Is citizenship a tool to silence critics in Tanzania?

Sunday August 5 2018

Mr Aidan Eyakuze addresses the press on Friday

Mr Aidan Eyakuze addresses the press on Friday August 3, 2018 in Dar es Salaam. With him is the organisation's lawyer Mr Benedict Ishabakaki. Photo | Omari Fungo 

By The Citizen Reporters @TheCitizenTZ news@thecitizen.co.tz

Dar es Salaam. The latest saga in which the Immigration department confiscated the passport of Twaweza’s executive director Aidan Eyakuze has raised more questions than answers.

The main question has been: why is it that some passport holders who also happen to be critics of the government are the ones whose ‘citizenship’ get investigated?

Immigration department spokesman Ally Mtanda said on Friday that Mr Eyakuze’s citizenship was being investigated and that the latter has been barred from travelling outside the country.

This comes barely two weeks after the Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) wrote a letter to Twaweza demanding it to explain why legal measures shouldn’t be taken against it for publishing findings of an “unauthorised” survey.

However, Costech has since cleared Twaweza of any wrong doing. Earlier, Twaweza had published results of a survey, titled “Speaking Truth to Power? Citizens’ Views on Politics in Tanzania” which showed that President John Magufuli’s approval rating has dropped from 96 per cent in his first year in office in 2016 – to around 55 per cent early this year.

Not the first time…

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In the recent past, people who have dared raise critical questions about the government have been interrogated by Immigration officials over their citizenship.

When asked to comment on the matter, Home Affairs Minister Kangi Lugola said, “I can’t comment, I am busy.’’

Instead, the minister pulled out his phone and demanded the journalist who had asked the question to see for herself his Call-List. “You see, I have 108 missed calls,’’ he said.

However, Information Services and Government Spokesman Hassan Abbasi, said Mr Eyakuze’s case was being handled just like that of any other person. “This is what we call rule of law. Mr Eyakuze’s rights have not been violated, he is not guilty until proven so according to the laws of the land,” Dr Abbasi said.

Past scenarios

Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) executive director Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa revealed he has been pursued by Immigration officials—more than once, and said that his citizenship was questionable. “Last year, they came after me. But they did not confiscate my travel documents,’’ he told The Citizen in an interview yesterday.

“It’s because of the nature of our job. That day, we had issued a statement condemning human rights violations in Loliondo,” he recalled.

Last year, Rulenge-Ngara Catholic Diocese Bishop Severine NiweMugizi was interrogated about his citizenship by Immigration officers shortly after he asked President John Magufuli to re-initiate the process of writing a new Constitution. He made the request during a meeting with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).

At that time, the President had earlier said that Constitution review was none of his priorities as he had not made such a promise during campaigns.

However, yesterday, when the Bishop was asked how he had resolved his immigration issue, he declined to comment, saying there was an ongoing court case about it.

“I wouldn’t wish to comment about it. It hasn’t been concluded yet,’’ he said in a phone interview.

Tanzania Students Network Programme chairman Abdul Nondo was also summoned by the Immigration Department over his citizenship. He was accused of “self-kidnapping” and being alarmist about his whereabouts. He has since been suspended from university pending a court case.

The manner in which Twaweza’s director travel documents has been handled by Immigration officials, has alarmed the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), which has issued a statement strongly condemning the move, and asking the government to ensure human rights were respected.

“We have been informed that Mr Aidan Eyakuze’s passport has been confiscated without giving reasons. We condemn this act,” said an LHRC statement released yesterday.

Nzega Urban MP Hussein Bashe, who was once interrogated over his citizenship, came out to console Mr Eyakuze about his predicament.

“Eyakuze pole ‘going through this I know how painful it is...’’ said Mr Bashe. “But you know what? This process will help you...” he wrote on his official twitter handle.

The former director general of the National Institute for Medical Research (Nimr), Dr Mwele Malecela, questioned why Eyakuze’s citizenship was being questioned while both his parents were citizens of Tanzania and had well served the country.

“That Eyakuze’s citizenship is being questioned? Is this some kind of a joke? His late father Dr Valentine Eyakuze served this country with great passion. Today, this is happening to his son,’’ queried Dr Mwele on her twitter handle. Dr Mwele now works for the World Health Organisation (WHO)-Africa.

Tanganyika Law Society President Fatma Karume, ACT Wazalendo Party leader Zitto Kabwe and activist Maria Sarungi all came out in defence of Mr Eyakuze.

An ex-Roman Catholic priest and commentator Privatus Karugendo also took to twitter questioning why Eyakuze’s citizenship was being queried while his roots were in Tanzania.

He wrote “Apart from knowing him personally, I know the village where he comes from in Kasharu, Bukoba District. I knew very well his late father Dr Eyakuze and Mama Maria. I used to go to the same church with Aidan, who is questioning his citizenship?” asked Mr Karugendo.