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Is Tanzania’s democracy under threat?

Tanzania’s president John Magufuli has attracted all sorts of attention due to his overzealous and stern approach to transparency, accountability and a vast array of reforms. But in doing all this, is he clamping down on democracy and also making the poor sink deeper in the quagmires of poverty?

Magufuli has been know to be a long-serving minister in the regime’s government and many argue his true colours are already showing. Of importance to note is that Magufuli’s action-oriented manner has yielded some fruitful results for the country especially in improving public accountability and rooting out corruption. This has obviously won him some majority support from the populace as recent opinion polls in Tanzania show. He has shaken up the civil service in an unprecedented manner. Across central and local government and the parastatals, dozens of high-profile public servants have been suspended or dismissed. This has often been without proper regard for disciplinary processes or the law of the nation. In a country with growing inequality and a sense of widespread impunity, many ordinary citizens are happy to see heads rolling.

However John has preferred to mete out his action on people in a quick and tough way, without putting much emphasis on the rule of law. This has a resultant effect of fuelling impunity and disregard of the rule of law. He has also shown his true face as a leader, that although he wants to take action and be pragmatic, he does not favour democracy, especially the noble concept of multi-party politics. In July 2016, Magufuli effected a ban for all opposition political parties that they must not engage in rallies and any form of campaigning until the next elections in 2020. He had also banned internal party meetings but he rescinded this. By the time he did so, the police had begun implementing this with that kind of autocratic enthusiasm.

Opposition forces in Tanzania are now in chronic uncertainty. Two MPs from the opposition are in jail. In essence, Magufuli has instituted a de facto one party state, and is unfazed towards instilling a permanent sense of insecurity in the citizens. Add to that the press freedom has been stripped away. Draconian media and internet laws have seen people being arrested for insulting the name of the president online and in other media outlets.

Tanzania had made great strides in democracy, but recent actions by Magufuli seem to be undoing this. Every tenet of democracy is being undermined. Democracy is under threat.



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