Authorities continued to restrict civil and political rights and harass opposition ahead of general elections, while President Magufuli further downplayed risk posed by COVID-19. Unidentified assailants 8 June assaulted chairman of main opposition party Chadema Freeman Mbowe in capital Dodoma, reportedly breaking his leg; Chadema immediately alleged attack was politically motivated. Parliament 10 June passed bill granting leaders of executive, legislative, and judiciary immunity from prosecution for any actions undertaken while in office, also restricting to those “affected personally” eligibility for challenging laws that violate constitution’s bill of rights, in effect banning public interest litigation by preventing rights groups to file cases on behalf of victims; move sparked outcry from opposition and coalition of over 200 civil society organisations, who said bill violated constitutional rights. Magufuli 16 June dissolved Parliament as required by constitution ahead of general elections scheduled for Oct, next day said he would seek re-election. Police 23 June arrested leader of opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency (ATC) Zitto Kabwe and at least seven other ATC members for holding “unlawful assembly” in Kilwa district in south; court next day released Kabwe and all others on bail. Amid absence of official figures on spread of COVID-19 in country since April, universities and high schools reopened 1 June, and schools 29 June. Tanzania and Kenya 17 June reached agreement on implementation of COVID-19 testing for cargo drivers after drivers from both countries remained stranded at Namanga border crossing for weeks.
Next year’s elections in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous Tanzanian archipelago, will be hard fought. With the ruling party changing the rules in its favour, they could turn violent. The islands’ politicians should urgently meet to discuss levelling the playing field and lowering the risk of clashes.
Al-Shabaab remains focused on recapturing power in Somalia, but it continues to plot attacks in Kenya and Tanzania – and perhaps in Uganda as well. To counter the movement, East African states should eschew heavy-handed crackdowns and work instead to reduce its appeal to potential recruits.
Originally published in The East African