By Claire Partain

I. Introduction

tanzanian flag

Flag of Tanzania

From Africa’s iconic savanna landscape, to the continent’s tallest mountain and deepest lake, Tanzania is a testament of extremes. Housing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, the Great Crater, and three of Africa’s biggest lakes, it’s no surprise that over a third of its land is national parkland. Encyclopedia 421). The nation has also faced extreme political changes in its history, and the journey from relative peace to colonization to a new age of change has caused fluctuations in human rights. Throughout its 57-year official history, Tanzania has seen both liberation and restriction of free speech. Considered “Partly Free,” it’s ranked at 83rd in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, with a score of 28.65 (with the worst score being 40) (RSF). Tanzania is a nation of natural beauty, peace, and rapid change – and its civil liberties are struggling to keep the pace, with the latest trends moving away from expressive freedoms.


II. Historical Background
“We have been oppressed a great deal, we have been exploited a great deal and we have been disregarded a great deal. It is our weakness that has led to our being oppressed, exploited and disregarded. Now we want a revolution.” (Coulson 1).
The revolution laid out by the Arusha Declaration of 1967 was sparked after over 100 years of European colonization in Tanzania, an ordeal that left its societies severely wounded (Encyclopedia 420). Before this process that exploited the region’s natural resources and weakened its people through the effects of various uprisings, Tanzania was a region of huge ethnic diversity.
For thousands of years, various forms of society have lived in the region now known as Tanzania. Among them are the Bantu and Masaai peoples, the latter of which still live by the African Great Lakes and sustain relatively the same seminomadic lifestyle they have had for countless years. Kingdoms have reigned here since near the beginning of mankind, including kingdoms, tribes and other forms of communities with varying power and influence.
Arabic traders arrived in the eighth century, mostly settling on the islands known as Zanzibar, and founded the Kilwa Sultanate, an empire that lasted for a few hundred years (Coulson 22-26). These traders mixed with the local Bantu peoples, eventually forming the Kiswahili language and a unique culture. By the 15th century, Portuguese colonists had arrived, and they controlled Zanzibar alongside Arabic peoples from Oman until the late 19th century (Coulson 22).
By 1884, the Germans began colonization on the mainland, claiming this nation, named “Tanganyika”, as their own (Yeager 9). Various uprisings weakened their control, and the Germans were forced to give power over Tanganyika to England after near bankruptcy in the aftermath of World War I.
Tanganyika gained independence peacefully in 1961 (Coulson 1). The first president, Julius Nyerere, reigned for twenty years, ushering in radical change, the most socialist-leaning regime in Africa, and a mixed account of liberation and oppression (Coulson 2). Under Nyerere, whose Arusha Declaration included the slogan “socialism and self-reliance,” only one political party was legal for Tanganyika: The Tanganyika African National Union (Coulson 1,2). Soon after, the state gained most shareholdings on most plantations and large corporations (Coulson 2). Political prisoners abounded, and freedom of expression was extremely limited (Coulson 2). Worker’s organizations lost the right to strike and speak out, and government elections became a scam in which the president himself would appoint politicians and give them more rights than those who were elected. On the other hand, Nyerere was an activist for the “poorest of the poor” and worked for universal education and improvement of rural areas (Coulson 1). Regardless, his term gave huge changes to Tanzania, ushering in urbanization, industrialization, and a sense of national unity despite the many groups which reside there.
After a constitutional reform in 1985, Nyerere gave his power to Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who was reelected in 1990 and remained president until 1995 (Legum 394) . Mwinyi was succeeded by President William Mkapa and was leader of the executive branch until President John Magafuli was elected in 2015. Until 1996, there was only one political party in Tanganyika, the Tanganyika African National Union, and one in Zanzibar, the Afro-Shirazi Party. These freedoms have done little to change the dominant party’s power, and there have been many accusations of voter fraud and corruption within elections.
Since Tanzania’s independence, Zanzibar has remained semiautonomous, with its own president and legislature. There has been some tension because Zanzibar desires more control over its politics and government, although the nation has remained peaceful (Yeager 23).
A place for safaris, mountain climbing and relaxed beachgoing, Tanzania’s vast natural beauty makes it a hotspot for tourists from around the world. Thus, tourism is a sizable factor in the nation’s economy. Precious metals, such as Tanzania’s own Tanzanite and gold, are vital to the economy as well. In 2016, 31 percent of the nation’s exports were in this category (Top 10 Exports. Tanzania is also an agriculture-based economy, and its fertile lands produce tobacco, coffee, cotton, cashews, tea and cloves (Exports). Due to its location in East Africa, the nation most commonly trades with nations in East Asia such as India, Japan, and China (Exports). Other important export partners include the United Arab Emirates, the Netherlands and Germany(Exports). About 31.9 percent of exports go to neighboring African partners (Top 10 Exports). Today, the country holds over 100 ethnic groups and languages, and houses over 58 million people (Yeager 35). The society is mostly agriculture based, and 90 percent of its people speak the region’s lingua franca, Kiswahili (Yeager 35, 37). Despite this, urbanization is increasing rapidly, and today over 5 million people live in the country’s most booming city, Dar-es-Salaam (Ethnologue).
III. Free Speech
A. Historical Free Speech Issues
Tanzania’s constitution has no official Bill of Rights: it does, however, provide its citizens with the freedoms of speech, assembly, association, and religion (U.S.). The actions of the government seem to not always represent the rights they claim to protect. For instance, it is a crime to publicly describe the country’s leadership in seditious or derogatory ways, although criticizing the government is permitted (U.S.). Tanzania has also been a one-party state for most of its existence; only one political party was legal, President Nyerere’s own Tanganyika African National Union. This was enforced until reform in the 1990s led by Presidents Mwinyi and Mkapa, who adjusted the political system to allow multiple parties. This one-party ideology, alongside practices under Nyerere’s administration such as banning worker’s unions and their protests, slowed down the nation’s progress towards a democratic nation.
Although the one-party ideology has been eradicated, certain political parties hold significant power in Tanzania’s government, and this power has been used to silence others. Most recently, the government and its ruling parties have used free speech violations in order to limit and silence the central-right Chadema party (U.S). On multiple occasions in 2010, the party was banned from hosting rallies for its cause (U.S.). This action is legal because although Tanzanians have a right to assembly, they must gain police permission before gathering in public spaces (U.S.). In this example, the government used a law to unfairly discriminate against an opposition party, citing a fear of disruption as their main reasoning behind the ban.
Although free speech and assembly has been hindered by the government, Tanzania has been largely respectful of citizens’ rights to religion, language and association (U.S.). According to Tanzania’s Penal Code, “Any person who destroys, damages or defiles any place of insult to worship or any object which is held sacred” to a person with the intent of insulting that person and their religion is guilty of a crime (Penal Code 125). The nation has no official language, and women and men are equal under the law. Although flawed in its abuses of power involving free speech, Tanzania generally respects its citizens’ free speech rights.
B. Current Free Speech Issues
The government has recently used the guise of “hate speech” to limit the speech of an opposition party. In this case, the administration arrested the president of the Chadema Party, Tundu Lissu, in October 2017 (Amnesty). Lissu accused the government of discriminating amongst tribes and referred to the president as a dictator in a public speech(Amnesty). However, he was released later that day (Amnesty).
Internet use is also a new frontier which has recently become more limited. As a more sizable percent of the populace gains online access, the administration has began arresting certain citizens for their posts on social media(Amnesty). This included the leader of the Alliance for Change and Transparency Party, Zitto Kabwe (Amnesty). Kabwe, an opposition leader, was arrested in September 2017 after alleging that the House Speaker had tampered an investigation regarding corruption in the mining industries(U.S.).
Homosexuality, which was already deemed illegal in Tanzania, has suffered to an even further extent. This includes a statement made by the Home Affairs Minister in June 2017 in which he threatened to deport “any foreign national, or prosecute anyone, working to protect LGBTI rights” (Amnesty). In October of 2017, 17 human rights activists were arrested after discussing the lack of health services provided for LGBTQIA people (Amnesty). Despite these few but sizable current free speech violations, there are far more severe restrictions regarding the press.
IV. Free Press
A. Historic Free Press Issues
Unlike freedom of speech, there is nothing in Tanzania’s constitution which explicitly allows freedom of the press (U.S). There are, however, numerous privately owned daily and weekly newspapers, as well as radio and broadcast stations. These organizations cover a wide range of topics, events and opinions, and there is some freedom given to these publications. There are also no current censorship laws, although certain laws and practices promote self-censorship. The government retains the right to shut down “harmful” media stations at will, and often does so by way of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority, which was implemented in 2003 (TCRA). The TCRA is a state-owned establishment which monitors broadcast and online stations. According to the foundation’s website, it was established to “create a level playing field” and oversees “the electronic communications, and postal services, and management of the national frequency spectrum in the United Republic of Tanzania” (TCRA). The TCRA holds enormous power in regulating, bullying, and even prohibiting publications, and this leads to self-censorship for fear of being shut down. By law, any publication can be searched at will, and seized with good cause, or in the case of public issues (U.S).
In addition, historic acts such as the Civil Service Act and Public Leadership Code of Ethics Act prevent public officials from legally providing the media with certain information (U.S.). The government also retains the right to remove ads from critical or opposition organizations and sites.
B. Current Free Press Issues
Since the election of President John Magufuli, who has been nicknamed “the Bulldozer” because of his intolerance to press criticism, freedom of the press has become increasingly limited (RSF). Numerous acts have prosecuted news and free information, especially as it pertains to presidential campaigns and elections. The nation has fallen from its peak at 34th place in 2012 to its 2017 ranking of 83rd in the World Press Index (RSF). “The Bulldozer” and his administration passed two restrictive laws in 2015, the Statistics Act and the Cybercrimes Act (U.S.). The Statistics Act, passed in March of that year, prosecutes any media source which publishes any statistical information that has not been cleared by the National Bureau of Statistics. The Act was pushed due to claims of misinformation and lies in the press. Obvious flaws in this Act, however, include the fact that the administration can decide what statistics are “false” or “misinformed” in order to promote their own agenda and silence dissent. The Cybercrimes Act, imposed in the following month, threatens prison time and harsh fines for publishing false information or “inflammatory rhetoric” online. Once again, the administration can censor information based on the idea of lies or defamation, a power which can easily be abused by those in power.
As of 2015, online media must also meet the requirements of the TRCA alongside newspaper publications and radio stations (U.S.). Magafuli has used the TRCA, of which he can appoint chair and board members, to silence publications which discriminate against himself and previous politicians. One striking incident occurred in June 2017, in which the information minister banned the publication Mawio for two years (Bulldozer). The ban occurred after Mawio published an article which implicated two former presidents in a massive tax fraud by mining companies (Bulldozer). Bans, seizures and searches of publications are often linked to the country’s mining companies, which are possibly corrupt (Bulldozer). The president’s supposed reasoning behind these restrictions, ironically, is to end corruption; however, the loss of freedoms appears to be doing the opposite.
V. Critical Analysis
While there are significant differences between civil liberties in Tanzania and the United States, certain aspects are strikingly similar.
Unlike the United States, the Tanzanian government has power to censor, search and even ban certain media organizations. The Tanzanian press must actually get permission from government agencies, appointed by the president, in order to become an official publication. These organizations must also get their statistics and evidence verified by the administration, a practice which can undermine truth and give oversized power to the censorship of the media by the government. These restrictions pass over to digital media, and users cannot make false, insulting or defamatory statements online without the possibility of prosecution. Defamation and falsehoods are prosecutable offenses, something almost nonexistent in the United States. Tanzanians can be arrested for “hate speech,” something that is in public debate in America but is currently legal. The United States has proven its protection of hate speech in historic Supreme Court cases such as Brandenburg v. Ohio, in which legal punishment was reversed against a leading Ku Klux Klan member who included hateful and violence-condoning comments in a rally. This protection is provided by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, something not seen as directly in the Tanzanian Constitution. The United States does not have these strict limitations on speech or press; however, it shares several characteristics with this “Partly Free” Southeast African nation.
There are some obvious similarities between the two, however. Both have no official language or religion and have protections against religious discrimination. Media organizations are largely privatized, although more so in the United States. These organizations produce a wide range of topics, target multiple different audiences, and oftentimes criticize government administrators. The ability to criticize a nation’s leadership, however, does have some differences; whereas the United States was founded on the idea of the adversarial press, Tanzania has some offenses which are punishable and could intimidate citizens from criticizing their government. Both nations have a history of arresting peaceful protestors, such as the Chadema Party and other opposition in Tanzania and Civil Rights leaders in America. Until recently in the United States, there were laws prohibiting homosexuality, and discrimination against same-sex couples is still rampant in Tanzania. In both nations, the term “hate speech” is being used as a term to limit people rather than liberate them, although the United States does officially protect this speech in the First Amendment. Regardless of the reprehensible speech used by certain people, speech is a right, and both countries are moving towards possibly repressive regulations that could limit speech. Perhaps the most prominent similarities, however, arise when comparing both countries’ current administration.
There are some blaring parallels between Tanzania’s President Magufuli and President Trump. Both are known for slandering, discriminating against, and discrediting media sources, almost always for their own gain. The idea of “fake news” is rampant in the ideologies of both presidents, and each politician has taken public action against reputable organizations for uncovering something unflattering about the administration. This populist, “ignoring the facts” approach is a trend that can’t be ignored worldwide, and it seems that these two nations are perfect examples of the worldwide trend. In Tanzania, more drastic action can be taken against the media, something that fortunately is protected in America. In both the United States and Tanzania, a dangerous new idea of discrediting facts and the press is a growing issue perpetuated by these nations’ leaders.
VI. Conclusion
Tanzania is a land of extremes– from its landscape to its drastic change in government and freedoms in the last half century. Through this process, the nation has gained significant liberties– largely freedom of speech, assembly, association, religion, and language. There are still some significant hindrances, the largest being oppressive rules given to the media and press. This “Partly Free” country shares many similarities with current issues occurring in the United States, such as recent slander of the press by both nation’s presidents. The nation has restrictive practices which are kept in place to give a safety net to Tanzania’s most powerful, and which are injustices to the citizens of the nation. As in the United States, the trend towards press freedom has taken a downturn, but there is still plenty of room for possibility of expansion and liberation in the name of free speech.



Works Cited
Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa. Cape Town] NASOU [1970-1976], 1970.
Legum, Colin. Africa Contemporary Record : Annual Survey and Documents. London : Africa Research limited, 1969-2006., 1969.
Yeager, Rodger. Tanzania, an African Experiment. Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press ; Hampshire, England : Gower, 1982., 1982. Nations of contemporary Africa.
Coulson, Andrew. Tanzania : A Political Economy. Oxford [Oxfordshire] : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1982., 1982.

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This essay was last updated April 30, 2018.

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