Reports say Tanzania has blocked social media applications as the country goes to polls on Wednesday (Oct. 28).
This happens just days after the state issued a directive restricting text messaging within the country. This builds on earlier legislation outlawing international press from covering developments in the country without local media partnerships.
The presidential and parliamentary election in Tanzania today is likely to be tense, given the allegations of human rights abuses and killings leveled by opposition politicians against incumbent president John Magufuli’s government.
A few hours prior to the polling day, as many as 42 opposition activists had been allegedly arrested in the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar.
There are also claims that security forces had killed nine people as protests broke out over voting procedures which opposition parties claim could be used to manipulate results of the poll in incumbent Magufuli’s favor.
And this was in addition to an already volatile and explosive pre-election environment that the opposition and some human rights observers say could worsen in the post-election period. These tensions, as well as other rights violations have been on the radar of the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner which on Tuesday noted the “shrinking of democratic space in the country, with worrying reports of intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests, and physical attacks against political opponents, journalists, women human rights defenders, and other activists”.
In fear of what could happen next, reports say authorities decided to either block or restrict the most influential and affordable communications platforms in Tanzania.
Access Now and Netblocks confirmed the blockade of Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram.
The throttling of social media platforms added to a Saturday directive by the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority under which it ordered telecom companies in the country to suspend bulk SMS and bulk voice communications as well as individual text messages with keywords around Wednesday’s election until Nov. 11.
All these measures have largely been seen as stifling critical media portrayal of Tanzania’s “Bulldozer” president, who came to power with a populist promise to wipe out corruption and a can-do energy admired by Africans in other countries in his first year.
But that early goodwill quickly fizzled out as Magufuli quickly showed an authoritarian streak combined with eccentricities and is now alleged to have okay human rights violations against rivals and other and dictator-like tendencies.
But given Magufuli’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has an entrenched leadership of Tanzanian party politics it is widely expected he’ll win re-election. The 60-year old does faced notable competition for the top job from Chadema Party’s Tundu Lissu who only returned to Tanzania in July, having fled the country three years ago following claims of an assassination attempt.
Lissu is just but one of nearly a dozen other contenders but has largely been at the receiving end of Magufuli’s state repression. His campaign was suspended earlier this month because he had supposedly used “seditious” language.