Tanzanian Protest Fails Amid Heavy Police Presence

Anti-government protests organized through social media have been prevented in Tanzania amid heavy police presence in the streets. The protests against new cyber laws were organized to take place on Thursday, the anniversary of the union between mainland Tanzania and the Indian Ocean archipelago Zanzibar. This day is known as Union Day, which occurs on April 26 every year.

Nine demonstrators attempted to march on Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, and were promptly arrested. “Today is not the same like the previous union day celebrations. For us business people we celebrate the day and also do our business. But this one there have been planned protests, there is no business and the city is quiet. People are afraid to come out,” said Juma Yusuf, a businessman in Dar es Salaam.

The protests were planned by self-exiled activist Mange Kimambi through social media. Kimambi currently resides in Los Angeles, California, and has 1.8 million Instagram followers. She describes herself as a “democracy activist, proudly Tanzanian,” but fears to return to Tanzania because of the criticism of the authorities.

Protests in Tanzania would challenge President John Magufuli, who, since taking office in late 2015, has been accused of cracking down on freedom of expression and dissent. Legislators recently passed laws that target media organizations, and several news outlets have already been suspended or shut down. In March, legislators passed a law requiring bloggers and other running online platforms to get a license. Additionally, some musicians have been arrested for posting videos that officials called “obscene” and not fit for public consumption. Tanzanian authorities insist the laws passed are to fight hate speech, obscene behaviour, and protect national security.

Magufuli said last month that his government will not allow its economic reforms to be derailed by unlawful street protests. He warned that anyone who participates in illegal demonstrations will be met with the full force of the law. Gilles Muroto, police chief in Tanzania’s administrative capital Dodoma, told journalists on Wednesday that those who plan to demonstrate will “be beaten like stray dogs.” “As Tanzanians, we must defend our peace. We should not allow ourselves to be used by our enemies,”  said Magufuli in his Union Day speech to the nation. “I will defend our union at all costs. We will not have mercy on anyone – inside or outside the country – who tries to destabilize us.”

The main opposition party, CHADEMA, said several of its leaders across the country were arrested by the police on allegations of inciting Tanzanians to take the streets. “They don’t have enough police officers to threaten and intimidate the whole of Tanzania,” Kimambi told her Instagram followers on Wednesday in reaction to the police show of force. Critics continue to raise concerns about violations of free speech and human rights.

Hallie Kielb