Magufuli targets mobile phone use in crackdown

The Tanzanian government has come down hard on social media users, just four days to general elections.

There has been a love and hate relationship between the two main contenders, the incumbent president, John Magufuli (pictured) of Chama Cha Mageuzi (CCM) and Chama Cha Maendeleo na Demokrasia (Chadema) Tundu Lissu, the man who refused to die after being shot more than 40 times three years ago.

Yesterday, the government dealt yet another secret card, banning mobile service providers from sending bulk messages, somehow winding back the clock to the days when there were no mobile phones.

Consequently, there will be no more bulk messaging and voice calls within the territory of Tanzania for the next one to two weeks.

A terse letter to one of the service providers, Viettel Tanzania PLC read in parts:

"Considering the adverse impact that abuse of bulk short messaging services or bulk voice calling services might have on the general elections, and in accordance with rule three of the second schedule in the Tanzania communication Regulatory Authority Act of the Laws of Tanzania, the authority hereby directs you to temporarily suspend offering of bulk short messaging and bulk voice calling from October 24 2020 to November 11 2020.”

According to the Director General of Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority James Kilara, entities sending bulk messages for public safety utility services, e-government or mobile financial services, have been excluded from this suspension.

At the same same time, the agency in charge of harbour services has also suspended all manner of travel by sea in and out of Tanzania on election day.

"October 28, 2020 is a special day of holding elections in Tanzania. As a result of the importance of this day, the Authority notifies you that it has suspended all operations by passenger and cargo vessels so as to allow all registered voters to cast their votes," reads a notice by the agency.

A cross section of Tanzanians were outraged by the decision, complaining that the government has been violating the Constitution to subvert the will of the people.

Media gagged

This Wednesday, 29 million voters will go to the polls in extra ordinary circumstances following 64 days of volatile campaigns.

Alicia Tundu, wife of the opposition presidential candidate, wrote on social media: “Sasa huku mitandao imeanza Kuzengua. Any messages with TL names whether TL, TAL or TAML (Tindu Lissu)... (Now messages bearing the name Tindu Lissu are not going through)."

Magufuli’s government has kept Tanzania in a stranglehold by making it extremely difficult for media to operate. Foreign journalists are strictly monitored while local media houses cannot relay their stories out of the country.

On Friday, the opposition was barred from holding ten rallies they had planned in different regions.

After opposition supporters were dispersed by police using teargas, Lissu issued a statement condemning what he termed as a deliberate attempt to distract the opposition:

“What a frightful day today was. We started by having our permits to land in several locations in the South being revoked due to an alleged impending cyclone!!! As if that’s not enough to mess us up, three of our planned rallies in Mkuranga, Kibiti and Rufiji were violently broken up by security forces before we even got there.”

Lissu said when he flew to Somanga in Kilwa District, he was met by a local government official who demanded he gives permission to hold the rally.

“When I told him that that’s none of his business, it being the business of the Electoral Commission, he ordered the police to open up teargas canisters," Lissu said.

Lissu has warned that any attempt to rig the elections, which Chadema pollsters have predicted will go the Chadema way by between 65-75 percent will earn enemies off democracy a special place at The Hague.