Tanzania’s current president, Hon. Samia Suluhu Hassan is described to have started her leadership tenure with the right foot when it comes to promoting human rights and civic space in East Africa’s most populated country, Tanzania.
President Samia, was sworn in on March 19 to the country’s top seat, succeeding the late president John Magufuli who died in office at the age of 61. In one of her speeches, the first female head of state in Tanzania, ordered the lifting of bans on suspended online media which includes online TVs, blogs and YouTube channels. They were suspended by the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TRA) on different accusations, guided by the existing draconian laws guiding media in Tanzania. During the speech, President Samia said “I hear there are media outlets that have been banned like the hand-operated TVs, reopen them and they have to follow the rules and guidelines set by the government“. This statement served as a salvation to the media industry and journalists in Tanzania because a president’s statement is an obligation to the actors.
This salvation was rendered to media industries, human rights defenders and even human rights defenders organizations because shrinking of media space is a violation of human rights. Adv. Onesmo Olengurumwa, a human rights defender and a national coordinator of Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) has been in the route to defend media space through frequent training for journalists, conducting advocacy activities for them to adhere to laws, regulations and policies. After the President’s speech, Mr. Olengurumwa said that lifting the ban on media outlets including online TVs in order to ensure that our nation continues to have a sounding press, has a great role to play in achieving national development and widening civic space. “THRDC would like to convey our heartfelt congratulations to the President of the United Republic of Tanzania for this step for some of the online TVs, apart from informing the public are promoting online individual businesses and artists get avenue to market their talents,” Mr. Olengurumwa was quoted in a press statement issued on April 2021.
Hon. Samia Suluhu’s statement touched across the boarders; International organizations such as International Press Institute (IPI) posted on its website that the announcement by Tanzania’s new president, lifting all bans on media organizations is a welcome first step to improving the press freedom landscape in the country. IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad believes that a free press is the bulwark of any functioning democracy and it is the role of the media to hold the government accountable for its actions.
It should be remembered that, from the year 2015, there has been many media outlets that were banned, fined and suspended. THRDC itself has recorded more than 25 media outlets incidents, some of them being the following; MwanaHalisi newspaper, Mawio, Mseto, Raia Mwema, Tanzania Daima, Kwanza Online TV, Watetezi TV, RVS Online TV, Mwananchi, Multchoice Tanzania Ltd, Clouds Tv, Star Media group, Azam digital, Clouds Entertainment FM Radio, Duma TV, East Africa Radio, Global TV, Sibuka TV and Star TV and many more.
Tanzanian government should not only open the closed media, but also look at the root of the problem. The root of the closed media is the existing draconian laws and regulations that govern the media, such as: Media Services Act of 2016, Online Offenses Act of 2015, Electronic and Postal Communications Act of 2010, and Online Content Regulations 2020. All of these laws have led to the arrest of many writers and human rights defenders and others being prosecuted in court for expressing their views online and on suspicion of not having a license to run Blogs, YouTube accounts and channels, and hosting content in other platforms.
Human Rights Defenders, Civil Societies and Media Houses can call upon the government to send a Bill to Parliament to repeal all provisions that undermine media freedom in Tanzania. For example, it is appropriate for the government to implement the decision of the East African Court in the case of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Legal and Human Rights Center and the Media Council of Tanzania against the Attorney General of the United Republic of Tanzania [case number 02 of 2017]. Through this approach, there may be more expansion of the civic space in Tanzania compared to the period preceding President Samia Suluhu tenure.