In Kenya’s neighbouring country, Tanzania, abduction and disappearance of government critics are normal and anyone who dares to challenge President John Pombe Magufuli’s regime either finds himself/herself in jail or beaten and dumped in the middle of nowhere.
Magufuli, who is widely known for his no-nonsense style of leadership, assumed office on November 15, 2015.
Ever since the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) member has been on the spot over blatant suppression of freedom of speech and presiding over a steady deterioration of political and democratic space in the country as witnessed in violence characterised by police brutality that continues to be witnessed ahead of tomorrow’s General Election.
There are reports that the country has blocked access to Twitter and other social media platforms ahead of the polls.
The opposition in the country continues to bear brunt of Magufuli’s leadership that critics describe as dictatorship due to his “bulldozing” style of governance.
Even as he fights for a second term in office in the Wednesday General Election, the deteriorating human rights situation in the country has come to haunt him.
In his first term in office, Tanzania hit international headlines for all the wrong reasons with the United Nations accusing the Head of State of stifling opposition in the country.
Last year, journalist Erick Kabendera, who has in recent years highlighted human rights abuses and political repression in Tanzania, was abducted and detained for days before he was charged in court.
Kabendera was taken into custody in late July 2019 after police claimed his citizenship was in question. They later changed tack and charged him with economic crimes including money laundering and tax evasion — offences not bailable in the country.
There was no prior information nor charge or arrest warrant against him.
He was freed seven months later after he entered into a plea-bargain agreement with the prosecution.
The journalist’s detention was described by rights groups as an example of the rising crackdown on press freedom and critics in the country.
In the same year, a close associate of Zitto Zuberi Kabwe, the party Leader of Alliance for Change & Transparency Wazalendo (ACTWazalendo), was also abducted from his Dar es Salaam home. He was later found dumped in Mombasa, Kenya.
Around the same period, a personal assistant to Bernard Membe, Tanzania’s former minister of foreign affairs and a presidential candidate in the Wednesday’s election, was reportedly abducted and disappeared for a few days before being released unharmed after a public outcry.
Opposition leaders have also been victims of violent attacks in Tanzania.
In June this year, Freeman Mbowe, the Leader of Opposition in Tanzanian Parliament and Chairman for Chadema party, was attacked by unknown assailants while returning to his Dodoma home.
Magufuli’s main competitor in this year’s election Tundu Lissu survived a similar attack in 2017.
In the assassination attempt, Lissu sustained serious gunshot wounds in the stomach, arms and legs and was rushed to a Nairobi hospital before being transferred to Belgium for specialized treatment.
He returned to Tanzania on July 27.
In March this year, UN castigated Magufuli’s regime of using the criminal justice system to silence the opposition, human rights activists and even journalists following the sentencing of Mbowe, four MPs and other senior opposition officials.
The leaders had been charged with sedition in 2018 for organizing and participating in a banned demonstration.
On March 10, a magistrate’s court in Dar-es-Salaam found the leaders guilty on 12 out of 13 charges relating to demonstrations held in February 2018.
The court ordered that they pay a fine totalling TSh350 million (Ksh15 million) or serve five months prison.
“The latest sentences highlight what appears to be an ongoing strategy by the Government to use the criminal justice system to target its critics, imposing large fines or jail terms on opponents, journalists and civil society figures. Some people, including several CHADEMA members, have faced repeated charges and court appearances, ” UN said in a statement.
Magufuli’s regime has also been on the spot of recent media regulations that bar domestic broadcasters from airing foreign-made content without state approval.
The new regulations announced in August further require a government official to accompany any local journalist when covering a story with a foreigner.
Some of the journalists working with foreign media houses termed the regulations as punitive and aimed at restricting international media from covering this year’s elections.