. The whole process contravened
the values of justice, equality, participation, and inclusion enshrined in
Tanzanian constitution.

However, the Tanzanian experience is not unique in the
region, this kind of environment is sadly part of a general trend in many
African countries. A growing number of governments on the continent in recent
years, have used repressive legislation and policies, especially that relate to
the expression of dissent, to stifle and restrict civic space – the space for
civil society.

In June 2019, Zimbabwe government released on bail
seven activists, after spending close to a month in detention on tramped up
political related charges. In Guinea Bissau, for instance, the government
allows peaceful protests on weekends but not near a public place or government
buildings. The country is currently experiencing massive civil service strikes
related to unpaid salaries. Uganda’s Public Management Act gives a designated
minister the power to decide where protests against such issues may take place.

Many African authorities have shut down and banned
media houses for coverage on excesses of their government. In 2018, four Tanzanian
newspapers were banned for publishing articles critical of Magufuli. Meanwhile in
Cameroon, almost a fifth of the country’s population has been adversely affected
by state crackdown on the use of English in the media, including social media,
schools and other public spaces.

Journalists continue to be detained without trial in
Egypt and Sudan. In April, the Uganda Communication Commission ordered nine
media houses to sack workers for a live broadcast of opposition leaders’ political
activities of opposition leaders, said to be in contravention of broadcasting
standards. Ironically, Uganda has welcomed asylum seekers fleeing countries such
as Eritrea, where civic space is closed. In neighbouring country Burundi, state-controlled media
is increasingly replacing independent radio stations, most of which
were forced to close during a crisis in 2016.

Meanwhile
in Zambia, only protests and assemblies supported by the ruling party are
allowed and given protection by the police, while other protests are associated
with opposition parties and are not allowed to conduct their activities, even
under the protection of the constitution.

Much as all these countries are signatories of the
African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the African Union Declaration
of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, most of them in different
ways, have restrictive legal frameworks that limit or stifle civic space. These
laws are given different names such as Public Order Management Act, Access to
Information Act, Media, Computer Misuse Act, and Anti-Terrorism Act, but they
all used to the same effect. The terms of many pieces of legislation are
sufficiently broad to be applied to democratic expressions of dissent.

Channels for consultation
crucial

The UN Special rapporteur on the rights to
freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clemet Voule, has continuously
urged African leaders to establish meaningful partnership with civic actors and
provide a conducive environment – legally, politically, economically and
socially – that will enhance implementation of SDGs in Africa.  

In light of this, states must create channels for
extensive consultations and provide adequate opportunities for all citizens,
including civil society, to engage with and understand the policies that affect
their live and more so that have direct bearing on achieving sustainable
development on the continent.

In countries such
as Tanzania, civil society must continue to engage and work with their
respective governments, regional mechanisms, and international spaces, to highlight
and advocate for a free and conducive civic space that promotes an environment
for sustainable development; while the state must respect their national,
regional and international obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human
rights.

– Paul Mulindwa is an advocacy and campaigns officer with CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations.

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