Ruling Party in Tanzania Cracks Down on Dissent

tanzania-election

The ruling party will do anything to hold onto the balance of power, even if it means silencing the voices of its citizens.

“The government is clamping down on freedom left, right and center,” said Shruti Suresh from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), as we started talking about the decline in elephant populations and wound up talking about politics. The two are closely related in a country where travel and tourism contribute about 13 percent of GDP, and the big attraction that draws people in is African wildlife.

Suresh’s agency released a scathing report last month revealing Tanzania had lost 60 percent of its elephant population in just five years — a serious embarrassment for the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party as general elections for president and parliament approached this Sunday.

But taking stock of the sad reality for wildlife, as Suresh knows only too well, also risks legal sanctions. Over the last year, a set of draconian laws have been put in place to make sure the government is never embarrassed — or, in fact, challenged — again. And the consequences for free speech and freedom of the press in Tanzania are alarming.

As Tanzanians head to the polls to elect a new president it’s going to be close contest: for the first time in the country’s history, the powerful CCM or Party of the Revolution is facing the prospect of defeat thanks to a charismatic, popular opposition candidate called Edward Lowassa, who has rallied huge support. And the country is on edge.

I spent two weeks traveling around Tanzania, and politics was everywhere. When I hung out in a bar in the northern city of Arusha, people crowded around a TV showing Lowassa speaking in front of thousands of supporters. At every hotel I stayed at, I watched the staff huddle together in heated political discussions after other guests had gone to bed. When I walked through the market in Zanzibar, groups of men huddled around newspaper stands, gazing intently at the latest headlines, while on posters above them political candidates seemed to be eyeing the scene.

All this buzz has the CCM worried — and it’s doing its best to quell the discussion.  Human rights activists worry that the new laws can seriously curtail free speech and muzzle journalists, activists and ordinary citizens alike.

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SOURCE: Oscar Lopez
The Daily Beast