On Thursday April 26, 2018, streets in Tanzania remained quiet despite the purported protest that was supposed to be held by the anti-government parties. According to the local news, businesses were shut down in the major towns, like Dar es Salaam and Dodoma, on Thursday, as the security forces took to the streets to avert any form of demonstrations. There was a heavy presence of police in the capital city and other cities across the nation. The security forces had earlier threatened to come against any move by demonstrators, pledging to beat protesters “like stray dogs.” “People are afraid to come out,” Juma Yusuf, a businessman in Dar es Salaam, asserted.
Tanzania, with a population of about 55 million situated on the East African coast, is rarely seen as one of Africa’s problem cases. Unlike Central African Republic, Congo, or Burundi, it has never had a civil war or experienced any bloody political crisis. Since the election of John Magufuli in 2015, Magufuli’s controversial leadership has made him to be popularly known as “bulldozer,” lauded in fighting corruption and public service delivery. He has at some times fired his close allies and heads of his administration for failure to protect public interest.
However, few years into the leadership of Magufuli, Tanzania has descended gradually into autocracy. Tanzanians have been in disarray, especially with the restrictions in freedom of expression to restrictions on political freedom. Policies has been passed that targeted media firms, many news outlets have been forced to shut down operations. In addition, the main opposition party, Chadema, leaders were arrested by the security forces in various parts of the country on allegations of mobilizing Tanzanians to march against the government.
Mange Kimambi, a Tanzanian democracy activist based in the United States, tried to organize demonstrations through the social media. The demonstration day coincided with the anniversary of the Union day celebrations in honor of the union between mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar. In his Union Day speech, the president called on all Tanzanians to defend the national peace. He pronounced, “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.” Many international agencies, like Amnesty International, condemned the government restriction on people’s freedom. Amina Hersi, who works with Amnesty International, says it will be good for the Tanzanian government to allow its population to air their views without any opposition.