By Elias Mhegera – TANZANIA has been cited as one of the most transparent countries in the East African Community(EAC), when it comes to the freedom of the media, according to the study conducted recently.
This study, presented to Human Rights Defenders, was based on a qualitative analysis which wanted to identify the matters of priority which civil society should deal with, in the East African Community.
The results were discussed during the weeklong capacity building and advocacy training by human rights defenders from the five countries of the EAC namely Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania, which was conducted in Kampala, Uganda.
The findings were derived from the research units of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP), and from Amnesty International, respectively.
Tanzania was represented by four people, firstly Onesmo Olengurumwa from the Legal and Human Rights Centre, who is coordinator of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition.
Others on the team were this reporter, who represented the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Ms Farhat Omar from the Zanzibar Legal Services Centre and Emile Malinza from the Mbeya-based Human Rights National Educators.
The training, apart from discussing human rights reports from the respective countries, called for a joint effort in the implementation of the resolutions that Tanzania agreed to during the Universal Periodic Review process in Geneva, last year.
The civil society was encouraged to use the mechanisms in the EAC, like the Court of Justice and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is charged with ensuring the promotion and protection of Human and Peoples’ Rights throughout the continent.
So far a case has been filed at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights calling for Tanzania to allow independent candidates, after the High Court of Tanzania had earlier quashed its application.
On 14 and 15 June 2012 the Court started to hear this case in respect of Application 009 and 011/2011 –by Tanganyika Law Society and The Legal and Human Rights Centre, and Reverend Christopher Mtikila, against The United Republic of Tanzania, concerning alleged violation of human rights.
The appellant cited Articles 2, 10 and 13 (1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Charter), and Articles 3, 22, 25 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Articles 1, 7, 20 and 21 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Applicants allege that the United Republic of Tanzania has violated, and is still violating the democratic principles and the political rights of its citizens by enacting the Eighth Constitutional Amendment of 1992 and the Eleventh Constitutional Amendment Act No 34 of 1994.
These prohibit independent candidates from offering their candidature for Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government elections, as a candidate is required to be a member of and be sponsored by, a political party.
Rwanda was cited as a country with the best governance standards comparatively, although there were incidents of interfering with or impinging on the work of the civil society and the media.
Presenters at the event were Noel Kututwa, a Zimbabwean lawyer currently working with Amnesty International in South Africa, and Yona Wanjala, Protection Desk Uganda, another was Joseph Bikanda from the Pan-African HRDs Network.
“You should note that Rwanda is currently a leading country in good governance for the whole of East Africa according to our research, and other surveys,” said Wanjala.
Tanzania and Burundi were noted for their failures to deal with grand corruption appropriately, while Uganda, which used to be the shining star for this region, lost it position due to a long stay in power by its president Yoweri Museveni.
Of recently there is a general reaction of apathy to the regime of Museveni and his colleagues, which has reduced to a large extent the good performance of the civil service.
A quick cross survey by this reporter in some parts of Kampala verified this assertion, as many of the interviewees thought that a change of faces in the State House could lead as well to fundamental changes administratively.
It was noted that some NGOs in Uganda which are dealing with human rights issues have been at constant loggerheads with the Government, a situation which was noted for almost the whole of this region.
“In Rwanda for instance, it was noted that there is mutual suspicion amongst the HRDs, and news- papers could be bought or barred from circulation anytime there was something which appeared to be not to the taste of the State House.
On the other hand Tanzania was noted for violation of human rights by law enforcers and some events of killings based on witchcraft accusations.
However, events of destruction of property were more devastating in Zanzibar than in mainland Tanzania. The Tanzania’s Human Rights Report 2011 indicates that in May of last year alone, property worth Tsh 80 million belonging to people originating from the mainland was set ablaze in Pwani Mchangani and Kiwengwa in the Northern Region of Unguja.
The property which was affected included small shops, and bars which were allegedly promoting alcoholism and prostitution in the islands. However the report did not include the most recent events where some churches and bars were set ablaze.
The Government of National Unity is striving to find a final solution to this hatred, which seems to target the properties of mainlanders living in Zanzibar, and therefore to be sending a strong message that the 48 years Union should be revisited in order to solve the long-standing difficulties.
Kututwa urged the civil society in Tanzania to conduct thorough research in order to know why there is voter apathy coming up increasingly in recent years in Tanzania. He subsequently called them to conduct civic and voters’ education in order to change the situation.
The European Union Election Observation Mission had this to say on the 2010 General Elections: “turnout in the mainland was surprisingly low with only 43 percent of registered voters showing up on polling day, against an average of more than 80 percent in past elections”.
The report attributed the low participation to a combination of factors: i.e. for one apathy, and strong belief among the population that CCM was going to win regardless of voters’ turnout.
It cited other reasons as lack of capacity of the opposition to convince voters, lack of interest, in a country historically dominated by one party, a long campaign period dominated by the ruling party, and inadequate voter education.
The report however noted that Zanzibar maintained its traditional high voter participation with 89 percent of voters exercising their right in the island of Unguja, and 85 percent in Pemba.
The turnout in Igunga during the by-election in October 2011 was 31.38 per cent, while just recently in the Arumeru East by-election in April this year the turnout was 47.62; all combined are below 50 percent which is poor even by African standards.
Kututwa suggested that the media, civil society academic institutions and religious leaders find an amicable solution to this negative development in democracy.
Apart from this Tanzania was cited for land- grabbing and forceful eviction incidents, which have been increased by mining activity and large- scale agriculture: an emphasis of the Kilimo Kwanza, Tanzania’s green revolution programme.
Moreover the civil society was warned not to keep mum whenever there are incidents of corruption and abuse of power; instead they should speak with a single voice but well-calculated to make a formidable impact.