Tanzania has held regular multiparty elections since its transition from a one-party state in the early 1990s, but the opposition remains relatively weak, and the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), has retained power for over half a century. Since the election of President John Magufuli in 2015, the government has cracked down with growing severity on its critics in the political opposition, the press, and civil society.
- A campaign of repression against opposition parties continued during the year, with harassment, arrests, and detentions of prominent political figures.
- In January, Parliament passed draconian amendments to the Political Parties Act that, among other provisions, allow for bans on political parties that engage in common forms of activism.
- Escalating state pressure on the media sector during the year included the detention of a prominent journalist in July and a temporary ban on the leading privately owned daily newspaper in February.
- In June, new legislation expanded the authority of the registrar for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to monitor, suspend, and deregister civil society groups.
- Due to widespread disqualification of candidates, opposition parties boycotted the November local elections, allowing the CCM to capture nearly all of the positions at stake.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The president is elected by direct popular vote for up to two five-year terms. In the 2015 presidential election, Magufuli won with 58 percent of the vote, while Edward Lowassa of the opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) took 40 percent. Observers generally deemed the election credible but noted areas of concern. An observer mission from the European Union (EU) described “highly competitive, generally well-organized elections, but with insufficient efforts at transparency from the election administrations.” The EU mission noted that the CCM had drawn on state resources, such as public stadiums, to support its campaign, while restricting access for opposition parties.
The semiautonomous region of Zanzibar elects its own president, who serves no more than two five-year terms. International observers deemed the 2015 presidential election to be credible, but the chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) annulled the vote before official results were announced, claiming that the poll was not free and fair. The opposition Civic United Front (CUF) accused the ZEC of annulling the results to save the CCM incumbent, Ali Mohamed Shein, from defeat. A rerun of the election was held in 2016, but the opposition boycotted, allowing Shein to win with ease. The preelection period featured an increased military presence and reports of attacks on political party offices and journalists.
In August 2019, a petition filed with the High Court by a Magufuli supporter called for the national presidential term limit to be declared unconstitutional; the court had not yet heard arguments in the case at year’s end. Magufuli has reiterated his commitment to observing term limits.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
Legislative authority lies with a unicameral, 393-seat National Assembly (the Bunge) whose members serve five-year terms. There are 264 seats filled through direct elections in single-member constituencies, 113 are reserved for women elected by political parties, 10 are filled by presidential appointment, and 5 members are elected by the Zanzibar legislature. The attorney general holds an ex officio seat. International observers generally viewed the 2015 parliamentary elections as credible, despite some minor irregularities. The CCM won a total of 253 seats, Chadema took 70, the CUF won 42, and the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT-Wazalendo) and the National Convention for Construction and Reform (NCCR-Mageuzi) each won one. However, by-elections held during 2018 for both parliament seats and local government offices were marred by violence and other alleged irregularities. As a result of the by-elections and other changes, the ruling party increased its majority to 287 seats as of 2019.
Members of Zanzibar’s 85-seat House of Representatives serve five-year terms and are installed through a mix of direct elections and appointments. The 2015 legislative elections were annulled along with the concurrent Zanzibari presidential vote, and an opposition boycott of the rerun polling in 2016 left the CCM with full control of the regional legislature.
Tanzania held elections for local and neighborhood-level offices in November 2019. After opposition candidates were disqualified en masse, opposition parties boycotted the polls, and CCM candidates won over 99 percent of the positions at stake. International groups questioned the validity of the elections and objected to the government’s failure to accredit international observers. In response, the government threatened to punish reporters who quoted foreigners.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
The National Electoral Commission (NEC) is responsible for overseeing countrywide elections, while the ZEC conducts elections for Zanzibar’s governing institutions.
The structures of the NEC and ZEC contribute to doubts about their independence. The NEC is appointed by the Tanzanian president. Magufuli’s appointment of Wilson Mahera Charles as the new NEC director in October 2019 was criticized by Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo leaders; they argued that Charles, who had previously run for office as a CCM candidate, was a partisan figure.
The NEC was criticized during the year for inadequately updating the voter registry ahead of the elections scheduled for 2020. Prior to the local elections in November, the NEC stated that voters could not use their national voter identification cards and would have to register separately with local and regional authorities overseen by a minister of state in the president’s office. Registration rates for the elections were notably low. The minister of state was responsible for administering the local elections, and for disqualifying opposition candidates, including roughly 95 percent of those from Chadema. The minister sought to reinstate tens of thousands of the disqualified candidates after opposition groups announced their boycott, but appeared to reverse himself again the next day, underscoring the arbitrary nature of the process.
The ZEC is appointed by the Zanzibari president, though the opposition nominates two of the seven members. In 2018, President Shein appointed seven new members to the commission. While some observers approved of Shein’s choices, others accused the new members of being CCM partisans whose impartiality could be compromised during the 2020 elections.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because electoral authorities overseen by the executive branch disqualified opposition party candidates for local elections en masse, and because the president appointed a National Electoral Commission director who had been a ruling party candidate for office.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
Tanzanians have the right to organize into political parties, but the ruling CCM enjoys considerable incumbency advantages that stifle competition. For example, the system of state funding for parties under the Political Parties Act of 2015 disproportionately benefits the CCM. Political parties are regulated by a presidentially appointed registrar whom the opposition criticizes for partisan bias.
Authorities have stepped up efforts to constrain opposition parties in recent years. In 2016, the government banned all political rallies and demonstrations outside election periods, sharply curtailing parties’ ability to mobilize public support. In January 2019, the CCM used its parliamentary supermajority to pass amendments to the Political Parties Act that further eroded the rights of opposition groups. The changes, which Magufuli signed into law in February, included a provision empowering a government minister to regulate party coalition formation, a ban on political fundraising from international sources, a rule prohibiting political parties from engaging in “activism,” and the introduction of a number of tools that the registrar can use to investigate and interfere with the internal operations of targeted parties. The amendments also gave the registrar legal immunity, further reducing accountability for the office. Later in the year, both Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo were threatened with penalties for alleged violations of the Political Parties Act.
The government arrested several high-profile opposition figures in 2019, continuing a campaign of repression. A case in which ACT-Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe was charged with incitement in 2018 was ongoing, and he was prohibited from leaving the country in June 2019 due to alleged violations of the Media Services Act. Chadema leaders have been charged with sedition and prohibited from leaving the country. The party’s chairman and one of its lawmakers were released in March 2019 after spending four months in jail for contempt of court. The police blocked opposition meetings and press conferences during the year.
The CCM achieved some successes in its efforts to co-opt opposition politicians, which critics have attributed to bribery and other inducements. Edward Lowassa, a former CCM figure who had defected and served as Chadema’s 2015 presidential candidate, returned to the ruling party in March 2019. Former prime minister Frederick Sumaye, who moved from the CCM to Chadema in 2015, announced in December that he was leaving Chadema.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
The CCM has governed without interruption for more than 50 years. Tanzania’s opposition, which performed better in the 2015 elections than it ever had before, still won only 29 percent of the National Assembly seats. Its electoral prospects are limited as a result of significant interference, harassment, violence, and criminal prosecutions by the government and its allies.
The leader of Zanzibar’s CUF, who lost a court battle over control of the party and its finances in March 2019, joined ACT-Wazalendo shortly thereafter. Other CUF members followed suit, raising speculation that the alliance could pose a formidable challenge to the CCM in Zanzibar in 2020. However, the deputy registrar of political parties threatened the enlarged opposition party with legal action shortly after its formation, citing activities that may have violated the Political Parties Act.
An atmosphere of intimidation associated with the 2018 by-elections—during which opposition campaign activities were met with violence, including murders and abductions—persisted in the months ahead of the November 2019 local elections. Chadema activist Mdude Nyagali was abducted, beaten, and abandoned in May 2019, and the party accused the police of involvement.
Chadema lawmaker Tundu Lissu, who traveled abroad to recover after a 2017 attempted assassination in which he was shot 16 times, was stripped of his parliamentary seat in June 2019, in part for absenteeism. In October, Lissu said he could not return to the country for safety reasons, though he indicated in November that he would be willing to run for president in 2020.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
Tanzanian voters and politicians are subject to some undue influence from unaccountable entities using antidemocratic tactics. For example, party militias engaged in violence and intimidation ahead of the 2015 polls, and the ruling party has allegedly used vote buying and other material incentives to sway voters.
Magufuli has increasingly used local administrative authorities, particularly the country’s presidentially appointed regional and district commissioners, for political purposes. These officials are technically nonpartisan, but most are CCM loyalists or former security personnel. They have significant power within their jurisdictions, and have been especially repressive when overseeing opposition-oriented areas. At times they have sought to remove elected municipal leaders, arbitrarily barred the movements and activities of critical NGOs and human rights advocates, and reportedly threatened associated individuals. The 2019 local elections, which the opposition boycotted due to widespread candidate disqualifications, were notably managed by the government ministry that also supervises regional and district commissioners.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because Tanzania’s local government authorities are overseen by presidential appointees at the regional and district level who have increasingly exercised political influence on behalf of the ruling party.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
Members of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups ostensibly have full political rights, but parties formed explicitly on the basis of ethnicity or religion are prohibited. The government threatens religious organizations that comment on political issues, though in 2019 Magufuli made gestures to improve relations with religious leaders.
The constitution requires that women make up 30 percent of representatives in the parliament. In 2019, about 37 percent of the seats were held by women, and the cabinet includes several women ministers. However, many policies under Magufuli have actively undermined women’s rights and attempts at political advocacy.
LGBT+ people, who face the risk of arrest and harsh discrimination, are unable to openly advance their political interests.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
Magufuli has consolidated political power in the presidency since taking office, sidelining the legislature—in part by suppressing dissent within the ruling party—and exerting greater control over cabinet ministers through dismissals and reshuffles. The CCM government has also reasserted its role in managing the activities of legislators and threatened those who are frequently absent.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Corruption remains a problem in the country, and reform efforts have yielded mixed results. The Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) has been accused of focusing on low-level corruption and doing little to address graft committed by senior officials.
The government fined five banks in September 2019 for violations of money-laundering rules; a number of businessmen have been jailed on charges of money laundering, but the government has been accused of using the law in an abusive manner. Separately, while a World Bank arbitration court in October ordered Tanzania to pay $185 million in a case arising from the 2014 Independent Power Tanzania Ltd. (IPTL) corruption scandal, the government denied responsibility.
An audit in 2018 revealed $640 million in missing revenue from the 2016–17 fiscal year. Additional scrutiny in 2019 uncovered more than $1 billion in missing or misappropriated funds. Opposition calls to publish the full report from the auditor general and enforce accountability were rejected. The chair of the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee denied any loss or theft.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
An access to information act was adopted in 2016, but critics noted that it gives precedence to any other law governing the handling of government information, and appeals of decisions on information requests are handled by a government minister rather than an independent body. The law imposes prison terms on officials who improperly release information, but assigns no clear penalties for those who improperly withhold information.
According to research published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Tanzania branch in 2018, local and regional government offices are uneven in their level of responsiveness to requests for information. Live broadcasts of parliament sessions have been suspended since 2016. In 2017, Tanzania withdrew from the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral platform designed to improve transparency and openness among its member states.
The government is suspected of manipulating public statistics on economic performance. In April 2019, Tanzania was accused of blocking the publication of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report that criticized the country’s “unpredictable” economic policies, a claim that was denied by a government spokesman. The World Health Organization (WHO) rebuked Tanzania in September 2019 for not sharing information regarding a death from Ebola-like symptoms in Dar es Salaam. The government insisted that there was no Ebola in the country, described reports about the suspected case as false, and summoned the country’s local WHO representative in protest over the announcement.
The Statistics Act was amended in June 2019 to remove criminal liability for publishing information that conflicts with the National Bureau of Statistics, but the government generally continued to resist transparency efforts and punish journalists and civil society groups that attempted to expose official wrongdoing.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the government has increasingly sought to obstruct access to public information in recent years.
|Are there free and independent media?
Independent journalists and media outlets are subject to harsh repression in Tanzania. The 2016 Media Services Act grants the government broad authority over media content and the licensing of outlets and journalists. It also prescribes severe penalties, including prison terms, for publication of defamatory, seditious, or other illegal content. The East African Court of Justice in March 2019 ruled that sections of the law conflict with the East African Community’s treaty, but it was unclear what effect the ruling might have, and the law was not changed during the year. According to the Media Council of Tanzania, an NGO, violations of press freedom were more than three times more prevalent in 2019 than in 2015, when Magufuli took office.
The country’s leading privately owned newspaper, the Citizen, was temporarily suspended for alleged political bias in February 2019. In September, three online television stations were banned or fined for dubious reasons. A television journalist was arrested and held for three days in August for “publishing false information” about the police, and a former radio journalist was arrested in September for disseminating information using WhatsApp. Prominent investigative journalist Erick Kabendera was detained beginning in July—first over citizenship questions, then alleged cybercrimes, and later for money laundering and other financial charges, which do not allow for release on bail. His court hearings were repeatedly delayed, and his health deteriorated. He remained in custody as of December.
The 2018 Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations require bloggers and owners of online discussion platforms and streaming services to pay more than $900 in annual registration fees. Many bloggers have shut down their outlets as a result.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
Freedom of religion is generally respected, and interfaith relations are largely peaceful, though periodic sectarian violence has occurred. Muslims are believed to be a minority in Tanzania as a whole, but 99 percent of Zanzibar’s population practices Islam. Political tensions between mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar often play out along religious lines. The government occasionally raises the specter of interreligious conflict as an excuse to detain political rivals, contributing to a general sense that Muslims are sometimes treated unfairly by authorities.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
Academic freedom in Tanzania was harmed by the passage of the 2015 Statistics Act, which requires data released publicly to be first approved by the National Bureau of Statistics. In 2018, the parliament passed amendments to the Statistics Act that prescribed fines, a minimum of three years in prison, or both for anyone who disputes official government figures. The law was amended in June 2019 to remove criminal liability for publishing independent data, but given the government’s ongoing and general hostility to dissenting views, it was unclear whether the legal change would strengthen academic freedom in practice.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
The government historically monitored the population through a neighborhood-level CCM cell structure, but it has increasingly policed personal expression on social media in recent years. Under laws including the 2015 Cybercrimes Act and the 2018 Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, social media users have been prosecuted for offenses such as insulting the president. Government officials have also threatened to prosecute users for supposedly spreading homosexuality through online platforms. Vague prohibitions on communication that “causes annoyance” or “leads to public disorder” have confused users as to what constitutes a violation, and empowered authorities to suppress unfavorable speech at their discretion. The 2018 regulations also require internet cafés to install surveillance cameras.
Since Magufuli took office, the Tanzanian government has consulted with Hacking Team—a firm that provides electronic surveillance capacity—and signed cybersecurity collaboration agreements with the South Korean and Israeli governments. In 2019, opposition leader Zitto Kabwe’s verified Twitter account was hacked and used to promote Magufuli, raising suspicions that the government and its allies, armed with new capabilities, were responsible. Also during the year, recordings of CCM leaders criticizing Magufuli were publicly leaked in an apparent attempt to demonstrate pervasive surveillance and encourage self-censorship. Magufuli admitted in January to monitoring the digital communications of some ministers.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but the government can limit this right. Organizers must notify the police 48 in advance of any demonstration, and police have broad discretion to prohibit gatherings that could threaten public safety or public order, among other criteria. A ban on political rallies has been in place since mid-2016. The January 2019 amendments to the Political Parties Act further restricted public assembly, in part by broadening the scope of activities that are deemed “political.”
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to authorities’ pervasive efforts to obstruct demonstrations, including through growing restrictions on political gatherings.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Tanzania has a diverse and active civil society sector, but laws that already gave the government broad authority to deregister NGOs were strengthened in 2019. Six NGOs were deregistered in April under existing rules, and amendments enacted in June expanded the NGO registrar’s discretionary powers to investigate an organization and deregister it for “operating contrary to its objectives.” Among other changes, the amendments allow private businesses to be punished if they support the activities of NGOs, and impose onerous new financial reporting requirements on even small grassroots organizations.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
Trade unions are nominally independent of the government and are coordinated by the Trade Union Congress of Tanzania and the Zanzibar Trade Union Congress. The Tanzania Federation of Cooperatives represents most of Tanzania’s agricultural sector. The government has significant discretion to deny union registration, and many private employers engage in antiunion activities. Essential public-sector workers are barred from striking, and other workers are restricted by complex notification and mediation requirements. Strikes are infrequent on both the mainland and Zanzibar.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
Tanzania’s judiciary suffers from underfunding and corruption. Judges are political appointees, and the judiciary does not have an independent budget, which makes it vulnerable to political pressure. The results of such pressure are particularly evident in cases involving opposition figures and other critics of the government.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Due process does not always prevail in civil and criminal matters. Policies and rules governing arrest and pretrial detention are often ignored, and pretrial detention commonly lasts for years due to case backlogs and inadequate funding for prosecutors. Arbitrary arrests of opposition politicians, journalists, and civil society leaders occurred throughout 2019. In September, the inspector general of police claimed that public confidence in the police was suffering because of internal efforts to undermine his authority, corruption in the force, and improper policing practices. Magufuli in October suspended an assistant police commissioner for failing to act on government directives regarding police officers suspected of corruption in Rukwa.
In September, the president encouraged plea bargaining for those charged with financial crimes that do not allow for release on bail. Such a practice could compel innocent people, including those facing politicized prosecutions, to plead guilty and avoid long pretrial detentions.
Legal activists have suffered repercussions for their attempts to seek justice through the courts in recent years. The High Court suspended Zanzibari attorney Fatma Karume in September for filing an “inappropriate” legal challenge on behalf of the opposition that sought to block the appointment of Adelardus Kilangi as attorney general. In December, Tito Magoti—a rights activist and attorney for Tanzania’s Legal and Human Rights Centre—was arrested in a manner that appeared to be an abduction by unidentified men. The regional police commissioner at first denied he was being detained, but Magoti was eventually charged with unbailable economic crimes.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to a pattern of arbitrary arrests, politicized prosecutions, and other abuses that have steadily eroded due process standards in recent years.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
Reports of abuse and torture of suspects in police custody are common, and police have been accused of extrajudicial killings and other violence over the past three years. Several high-profile abductions and disappearances from 2018 remained unresolved in 2019.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Women’s rights are constitutionally guaranteed but not uniformly protected. Women face de facto discrimination in employment, including sexual harassment, which is rarely addressed through formal legal channels. Women’s socioeconomic disadvantages are more pronounced in rural areas and in the informal economy.
Same-sex sexual relations are punishable by lengthy prison terms, and LGBT+ people face discrimination and police abuse in practice, leading most to hide their identities. Men who are suspected of same-sex sexual activity have been arrested and forced to undergo anal examinations.
In August 2019, the Tanzanian and Burundian governments agreed to repatriate some 200,000 Burundian refugees by the end of the year, in spite of ongoing political instability in Burundi. Between September 2017 and late October 2019, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 78,000 Burundian refugees were repatriated. The UNHCR suggested in October that refugees were not leaving voluntarily but were being deported. That month, Magufuli accused refugees of criminal behavior and exploitation of the country’s natural resources. Nearly 167,000 Burundian refugees remained in Tanzania at year’s end.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
Residents enjoy some basic freedoms pertaining to travel and changes of residence, employment, and education, though corruption remains an obstacle. The government has wide discretion in enforcing laws that can limit movement, particularly in Zanzibar, where the approval of local government appointees is often required for changes in employment, personal banking, and residency. Separately, the authorities in recent years have arbitrarily arrested and deported a number of Kenyans, many of whom had been granted Tanzanian citizenship. The government at times imposes travel restrictions on civic activists, human rights researchers, opposition figures facing criminal charges, and other prominent individuals.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
Tanzanians have the right to establish private businesses but are often required to pay bribes to license and operate them. The state owns all land and leases it to individuals and private entities, leading to clashes over land rights between citizens and companies engaged in extractive industries.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
Rape, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation (FGM) are common but rarely prosecuted. An escalating pattern of rapes in which the attackers break into women’s homes has been reported in recent years in western Tanzania. Laws and practices regarding marriage, divorce, and other personal status issues favor men over women, particularly in Zanzibar. In October 2019, the Court of Appeal upheld a 2016 High Court ruling that called for the minimum age of marriage to be raised to 18 for girls as well as boys. The marriage law would need to be amended for the ruling to take effect. Tanzania’s adolescent fertility rate is more than twice the global average.
The government restricts access to family planning services. In July 2019, Magufuli encouraged women to help increase the country’s birth rate and spur the economy. At the same time, girls can be expelled from school for becoming pregnant, and in 2017 the government prohibited those who had given birth from returning to school. In 2018, local authorities arrested some pregnant students.
In October 2019, in response to a widely publicized video of a government official caning students who had been accused of setting fire to dormitories, Magufuli applauded the corporal punishment and called for children to be caned both at school and at home so as to create a “disciplined nation.”
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Sexual and labor exploitation remain problems, especially for children living in poor rural areas who are drawn into domestic service, agricultural labor, mining, and other activities. Child labor in gold mines, where working conditions are often dangerous, is common.
Most Tanzanians do not benefit from the country’s extensive natural-resource wealth. Tanzania has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world, and the poverty rate remains high.
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Global Freedom Score36 100 partly free