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Tanzania reacts to US visa ban over ‘election tampering'

Thursday January 21 2021
Visa pic

NEC chairman, (Rtd Judge) Semistocles Kaijage, (L), US secretary of State Michael Pompeo (R).

By Louis Kalumbia

Dar es Salaam. The government yesterday said the US should clarify the basis of its visa bans imposed on Tanzanian officials who “subverted the electoral process” last year.

The demand for clarification came after the US made a statement considered to be over-generalised, with the government noting that Tanzanian electoral laws allow aggrieved parties to seek legal redress.

However, the government said no official information has been communicated on the decision, - and that the news is on social media platforms.

But, on Tuesday, US secretary of State Michael Pompeo issued a press statement that his country has issued visa restrictions on Tanzanians for undermining the democratic process and human rights violations during last year’s General Election.

The statement says the unnamed officials subverted the electoral process, thereby “continuing the downward trajectory of the country’s democracy.

“Election observers and civil society noted widespread irregularities, as well as human rights abuses and violations before, during and after elections. Opposition candidates were routinely disqualified, harassed and arrested,” reads the statement in part.

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Yesterday, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) chairman, (Rtd Judge) Semistocles Kaijage, told The Citizen’s sister newspaper Mwananchi that this wasn’t the first such measures to be taken on other countries.

“However, the basis for imposing sanctions is what matters. Those who have imposed restrictions should be asked, not us. They should clarify because their statement is too general, and not concrete,” he said over the phone.

Mr Kaijage stressed that the US government didn’t clarify reasons for the complaints, although Tanzanian laws allow aggrieved persons to take their complaints to court for justice to take its course.

“Those are their own views. What will the electoral body chairman do? They should substantiate their claims that the election process was breached,” he said.

According to him, accredited election observers have filed their preliminary and final reports - and the US should clearly publish its report - if any.

Judge (rtd) Kaijage, who is currently on leave, said he hasn’t seen the observer’s reports - but insisting that the US statement that elections were sabotaged was too general and requires detailed clarification.

He said Tanzanian laws provide election stakeholders the right to take election wrongdoings to the court for possible inquiry on alleged violations - be they in candidates nomination, voting and/or results.

Speaking to The Citizen, the Head of Government Communications at the ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Emmanuel Buhohela, said no official information has been communicated to it so far.

“I have personally seen the information on social media. Since we have good communications, the matter would have been communicated if it was true,” he said.

However, the US statement says its decision was triggered by significant and widespread voting irregularities, Internet disruptions, intimidation of journalists, and violence by security forces that made the elections neither free nor fair.

Civil society leaders remain under threat in the post-election period, and some opposition leaders have fled the country out of fear for their safety, according to the US statement.

“We urge the government of Tanzania to reverse course and hold accountable those responsible for the flawed election, violence and intimidation,” reads the statement in part.

According to the statement, the US will continue to closely follow developments in Tanzania, and will not hesitate to take action against individuals complicit in undermining democracy and violating human rights.

However, no name of the said official was made public.

“Finally, we emphasize that today’s actions are not directed at the Tanzanian people.

“We commend Tanzanians who participated in the election peacefully and in good faith, and we will work together with all those committed to advancing democracy, human rights and mutual prosperity,” the statement concludes.

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