Updated at 28 October 6:15 PM Paris
Perhaps seeing what a dedicated social media campaign could achieve in Nigeria with the #EndSARS protest, President John Magufuli is taking no chances.
The internet and social media have been slowed down, with Twitter issuing a warning earlier that such shutdowns are “hugely harmful and violate basic human rights and the principles of the #OpenInternet”.
Meanwhile the country’s leading telecoms group, Vodacom Tanzania, owned by the UK’s Vodafone Group, has been accused of blocking texts messages of opposition activists.
“As a UK citizen I find it deeply upsetting and immoral that a UK-registered company can be allowed to commit abuses abroad and not be held to account“, says Professor Nic Cheeseman of Birmingham University. “I believe that UK regulators should be investigating the company for breaching the civil liberties of Tanzanian citizens and that if the company refuses to recognise its mistake then firm action should be taken”.
We have been following with concern the shrinking of democratic space in #Tanzania, with worrying reports of intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests & physical attacks against political opponents, journalists, women rights defenders & other activists: https://t.co/UPXTZOmufV pic.twitter.com/AbLXroruF8
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) October 27, 2020
The Associated Press is reporting that at least 11 people have been shot dead in Zanzibar. Opposition leaders from the semi-autonomous region have accused police of shooting people during protests allegedly against rigging on the eve of today’s elections.
Just a few hours before polls opened, 42 opposition activists were reportedly arrested in Zanzibar.
Police confirming the arrest of opposition polling agents in Tanga https://t.co/CO8Z9Sio2U
— fatma karume aka Shangazi (@fatma_karume) October 28, 2020
Voters have 15 candidates to choose from as they emerge from a highly volatile and pre-election environment.
Some analysts warn that tensions might reach a breaking point in the post-election period.
For now, most eyes are focused on the race between incumbent president Magufuli – who stands to win a second terms – and opposition leader Tundu Lissu.
Tundu Lissu, Magufli’s biggest challenger, heads the country’s biggest opposition party CHADEMA. After surviving an assassination attempt three years ago, he returned to the country in time to run for this year’s polls.
Lissu has already spoken out today via Twitter about wide spread voter suppression.
Voting reports indicate widespread irregularities in the form of preventing our polling agents from accessing polling stations. Stuffed ballot boxes seized in Kawe, Dar. If this continues, mass democratic action will be the only option to protect the integrity of the election.
— Tundu Antiphas Lissu (@TunduALissu) October 28, 2020
He has campaigned on a platform of opening up the political environment in the country, namely releasing political prisoners and freeing civil society form oppression.
He has also spoken of major reforms that “this country needs”, while warning Tanzanians that “President Magufuli does not believe in the rule of law or democracy”, he told The Africa Report.
Ahead of campaigning, CHADEMA headquarters in Arusha were firebombed on 13 August and soon after, the convoy in which Lissu had been travelling in was attacked by bandits reportedly throwing stones.
Later on, Lissu’s campaign was suspended for seven days after accusations of sedition by the electoral commission, after reportedly saying Magufuli was planning to rig the polls.
Lissu called the move “rough justice”, and said it was “yet another proof of a discredited and a compromised electoral system.”
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Second time a charm
While both Lissu and Magufuli have drawn big crowds during their campaigns, the incumbent president is riding on a platform that promises to boost the country’s GDP, especially after the country climbed up in the World Bank rankings.
His handling of the coronavirus pandemic – or lack thereof – didn’t help in inspiring confidence, with claims back in June that Tanzania could claim victory over it.
Rather than follow advice by the WHO to impose strict measures, Magufuli – a devout Christian – asked Tanzanians to “defeat the devil through prayer“.
Official results expected within one week. According to Tanzanian electoral rules, the winning candidate simply requires a majority for a win to take over as president.
Noted irregularities throughout voting day
It’s possible that opposition groups will contest the results if Magufuli is reelected. Throughout the day, irregularities were reported. According to a source in Fichua Tanzania, a local NGO, opposition polling agents were denied entry into polling stations.
Several cases were noted by Fichua of election officers “entering voting stations with stuffed ballot boxes, or bags that are filled with pre-ticked ballot papers.”
In some cases, videos capturing such violations were circulated on social media via its secure Signal channel, but The Africa Report is unable to verify with certainty these claims.
One activist speaking to The Africa Report, Maria Sarungi Tsehai, said the internet and social media access remained patchy throughout the day (28 October). Despite that interruption, she says many citizens were heeding the warnings of possible violations and collecting evidence on their smart phones.
Citizens in action! #Tanzania
Citizens have confiscated bag full of filled ballots (all voting for CCM) outside the polling station. Interestingly the police officer assisted the citizens in this heroic act
No free and fair elections – plain rigging!#TanzaniaDecides2020 pic.twitter.com/uyoesnIrBx
— Maria Sarungi Tsehai (@MariaSTsehai) October 28, 2020
She says that there was even live-streaming of pre-filled ballot papers, along with photos of and videos of other violations that did make it to social media despite the internet clampdown.
“Citizen journalism has replaced the mainstream media reporting that has remained very restricted under the current regime,” adds Tsehai.
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