Several African Nations Criticized at OGP Meeting

27 May 2015

Tanzania and several other African countries were chastised on the subject of access to information at a recent regional meeting of Open Government Partnership held May 20-21 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, however, told the delegates that he plans to sign two controversial bills — on media regulation bill and freedom of information — before he leaves office in October, giving no indication of yielding to requests that the bills should be open for amendment, reported IPP Media.

The laws created a backdrop for the OGP meeting at which civil society representatives issued a statement lamenting such developments.

“We note a disturbing trend towards the closing of civic space in Africa, including restrictions on basic freedoms, access to information and the overall enabling environment for civil society, and we are concerned about the implications of the closing of civic space on meaningful government-civil society engagement,” according to the statement.

More specifically, the CSO statement said, “The Government of Tanzania; in particular; to rapidly revisit recent legislation on Statistics, Cybercrime, Access to Information and Media Services, to ensure that space for open public debate, including room for dissenting voices, is robustly protected.”

The statement also called on:

  • Governments of Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Ghana to urgently adopt comprehensive national access to information laws that would empower their citizens; and help them understand government programmes better.
  • Governments of South Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Tunisia to fulfil the promise of their access to information laws; by ensuring that they are implemented and enforced.

Conspicuously absent from the meeting was the government of Ghana, as noted in an article by Ugonna Ukaigwe, who heads the right to information coalition in Ghana. She wrote, “Ghana’s absence was made particularly obvious mainly because she did not make much progress in the implementation of the first national action plan even though there was strong civil society involvement in the development of the action plan.”

Media Fights Back in Tanzania

Kikwete appeared to give no quarter in his OGP address, saying, “I hope these media bills will be tabled in the ongoing session of the National Assembly and they will be the last bills to assent to law in my ten years leadership.”

Since then, media owners have continued their opposition to the two bills as written, suggesting that action be delayed until after the November election, according to reports in IPP Media and Asoka. In early April, the government retreated from plans to push the bills through without amendments. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

The Media Owners Association of Tanzania (Moat) is lobbying against the bills, particularly the Media Services Bill, which would strengthen government oversight and licensing of publishers and journalists, with stiff penalties. Kikwete indicated he would look into the possibility of meeting with civil society organizations, IPP Media said, but he also complained about opponents bring pressure to bear instead of talking with relevant authorities. IPP Media quoted him as saying, ““I believe in reconciliation, if there are people with genuine views should take them to the relevant authorities instead putting pressure to the government,” he said.

Twaweza Executive Director Aidan Eyakuze, speaking at the OGP meeting while Kikwete was there, called upon the government to revisit a recently passed law to require the use of only government statistics and another on cybercrime. The head of the Tanzanian CSO also urged modification of the FOI and media bills.

“Tanzania risks passing premature bills,” commented the the African Freedom of Information Centre in a statement, also saying, “The bills in their current state fail to meet standards set by the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in 2002 and African Union Model Law on Access to Information adopted by the same Commssion in 2013.

Human rights groups said they would be moving to court to challenge the newly enacted Cybercrimes Act 2015 and the Statistics Act 2013, according to an article in The Citizen. The groups include Sikika, Jamii Media, and Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC).

Tanzania is under consideration for $100 million World Bank loan titled, “Open Government and Public Financial Management (OGPFM) Development Policy Operation.” The stated goals are very broad, but the March 30 Project Information Document includes action on an access bill as “Policy Area 1” and credits the Cabinet for having approved a bill in February. The Bank document suggests that the loan would be signed off on May 7, but that does not seem to have occurred. FreedomInfo.org has requested an update from a Bank official.

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