When President Samia Suluhu Hassan took over as President of Tanzania on 19 March 2021, following the dying of President John Magufuli, civil society in Tanzania was under siege. Freedoms of expression, meeting and affiliation had been at an all-time low with restrictive insurance policies and legal guidelines in place, stifling the power of the media and civil society to boost considerations over human rights points.
On the time President Hassan took energy in Tanzania, greater than 1,000 kilometers away in Zambia, the human rights scenario was comparable. Respect for basic freedoms was appreciably deteriorating within the run-up to the August 2021 election, with the opposition being focused and concerns in regards to the potential for electoral violence. The election nevertheless resulted in a change of government, with Hakainde Hichilema changing into the brand new president.
In Tanzania, between 2015 and 2020, no less than 4 legal guidelines harming freedom of expression had been launched, together with rules that imposed exorbitant charges on bloggers and social media customers. The Tanzanian authorities additionally imposed a ban on a number of media retailers and handed no less than 4 legal guidelines proscribing freedom of affiliation. Forward of the 2020 election, parliament amended the Political Events Act, given the authorities extensive powers to deregister political events. This was adopted by violence, arrests, assaults and intimidation of members of the opposition.
In Zambia, previous to the August 2021 election, the authorities used provisions of the NGO Act to focus on civil society organisations. Amendments to the act in 2020 led to a rise within the authorities’s monitoring of the actions and funding of civil society underneath the guise of monitoring unlawful actions corresponding to cash laundering and terrorism. The authorities shut down media retailers and focused journalists. Members of the political opposition had been subjected to arrest and intimidation.
How collective activism is shifting the tide on civic house in Tanzania and Zambia
President Hassan and President Hichilema ought to be credited with lifting a number of the restrictions imposed by their predecessors.
In Tanzania, in February 2022, the federal government lifted a ban on 4 newspapers and dropped expenses towards Freeman Mbowe, one of many foremost opposition leaders, who was launched from jail. The Hassan administration has additionally lifted a ban that prevented pregnant college students from attending college.
In Zambia, in December 2022, the federal government abolished the dying penalty. It’s additionally amended the 2009 NGO legislation that imposed onerous restrictions on civil society organisations.
In Zambia, the change to the NGO legislation mirrored a greater than a decade of civil society advocacy. All these modifications got here within the wake of civil society campaigning, providing proof of the facility of collective activism and civil society resilience. Additionally they confirmed that the restriction of human rights is a political selection, and it’s attainable for political leaders to make extra progressive selections, if they provide civil society an opportunity to talk up.
What does the longer term maintain?
The current lifting of some restrictions in each international locations is a welcome and constructive step in the precise path – however it’s only a begin. Main challenges stay in each international locations, with persevering with vital restrictions on freedoms of affiliation, meeting and expression.
President Hassan has indicated she’s going to contest elections in 2025, and President Hichilema will doubtless stand for a second time period in workplace. Earlier than elections, each leaders ought to decide to respect human rights and interact extra with civil society to hunt methods to carry civic house restrictions, and construct impartial establishments that allow scrutiny and accountability. That will sign lasting change..
David Kode is the Advocacy and campaigns Lead for CIVICUS and sometimes writes on constitutional points, elections, human rights and civic house.