Tanzania in Yet Another Lost Century

26 November 2014

By Deus Kibamba

The author is Executive Director, Tanzania Citizens’ Information Bureau. This is a chapter from a recently issued State of Right to Information in Africa Report 2014 and is reprinted with permission. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Despite a strong history of pan– Africanism and being one of the first countries to embrace open competitive elections, the United Republic of Tanzania has approached African Union treaties and mechanisms on transparency and accountability with caution. The country has ratified half of the six treaties on the access to information and is yet to adopt a national freedom of information law despite promises[1].

Tanzania is a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights but has since 1984 consistently violated its obligation in respect of article 9 regarding peoples’ right to information and article 62 on reporting to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on measures the state takes to promote and implement the Charter[2]. These violations undermine mutual accountability to the African system and governments and should be urgently addressed.

In 2008 the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights expressed serious concerns with Tanzania’s limited steps on promoting the rights protected by the Charter and made recommendations for improvement[3]. It is very unfortunate that the Government has not reported to the Commission since then and is overdue by three reports.

The joining of the Open Government Partnership by the Government of Tanzania is a positive development. The country is implementing the first OGP action plan whose main emphasis is promotion of e–Government, Open data and sub national governance[4]. Civil society organisations noted recently that they were happy with Government commitment to open government and constructive engagement with citizens. To consolidate this process President Jakaya Kikwete has promised that his government will adopt an access to information law within 2014[5].

Historically Tanzania, like most of Africa, has come a long way in terms of the right of citizen access to publicly held information. In the past, individual Tanzanians were barred from owning a television set. There are reports that some TV importation attempts by some wealthy Tanzanians in the 1970s met snags after the containers were confiscated on arrival at the dock in Dar es Salaam. Till very recently, citizen information requests to government offices have received very cold responses, if any. It is still common to receive mail with a wall calendar from a Ministry in Dar es Salaam packed in two envelopes with a “confidential” stamp on both, and an additional stamp on the New Year greetings letter inside the envelopes.

Calls for a new legal dispensation to replace some of the very draconian laws governing information and media regimes have been ignored by the government of Tanzania. Even state initiatives towards legislating have targeted Media control. Such was the case in 2006 when the Ministry of Information released a Bill for the Freedom of Information Act, 2006 for stakeholder views. Ironically, massive response from stakeholders towards contributing views into the bill saw the government lose interest in the entire process. As of September 2014, the Government of Tanzania was yet to regain new vigour for taking the agenda for legislating for access to information forward. Despite repeated promises by key government officials in Parliament and international conferences that there would be a Bill to be tabled in Parliament any time soon, the soon has tended to be very prolonged. It remains to be seen when exactly the government will be ready to enact a law for the regulation of the citizen right to access information.

When the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania was amended in its article 18 in 2005 to broaden the right to information, there was a lot of optimism that the new language of the Constitution would have a positive spill–over effect on the existing legal framework, such as the Newspapers Act, 1976 and the National Security Act, 1975, which have very restrictive provisions on information rights. Unfortunately, this positive spill–over not been forthcoming and despite well–crafted campaigns for the repeal of repressive laws relating to freedom of opinion, expression and the right to know, Tanzania seems to have opted to implement human rights selectively.

For instance, it remains puzzling why the same government would come forward to sign and become party to international and pan–African transparency promotion initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership (OGP), Universal Periodic Review (UPR) or even the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) while maintaining a crackdown on their press in two ways: First, by keeping laws that curtail press freedoms and suppressing and intimidating the media through regular suspension and disbandment of newspapers and radio stations. It does seem as if the government of Tanzania is opening itself up to such initiatives only as a public relations strategy to the international community. This is why most promises, including one that H.E President, Dr Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete made at the Global OGP Summit at the close of last year in London, have fallen in the same trap. In the last promise, the President had committed the government to tabling a Right to Information Bill by April 2014. Instead, a ministerial budget speech made in parliament in May has returned with the same language for the past eight has made good progress”[6].

A more serious trend has emerged in the country, whereby state coercive forces have been implicated in the killings of journalists at work on three occasions, including the brutal assassination of Mr Daudi Mwangosi at a Political rally organized by the main opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) in Nyololo, Iringa on September 2, 2013[7].

So far, the main arguments justifying the call for enacting two pieces of legislation to regulate access to information have been: First, that current jurisprudence governing both general access to information as well as Press freedom is very outdated, draconian and retrogressive. A presidential commission of inquiry identified the Newspapers Act, 1976 and the National Security Act, 1975 as laws that are too bad to continue existing and being used. There were 38 other laws in this list but only a handful have since been repealed or amended[8]. The Newspapers and National Security acts remain unchanged, except for an attempted amendment which rejected by parliament and Media Stakeholders in 2013 for having included provisions that increased fines and other penalties for violating the principal bad laws.

As speak, the state of the right to information is far from being progressive. In rural areas where Tanzania Citizens’ Information Bureau (TCIB) runs Rural Information Centres (RICs), residents are greatly concerned with both the lack of proactivity in local government offices providing information to the general public and the lack of response to requests officially made by circles of informed citizenry. In (Kitonga), Iringa and Micheweni (Pemba), TCIB learnt that two men had sought information from the office of the Village Executive Officer relating to food rations but had not received a reply for between five (5) and seven (7) years, respectively. The absence of a specific Law akin to the RTI Act in India, Uganda, Ethiopia or Nigeria on the basis of which citizens would initiate court action against the denial of information meant that there was very little to be done on the side of citizens but go silent.

This has led to citizen apathy in most of rural Tanzania. During the last general elections, Tanzania’s voter turn out reduced to as low as 42%. Lack of access to information and associated rights was impacting very negatively on Tanzania’s efforts towards poverty reduction and the course of achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, which is imminent. As a conclusion, I wish to submit that unless information becomes a fully guaranteed right, Tanzania may have another ‘lost century’ even as we speak of realizing development in the manner envisaged in her Vision 2025 and the many development plans and programmes in existence[9].

Recommendations

  1. Tanzania needs to move on and pass the Right to Information Bill, 2007 and the Media Services Bill, 2008 two outstanding bills into laws soon rather than later. These were finalized by Information and Media Stakeholders as their contribution to the Bill earlier released by the Tanzania government for public inputs.
  2. Tanzania provided the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) an outstanding Secretary General in the person of Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim. It is also the home of the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the East African Community Secretariat as well as the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). This commitment to the African Union, its values and principles should be extended to ratification and effective implementation of the Union’s treaties that promote the right to information in Africa including the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, African Charter on Values and Principles of Public Service Administration and the African Statistics Charter.
  3. It is of urgency that Tanzania makes an urgent statement of explanation to the next Heads of State Summit in January 2015 on its status with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Government should also prepare and start meeting its obligations under the Charter.
  4. Tanzania has in its draft Open Government Partnership country action plan prioritised transparency, citizen engagement and public integrity. It is recommended that the government fully implements these commitments that have been agreed in consultation with citizens.
  5. The ongoing constitution making process is a great opportunity for expanding Tanzania’s right to information regime and Tanzanians should make optimum use of it. The government must agree to the drawing of a new roadmap for the successful completion of the constitutional project even as it becomes necessary that the process must go on recess to allow for the forthcoming presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections in late October 2015.

 


 

http://www.au.int/en/treaties

http://www.achpr.org/states/tanzania/reports/2to10-1992-2008/

http://www.achpr.org/files/sessions/43rd/conc-obs/2to10-1992-2008/achpr43_conc_staterep2to10_tanzania_2008_eng. pdf

http://www.opengovpartnership.org/country/tanzania

http://www.opengovpartnership.org/summary-london-summit-commitments

6 Budget Speech by Tanzania’s Minister for Information, Culture, Sports and Broadcasting, Dr Fenella Mukangara, URT

7 Union of Tanzania Press Clubs condemnation – One year after the Killing of DaudiMwangosi, UTPC, September 2013.

8 Presidential or Nyalali Commission Report, 17th February 1992, para 597

9 Big Results Now (BRN), National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty (NSGRP), Business Formalisation Programme for Tanzania (MKURABITA), Tanzania National Five Year Development Plan (2013 – 2018) and many others.

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