Tanzania has warned people against protesting – and it seems to be working
For weeks, the Tanzanian government has been warning citizens against taking to the streets in protest on April 26. A US-based activist had called for nationwide protests against John Magufuli’s government as complaints about suppressing civil freedoms increase.
Despite this, the streets of Dar es Salaam were deathly quiet on Thursday. A grand total of eight demonstrators took to the streets and they were all promptly arrested.
Britain and the US were among the countries to warn their citizens to take care as the proposed demonstrations drew closer. However, there was no battle on the streets, no police crackdown necessary, as activists chose to shun the protests altogether.
The warnings from President John Magufuli and his associates appear to have worked.
Tanzanians shun protests
The warnings from Magufili and his party representatives left little to the imagination prior to April 26. “Let them demonstrate and they will see who I am,” the president told a public gathering in northwestern Tanzania, early March.
Police chief from the central Dodoma region Gilles Muroto was less ambiguous with his choice of words, insisting demonstrators would end up with “a broken leg and go home as cripples” if they took to the streets on Thursday.
When a farmer and driver in Dodoma were arrested for allegedly encouraging people to march against the government on April 26, Muroto cleared any doubt about what the repercussions would be.
Another senior police officer warned on Wednesday that protestors would be “beaten like stray dogs” in another explicit message to anyone tempted by the call to demonstrate. Meanwhile, several opposition leaders around the country were arrested ahead of Thursday, also accused of inciting people to take to the streets.
The tone and language used by the ruling party was just as surreal as it was transparent. Without any attempt to suggest civil freedoms remain intact or hint at the potential repercussions for protestors, the message was brutally honest: stay at home unless you want to get hurt.
Now, it seems Magufuli’s government has been rewarded for its honesty. There were no protests of significance on Thursday, no need for a police crackdown and nobody went home as a cripple. Some shops were closed in Dar es Salaam on Thursday but they didn’t miss out on anything; the streets were unusually quiet.
Magufuli’s regime of fear
With the impact of nationwide protests being felt in Ethiopia, the state of activism in Tanzania is polar opposite. In early March, African Arguments ran with the story entitled Tanzania: Everyone is scared, documenting the sense of fear among many Tanzanian citizens.
Local residents in Rufiji speak of a recent incident where they say police and soldiers killed more than 40 people. Their bodies were thrown into the sea and their deaths never recorded – a fate many people fear as the government makes its stance on dissent unmistakably clear.
“The government and army forces act with impunity,” Rufiji’s community leader was quoted by African Arguments. “They come into our villages with Fuso lorries, beat our children, steal our cattle, and kill our people,” he said.
“These are never recorded in local media. We are far away from the capital. We don’t have important contacts. We are pastoralists. We don’t matter. Our deaths or arrests are never recorded by coroners.”
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