Tanzania’s flawed democracy is turning into a brutal dictatorship. In 2015, President of Tanzania John Magufuli rode into power on a populist wave fueled by people’s dissatisfaction with corruption. However, Magufuli’s populist magnetism has quickly turned into authoritarian repulsion. President Magufuli has maintained power utilizing the following tactics: invoking a new social contract, political purges, and repression. Magufuli’s approach to governance reveals his commitment to power consolidation and the rejection of liberal democracy within Tanzania.
Gaining Popular Support
When President Magufuli entered into office, he promised swift reforms and policies to steer the country back on track. Former President Jakaya Kikwete was in power from 2005 to 2015 and left a legacy of corruption and political repression. President Magufuli, of the same governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, has openly condemned this legacy. Magufuli has shifted his approach to governance, increasing accountability and cracking down on corruption. Magufuli’s swift reforms have had some positive impacts, namely: increased tax revenues, infrastructure development, and enhanced municipal services. The international community even rejoiced in Magufuli’s initial leadership and corrective reforms because of the conduciveness to investment opportunities.
The Political Pivot
Unfortunately, Magufuli’s reforms acted as a veneer for his undercutting of democracy within Tanzania. According to TheEconomist, Magufuli “has bashed foreign-owned businesses with impossible tax demands, ordered pregnant girls to be kicked out of school, shut down newspapers and locked up musicians who criticize him”. Various journalists and opposition party members have either disappeared, been forced to flee, or have been killed. Political rallies have been bannedunder the guise of Tanzanians needing to focus on “building the country”. These recent trends are alarming and don’t bode well for the future of democracy within Tanzania. President Magufuli’s tactics, outlined below, will show that his authoritarian pivot is strategic and intentional.
A New Social Contract
According to Georgetown Professor Dr. Kendall-Taylor, the basis of an authoritarian regime’s public support is often referred to as a social contractor an implicit agreement between members of society and the regime. President Magufuli came into power with the idea of creating a new social contract, one rooted in reforms, anti-corruption, increased tax revenues, and investment. The first few months of Magufuli’s presidency were laudedby Tanzanian citizens as finally putting them first and getting rid of corrupt public servants. Magufuli amassed large amounts of popular support which gave him the credibility a new president needs to continue his or her policy agenda. Authoritarian regimes must maintain a subset of popular support, Magufuli successfully checked this off his political list.
One of President Magufuli’s most brazen acts of authoritarianism was his banning of political rallies. Police forces have used force to disband any semblance of political gatherings. Additionally, President Magufuli has used charges of sedition to silence opposition party leaders. In 2018, six opposition leaderswere charged with sedition and incitement to violence. Freeman Mbowe, chairman of the main opposition CHADEMA party, was charged with five other senior party leaders at a court in Dar Es Salaam. Nearly two years ago, CHADEMA parliamentarian Tundu Lissuwas gunned down by security forces in front of his home in the capital city of Dodoma. Tundu survived the attack and is currently recovering in Belgium. Suprisingly, Tundu hopes to run against Magufuli in the 2020 elections. Opposition party leaders have said that Magufuli has turned Tanzania into a police state.
President Magufuli has also repressed the physical integrity and civil liberty rights of Tanzanian citizens. Magufuli has actively sought to diminish the rights to freedom of expression and has constricted the media. Magufuli has stopped live coverage of parliamentary proceedings and jailed individuals actively engaging in anti-government discourse. In 2018, Magufuli enacted the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations of 2018. The new regulation mandates that all Tanzanians operating online radio stations and video websites (including bloggers) will be required to register and apply for a media license with annual fees. Tanzanians have to pay up to $900 USD to operate a simple personal blog. The Tanzanian government has also passed strong anti-LGBT legislation, in addition to having already outlawed homosexuality. President Magufuli has effectively silenced opposition party leaders and average Tanzanian citizens through repressive policies.
Magufuli’s Rule Is Not Without Criticisms and Resistance
All of President Magufuli’s tactics have been rooted in the goal of ridding the country of any viable opposition leaders, somewhat of a traditionof Tanzanian presidents. Despite Magufuli’s harsh governance, average Tanzanians have actually begun to seek other parties in order to resist his rule. The international community is also starting to turn its back on Magufuli. The World Bank withdrew a $300 million loanin response to Tanzania’s controversial repressive legislation. Moreover, the European Union withdrew its Ambassadorto Tanzania and has stated that it is reviewing its relations with Tanzania due to the President’s proclivity for infringing on human rights.
Can A Popular Uprising Shift the Political System?
President Magufuli will continue to do what he can to maintain power and ensure regime survival. Many believe there is no possibility of a new presidential candidate for the upcoming 2020 elections. A Tanzanian lawmaker has actually proposed extending Magufuli’s term because “it is clear that no one will beat him” and that a “presidential election would be too costly”. However, the people of Tanzania could soon become fed up with the current government. Tanzania’s many Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are already doing what they can to call out the Magufuli government. Given Sudan and Algeria’s recent uprisings and subsequent regime changes, popular pressure leading to a transition is fresh on the minds of all Africans.
What about the IC?
The international community (namely the US and UK) also has a vested interest in a thriving Tanzania because of its strategic geographic importance and investment opportunities from the port city of Dar es Salaam. In addition to geographic and monetary importance, Tanzania’s wellbeing has security implications in the region. Tanzania has, for a long time, acted as a mediator and safe haven for neighboring countries with refugees seeking asylum. Tanzania is a key country in the Horn of Africa. The US and the UK would do well to support Tanzanian CSOs and continue to condemn human rights abuses.
Photo from Bloomberg- “Photographer: STR/AFP”