Tanzania Election Watch: Regional Initiative To Observe Election, Safeguard Liberties

Press release
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With national general elections in Tanzania quickly approaching, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), its member organisation in Kenya, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), and other regional NGOs launched an independent election oversight mechanism on 3 September 2020, in a context of severe restrictions on democratic space in Tanzania.

Presidential and parliamentary elections in Tanzania are slated for 28 October 2020, where the incumbent President John Magufuli, from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, will run for a second and last constitutional term.

In a context where few independent observers are present, due to an environment of restricted liberties and the Covid-19 pandemic, a regional initiative – the Tanzania Election Watch (TEW)– was set up with the support of Kenyan (KHRC) and Ugandan (the Kituo cha Katiba) partners, to observe, raise concerns and offer regional and international responses to the electoral context in Tanzania. The mechanism will be active during the pre-election period, voting day and the immediate aftermath of the elections. A series of actions have been planned, including documenting and monitoring the electoral context, conducting a webinar, and regional and international advocacy.

“Engaging with regional actors on elections is key for the Tanzanian context but also the region, where fundamental rights and civil liberties need to be safeguarded more than ever.”

George Kegoro, Director of KHRC

The election campaign began in July 2020 and continues in a closed and tense context where civic and political space is severely restricted. Since Tanzania’s last general elections in 2015, human rights and civil liberties have been severely restricted by the Tanzanian authorities, particularly freedom of expression and association, as stated by UN Special Rapporteurs recently.

Civil society and media are now operating in a very challenging environment, where laws and regulations have been enacted to prevent them from conducting their work freely. Several civil society organisations have been suspended or their activities highly constrained, including to conduct electoral observation. The opposition has been prevented from holding political meetings, and some opposition candidates have been disqualified from running.

“While this regional initiative was initially created for the Tanzanian context, we hope that it will be replicated in other countries facing similar challenges in the region.”

Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH and Director of DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights.

The TEW has set up a panel of eminent figures from eastern and southern Africa, including Alice Mogwe, to convey key messages to the Tanzanian authorities, and to regional and international mechanisms and institutions.

While Covid-19 is still rampant in the region, President Magufuli declared Tanzania “Covid-19 free” and the plan to hold general elections has been retained. Although few cases are now being reported, the Tanzanian authorities have been criticised for maintaining a certain opaqueness and denial of the reality of the pandemic situation in the country.

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