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A pan-African stand must be taken against political oppression in Tanzania

It is 59 years since Tanzania, a country that pioneered pan-Africanism, liberated herself from colonialism and struck her own path in defining freedom and independence. When the history of pan-Africanism is written, Tanzania is among the countries that are celebrated as a touchstone of liberation. As a result, many Africans, Americans and the Caribbean’s nationalist and freedom fighters made political pilgrimage and permanently settled in Tanzania. 

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, among other great founders, is celebrated for leading and championing the liberation of the Africa continent, leaving a legacy to emulate and a country to look to for inspiration and the rejuvenation of pan-African solidarity.

With less than two weeks to Tanzania’s 12th general election, the reports coming from Tanzania are saddening. President John Pombe Magufuli’s contest for a second five-year term has returned the country to the political suppression and oppression of the colonial years. It is painful to watch a country which was once a beacon of freedom and symbol of peace accelerating to autocracy.

According to the Lawfare in Tanzania’s General Election report released by Amnesty International on 12 October, the authoritarian and dictatorial governance exercised by Magufuli includes individuals and organisations critical of the government being threatened, harassed and intimidated, along with their human and constitutional rights being transgressed. Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa, describes the situation in Tanzania as the “weaponisation of law in the violation of human rights”. 

A raft of laws have been formulated to silence opposition parties, the media and civil society organisations, including those who defend women’s human rights. They have been risking arbitrary arrests, detentions, assaults and the deregistration of organisations for demanding that the elections on 28 October are free and fair. 

The laws are designed to protect and advance the campaigns and political engagements of the ruling party. This leaves a lot to be desired regarding how free and fair the elections will be. 

It is depressing to read of the atrocities meted out to human rights defenders, women’s rights organisations and women candidates for presumed loyalty to opposition parties and for condemning lawfare of the government. The government is using its machinery to suppress the right to freedom of choice and association and equal participation in elections. 

This is a sad reality to this generation, an anticlimax to Africa’s journey to liberation as envisaged by our forebears, a bruise to the dream of achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment 25 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPfA) was adopted. It is a time to re-awaken the clarion call and put pressure on African governments to deliver commitments made to women towards attaining gender equality and equal representation in political leadership.

Tanzania is demonstrating how oppressive and autocratic governments will do anything to retain their power. We must never forget that our societies are structured around power imbalances, which themselves are structured around the axes of gender, class, race and ability. As we fight these oppressive structures we must connect our collective struggles. Therefore, it is necessary to address those issues as a whole system of arbitrary discrimination used to justify unbalanced power struggles and inequalities for democratic expression. The oppressive system and its structures are part of a wider system of patriarchy and “strong men” who are determined to maintain and accumulate self-enhancing, privileges and power. 

What is happening in Tanzania should serve as a wake-up call for all Africans, the African Union and international organisations to join hands and condemn the resurgence of human rights violations. 

In the words of Martin Luther King, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friend.” We Africans should not remain silent about what is happening in Tanzania, because silence serves the oppressor. 

It is time to live the true spirit of ubuntu (I am, because you are). As Nyerere would say: “Sisi ni wamoja, na Afrika ni moja [we are united in our Africaness]”. 

We need to address our displeasure in the way elections are organised and managed in Tanzania. Denying its citizen their autonomy and right to choose their leaders is against democratic principles, feminist principle and human decency. 

We may not be physically present in Tanzania, but we are watching. Wed cannot remain mute when Tanzania is bleeding and crying out for our solidarity. As many voices continue to be silenced, we know that there are bold and courageous sisters and brothers who are not relenting in this struggle. We stand by them, and we stand by the spirit of pan-Africanism.

Africa must rise for Tanzania.

Aluta Continua! 

Memory Kachambwa is the executive director of African Women’s Development and Communication Network.

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Memory Kachambwa
Memory Kachambwa is the executive director of African Women’s Development and Communication Network.

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