February 3, 2023

Watetezi Media

Official Website for Watetezi Media

Is there a need of widening civic space for CSOs in Tanzania post Magufuli’s era?

Civic Space consists of freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Freedom of assembly and association are the corner stone for the existence of a Civil Society Organizations in Tanzania, in which Tanzania has more than 3000 CSOs existing. It is through these rights, CSOs may exist as a group of people and jointly pursue their goals. Notably, from the year 2018, CSOs in Tanzania have faced a number of challenges affecting their space. In 2020, during the lead up to the election, Tanzania witnessed several violations against the right to peaceful assembly specifically targeting different groups including opposition parties, as well as CSOs.

This has been witnessed by amendment of several Acts and Regulations that guides the operationalization of the sector. The amendment of  the  NGO  Act  (2002)  in  2018  and  its Regulations  in  2018  and  2019,  NGOs  in Tanzania have been enormously affected by a number of issues including over regulation of the NGO sector. Despite the fact that these amendments were oppressive to CSO sector, April 2020, Hon. Ummy Mwalimu, the then Minister of Health Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, issued a guideline for coordination of Non-Governmental Organizations in Tanzania.

Several organizations in Tanzania including Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) took an initiative of making an analysis and issuing a statement of the guidelines for coordination of NGOs in Tanzania. The statement explained to the public on the good things and challenges that face NGOs in implementing the guidelines through their operations.

Among the good things, the Guidelines aimed  at establishing effective coordination  of  the  CSOs by  explaining the  manner in  which  various  ministries  will  cooperate with  the  department  responsible  for  the Registration  of  NGO  and  to  tackle  various challenges  such  as  eliminating  conflict  of interest  in  implementing  and  coordinating various duties.

Despite the fact that the Guideline has some positive  advantages  in  the  coordination of  NGOs,  it  has  also  many  challenges.  For example, with its very narrow definition of NGO (contrary to the NGO Act), by ignoring NGOs working on advocacy and lobbying, the guidelines undermine the objectives of NGOs and purposes of their existence in Tanzania by  compelling  them  all  to  render  social services  to  the  community  such  as  water, schools, health and others. In addition to that the guideline is a replica of the challenging legal provisions on reporting and submission of funding contracts to the Registrar and National Treasury. These guidelines also limits an association formed by CSOs/NGOs of the same interest in the country to pursue a common goal. This mandate is limited to be allowed only as one of the responsibilities of National Council of NGOs in Tanzania.

However, all these legal reforms and guideline establishments were done during “The Magufuli reign”. In the past 3 months (from March 2021), Tanzania has experienced a U-Turn in so many matters related to civic space, including freedom of expression. It with greatest hope that other pillars of civic space (freedom of assembly and association) will gain back its momentum in the country. Among other things, President Samia Suluhu is hoped to touch the base of CSOs operations by amending the draconian laws that impact them negatively.

However, Civil Societies in Tanzania must reclaim the civic space. The civic space continues to be limited especially through legislations and administrative pronouncements.  The government of Tanzania ought to embrace the media, HRDs and Civil Society in general as key and internal actors of development and nation building, rather than seeing them as antagonists. In addition to that, CSOs are advised to re-strategize and reorganize in order to push for reform of the oppressive and outdated legislation affecting CSOs.