Tanzania | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Tanzania's civil liberties rating improved from 4 to 3 due to changes in the survey methodology.


Parliament, dominated by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, passed restrictive legislation in 2002 regarding antiterrorism that gives the police and immigration officials sweeping powers to arrest illegal immigrants or anyone suspected to have links with terrorists. It also passed a law governing activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) which could circumscribe civil liberties, including the freedoms of association and expression. As of the end of 2002, however, this law had yet to be implemented.

The parliament of the semiautonomous region of Zanzibar and Pemba islands has endorsed amendments to its constitution, allowing the Zanzibari president to involve the opposition in the formation of an independent electoral commission. The amendment was passed in what is seen as an important step towards the implementation of a reconciliation agreement signed by the CCM and the rival Civic United Front (CUF) in October 2001 in a bid to end years of turmoil between the two parties.

After Tanzania gained independence from Britain in 1961, the CCM, under President Julius Nyerere, dominated the country's political life. The Zanzibar and Pemba islands were merged with Tanganyika to become the Union of Tanzania after Arab sultans who had long ruled the islands were deposed in a violent revolution in 1964. For much of his presidency, President Nyerere espoused a collectivist economic philosophy known in Swahili as ujaama. Although it may have been useful in promoting a sense of community and nationality, this policy resulted in significant economic dislocation and decline, the effects of which continue to be felt. During Nyerere's tenure, Tanzania also played an important role as a "Front Line State" in the international response to white-controlled regimes in southern Africa.

Nyerere retained strong influence after he officially retired in 1985. Although opposition parties were legalized in 1992, the CCM continues to dominate the country's political life. Progress towards democratic consolidation and strong economic growth remain inhibited by high levels of corruption and weak opposition parties.

Although Tanzania has avoided the civil strife that has racked many of its neighbors, and its economy is growing modestly, there are a number of serious issues that, if not addressed, could affect the country's long-term stability. These include relations between the mainland and the Zanzibar archipelago; the presence in Tanzania of 500,000 refugees from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda; and the need for relief from the country's $8 billion debt.

Tanzania held legislative and presidential elections in October 2000, the second since the reintroduction of multiparty politics. Incumbent president Benjamin Mkapa won reelection with about 70 percent of the vote, and the CCM won an overwhelming victory in the 275-member legislature. The conduct of these elections represented a modest improvement over the preceding polls in 1995.

The elections were marred, however, by fraudulent polls biased in favor of the ruling party in the federated semiautonomous islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. The status of these islands in relation to the mainland has long provoked tension. The opposition CUF and independent observers convincingly demonstrated that the ruling CCM had engaged in fraud to maintain itself in power. Subsequent rioting in Zanzibar in January 2001 resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people. In October the CCM and the CUF announced the agreement designed to resolve the political crisis and allow for more transparent government.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The ability of Tanzanians to freely choose their political leaders is not yet firmly entrenched in practice. Although the 2000 national elections avoided the massive logistical and administrative chaos of preceding elections, the CCM continues to enjoy considerable advantages of incumbency that inhibit the realistic prospect of alternation of power. In addition, the 2000 elections in Zanzibar demonstrated that progress towards more legitimate electoral processes is not uniform nationwide. Massive electoral irregularities prompted authorities to annul the vote in almost one-third of constituencies. Ballot papers arrived hours late in some areas, and many people were unable to vote. A claim by the CUF leader that the CCM had manipulated the election to avoid defeat was bolstered by observers from the Commonwealth and the Organization of African Unity. The October 2001 agreement to defuse the Zanzibar crisis represents a positive step, but the accord remains fragile.

The previous legislative and presidential elections, in 1995, had been the most open on mainland Tanzania since independence. The CCM's landslide legislative victory was seriously tainted, however, not only by poor organization but also by fraud and administrative irregularities. In addition, extensive use of state broadcasting and other government resources during the campaign favored the ruling party. The CCM won 80 percent of the 232 directly elected seats in the National Assembly. The voting in Zanzibar was plainly fraudulent, with the island's high court summarily rejecting opposition demands for fresh polls.

Thirteen opposition parties have formal status. Some of them are active, but they tend to be divided and ineffective. The CUF has sought to establish significant support on the Tanzanian mainland, and its presidential candidate received the second-highest number of votes in the 2000 presidential elections. Another major opposition party, the National Convention for Constitution and Reform (NCCR-Mageuzi), whose leader, Augustine Mrema, was runner-up to President Benjamin Mkapa in the 1995 presidential election, has split. Parties with parliamentary representation receive government subsidies, but they criticize the low level of funding and the formula by which it is allocated.

Tanzania's judiciary has displayed signs of autonomy after decades of subservience to the one-party CCM regime, but it remains subject to considerable political influence. Constitutional protections for the right to free assembly are generally, but not always, respected. Laws allow rallies only by officially registered political parties, which may not be formed on religious, ethnic, or regional bases and cannot oppose the union of Zanzibar and the mainland. Freedom of religion is respected.

Print and electronic media are active, but media impact is largely limited to major urban areas. Private radio and television stations began receiving licenses at the beginning of 1994, but they are not allowed to cover more than 25 percent of the country's territory, according to the 1993 Broadcasting Act. The stated rationale for the limitation is to protect national interests. In Zanzibar the government controls the electronic media.

Arrest and pretrial detention laws are often ignored. The new legislation designed to strengthen the government's ability to deal with terrorist threats has raised civil liberties concerns. Police will not need warrants to detain people suspected of committing certain terrorism-related crimes. Prison conditions are harsh, and police abuses are said to be common. According to government estimates, there are approximately 45,000 inmates in the country's prisons although the prisons' collective capacity is only 21,000. Such overcrowding has caused widespread concern. Questions are raised regarding the safety and health of prisoners, including minors and women, who have been subjected to sexual harassment and human rights abuses.

Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are active, and some have been able to influence the public policy process. The 2002 NGO Act passed by parliament, however, contains many serious flaws, including compulsory NGO registration backed by criminal sanctions, lack of appeals to the courts, and inconsistencies with other related existing legislation. The broad distribution of Tanzania's population among many ethnic groups has largely diffused potential ethnic rivalries that have racked neighboring countries. The refugee influx is currently a big burden for Tanzania, which alone hosts more than 800,000 refugees. It is also estimated that more than 26,000 refugees have been naturalized since 1961.

Women's rights guaranteed by the constitution and other laws are not uniformly protected. Especially in rural areas and in Zanzibar, traditional or Islamic customs discriminatory toward women prevail in family law, and women have fewer educational and economic opportunities. Domestic violence against women is reportedly common and is rarely prosecuted. Human rights groups have sought laws to bar forced marriages, which are most common among Tanzania's coastal peoples. The employment of children as domestic servants is widespread.

Workers do not have the right to organize and join trade unions freely. Essential workers are barred from striking. Other workers' right to strike is restricted by complex notification and mediation requirements. Collective bargaining effectively exists only in the small private (business) sector. Approximately 85 percent of Tanzania's people survive through subsistence agriculture. Economic decline in Zanzibar continues to dim the islands' prospects.

Corruption remains a serious problem, although the government has made some attempts to address it. The government developed a national action plan for the control of corruption. The Prevention of Corruption Bureau recorded an increasing number of reported incidents on corruption from 432 cases in 1998 to 1,461 cases at the end of 2000, although it is not clear whether this represents an increase in corruption or increased reporting and improved detection of corruption. Tanzania ranked 71st out of 102 countries on Transparency International's 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index. Interpol has warned that Tanzania has become a major transit center for drugs from Asia into Europe.