TALKING POINT : Quitting OGP: how much more secretive should Tanzania be?

What you need to know:

  • This comes at a time when we have witnessed similarly earth-shaking moves by President John Pombe Magufuli’s administration, in office since November 5, 2015.

I had somewhat hesitatingly let myself believe reports that my home country Tanzania was soon to withdraw from the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Initiative after participating so successfully in the mechanism since the country joined it more than five years ago! If this becomes true, I said to myself, then Tanzania would have joined the growing list of countries transitioning to become the most secretive in the world!

This comes at a time when we have witnessed similarly earth-shaking moves by President John Pombe Magufuli’s administration, in office since November 5, 2015.

In a more-or-less similar vein, rumours had it that the Presidential Delivery Bureau operating under the Big Results Now (BRN) banner was to be dismantled. In due course, this became a reality!

Also, Tanzania has been rumoured as championing withdrawal of African Union member-countries from the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC)!

On the other hand, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) – which had somewhat stalled – was recently boosted after launching the Country Review Report (2013), although not much was expected by way of implementation, including executing the National Programme of Action with its annexed budget!

This foot-dragging happens at a time when some “progressive” African countries, including Kenya next-door, were actually hankering after a “second generation” Country Reviews!

It’s at this juncture that I raise the poser: how much more secretive should Tanzania get before things get really awry?

Transparency is one important pillar in the development stakes, where it’s generally acknowledged that “information is power”.

Actions by citizens or the administration that are divorced from the objective of promoting transparency, freedom of opinion and the right to know/access information as enshrined in Article 18 of the Tanzania Constitution must be denounced, rejected.

Incorporated into the statute in 2005 after concerted efforts, Article 18 guarantees the right for people to “hold opinions and express ideas”. Hence, it’s anyone’s right to seek, receive and/or disseminate information as appropriate.

Furthermore, Article 18 (c) guarantees the freedom and right of communication without interference. The concluding provision in 18 (d) is, therefore, to the effect that everyone in Tanzania has the right to be informed at all times of various events and activities, as well as of issues of importance to the society.

Impliedly, Article 18 is in line not only with the Open Government Partnership, but also with the UN-administered Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Given the arguably retrogressive trends, one cannot be absolutely sure that the Government won’t withdraw from UPR, too!

Incidentally, the Open Government Partnership is a multilateral initiative to secure concrete commitments from national and sub-national governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a Steering Committee, which includes representatives of Governments and civil society organisations.

In recent times, mass media organs in Tanzania have been operating under threats from government institutions – ranging from the temporary suspension of Mwananchi, Mtanzania and Tanzania Daima newspapers to the banning of Mawio, MwanaHalisi and Raia Mwema.

If these are signs that transparency isn’t the route Tanzania is taking, then Kenya, for instance, is headed in the right direction – doing so largely on the back of that country’s 2010 constitution, which enables establishing systems which safeguard the freedom and independence of mass media organs.

As a result, Kenyan media outlets continue to operate with high integrity and professionalism as demonstrated during the nullified August 8 presidential election whose repeat is slated for October 26.

Kenya wisely refrained from exerting undue control over, and interference with, persons engaged in broadcasting, production or circulation of publications, and dissemination of information by any medium. This is in line with Article 34 of Kenya’s Constitution.

Additionally, the Constitution requires that no-one be penalised for any opinion(s) they hold, publish or disseminate.

Not so in Tanzania, where its Cybercrimes legislation is wantonly used against people for disseminating usually politically-dissenting opinions via social media!

For Tanzania to consolidate bona fide transparency and democracy, the government must institute appropriate measures. First: the ban on political activity, including public party rallies, must be lifted soonest. Second: rulers must be reasonably tolerant to divergent views from within government, political opposition and Civil Society.

We also must change negative attitudes on the mass media fraternity. After all, media houses are only conduits of information, and must be encouraged and supported in that.