A disputed election and charges the ruling party is censoring the news have had a chilling effect on what should be a time for celebration in the southern African nation of Tanzania.
Tuesday is the 52nd Union Day - the anniversary of the day in 1964 on which Tanganyika merged with the island of Zanzibar to form Tanzania.
But reform-minded President John Magufuli has canceled this year’s Union Day celebrations in what he said was a cost-saving measure. Instead the president has recommended that the money for the celebrations be used for road construction.
Freeman Mbowe, national chairman of the opposition CHADEMA party, said the state of the union is not well because tensions remain high following last October’s presidential election in Zanzibar which the opposition believes it won.
Opposition decries clamp down
Mbowe said canceling the Union Day celebrations is a mockery of how best to deal with the political situation in Zanzibar.
“In this year’s celebration, the main opposition party in Zanzibar, that’s CUF (Civic United Front), had said it would not participate in any way whatsoever in the Union Day celebrations, and also the main opposition party in the mainland, that is our party CHADEMA had said it would not participate in any way in the celebrations,” he said.
Zanzibar held presidential elections in October last year and the opposition said it won the election. But the Zanzibar electoral commission annulled the results on grounds they were marred by several irregularities.
The commission called for fresh elections on March 20th this year, but the opposition boycotted because it believed its candidate won the original October 25th election last year.
New election was boycotted
The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party candidate Ali Mohamed Shein won the re-run Zanzibar polls with 91% of the votes cast. But still the tension persists because the opposition believes its candidate already had won the presidency.
"We have a problem that needs to be taken care of in Zanzibar. The party that won the election in Zanzibar has to be recognized. Canceling the celebrations doesn’t make any sense at the end of the day because in the first place, the opposition decided to boycott these celebrations. But two, we have a primary crisis to take care of, and the primary crisis that has to be taken care is the government in Zanzibar? Who has formed the government and why have they formed the government? Are we really in acceptance of this? Certainly no,” Mbowe said.
Mbowe said the best option of resolving the political impasse in Zanzibar is to form a government of national unity. Meanwhile the Tanzania Editors Forum has called on the national parliament to allow private television stations to broadcast "live" the proceedings of parliament.
Ruling party restricting media
According to the Daily News of Tanzania, Editors Forum chairman Theophil Makunga said under the current system, news on parliamentary proceedings is “heavily censored”, denying the public the right to access proper information.
Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa announced earlier this year that the government was reducing the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) coverage of the national Assembly to save money. The TBC has been airing House proceedings since 2015.
Mbowe said the opposition joins the Tanzania Editors Forum in denouncing the government’s decision to censor the media.
“This is a mockery to the whole thing. We know the government is control of the TBC, but again the private media decided and volunteered to air the live coverage of the parliament. But now they are denying all the private media to air the proceedings in parliament. So the question of cost-cutting exercise is a mere excuse to try and hide their face on protecting the general public in knowing what is exactly going in parliament,” Mbowe said.