EDITORIAL: Tanzania gags free press

 

 

Another week, another report of Tanzania clamping down on independent media. This time, it was Kwanza TV, an online channel that found itself on the wrong side of the authorities. It was accused of publishing false and misleading information, and suspended for six months. Two other online channels — Millard Ayo TV and Watetezi TV — were fined five million Tanzanian shillings each (R33 000) for failing to publish their editorial policies.

Reporters Without Borders has condemned these actions, and noted that all three channels were known to be critical of President John Magufuli.

Tanzania’s attacks on its once-vibrant press have become so commonplace that the crackdown barely makes the news. Yet familiarity must not breed complacence; a free press is a pillar of all healthy democracies. Without it, Tanzania risks descending into authoritarianism — if it has not got there already.

This should be of concern to Tanzania’s neighbours, including South Africa, which is a fellow member of the Southern African Development Community. When President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Dar es Salaam in August this year, he spoke only of trade and investment, and failed to mention his counterpart’s abuses of democratic institutions. Abuses in Tanzania are not limited to the media; they include increasingly brutal repression of opposition politicians.

In this instance, silence is complicity. Tanzanians were a pillar of support for South Africans during the long fight against apartheid. South Africa needs to return the favour and use whatever leverage it has in support of democracy and good governance in Tanzania.

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