The run-up to Tanzania’s elections, set for 28 October 2020, threatens to blemish the record of a country that was once considered the torchbearer of democracy on the continent.
On 26 and 27 October 2020, there were reports that the government had throttled the internet, while also attempting to enforce social media blackouts. There is evidence that suggests authorities in that country may have tried to block access to Twitter and Telegram, among other platforms.
This is a worrying development, as it comes on the eve of elections, during which authorities should instead be promoting freedom of expression and of the media so that Tanzanians can make informed decisions on how they are governed over the next few years.
The throttling of the internet and the blocking of social media platforms is endemic of a country that is experiencing a sharp decline in democracy and deterioration in terms of respect for media freedom and freedom of expression.
MISA Zimbabwe’s position
MISA Zimbabwe is worried about the course that Tanzania is taking and urges leaders in that country to take a step back and evaluate their actions. Otherwise, this will leave a lasting scar on freedom of the media and expression in that country.
For Tanzanians to exercise their right to vote, they need as much information as possible so they can make informed choices. However, throttling of the internet will deny Tanzanians their right to access information, and the likelihood of bringing the very conduct of the elections into question.
Tanzanian authorities have in the past year shut down a number of media platforms and fined publishers and journalists, developments which raise legitimate fears the country is sliding into autocracy.
In terms of throttling the internet and blocking access to social media networks, MISA Zimbabwe reminds the government of Tanzania to be cognisant of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, which stipulates that: Everyone has the right to use the Internet and digital technologies in relation to freedom of assembly and association, including through social networks and platforms.
The Declaration calls on African governments to create an enabling environment for the exercise of freedom of expression and access to information.
We, thus, urge Tanzania to stop throttling the internet and allow access to social media platforms.
There is need for Tanzanian authorities to ensure that its media freedom and freedom of expression laws, and digital rights laws, are aligned to African Union (AU) protocols and instruments such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR).