Tundu Lissu: Tanzania media freedom ‘was in prison’ under President Magufuli

Tanzania Opposition leader Tundu Lissu.

Tanzania Opposition leader Tundu Lissu has described the media space in Tanzania under the late President John Pombe Magufuli as a prison.

He compared the media atmosphere in Tanzania to other countries in the region, saying Kenyan journalists are free.

Lissu is in Kenya to launch his book on East African parliaments.

“In Tanzania, it has not been free for a very long time,” he said on Spice FM today.

“It has been a prison of sorts in the past five years, starting from when [President] Magufuli came to power.”

He said the late president took the country through a path of mayhem it had never taken in its entire history.

Lissu went on: “It has had a telling effect on freedoms ... we have hundreds of political prisoners languishing in prison.”

But the opposition leader said President Samia Suluhu is trying to right the wrongs made by the Magufuli administration.

“Mama Suluhu is doing a lot now to clean the prisons of these people who should never have been in prison in the first place,” Lissu added.

In April, President Suluhu ordered the reopening of media houses that were previously banned or sanctioned by the former administration.

In a move that reopened press freedom, Suluhu cautioned the media to follow the law in its reportage.

Her announcements came after her predecessor President Magufuli was buried on March 26.

Lissu said in terms of media freedom, Tanzania has never really been at par with its East African neighbours.

“But even in our best years [in terms of media freedom], you could never compare the Tanzanian media scene with Kenya.

“We have always had a very restrictive and authoritarian media atmosphere throughout the years of a one-party state.”

He said the introduction of a multiparty system improved the situation, but only to a certain degree.

“But some of the areas remained controlled by the state.

“With [President] Magufuli there was a declaration of war in very clear terms by the president himself on national television.”

He said Magufuli once said the media should not think it is that free.

Lissu cited the disappearance of journalists, closure of media houses, heavy fining of television stations as well as shutting down radio stations.

In August 2020, the Tanzanian government officially banned all local media outlets from broadcasting foreign content without government permission.

As the crackdown on free press and dissident voices intensified in Tanzania, the regulations demanded the presence of a government custodian when a foreign journalist was covering a local story.

The new regulations dubbed ‘The electronic and postal communications’ amendment for both radio and television were issued on August 10 by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority.

For instance, Radio Free Africa was put on notice by TCRA, expected to issue an explanation as to why action shouldn’t be taken on them for broadcasting BBC’s ‘Amka na BBC’ morning programme on July 29. BBC had interviewed Lissu, then Chadema’s presidential flagbearer, claiming they were ‘denied entry at Mkapa’s funeral’.

One of Magufuli’s choice quotes on media freedom was; “If you think you have freedom of the press... not to that extent.”

In his death, Magufuli left behind a trail of destruction that will take longer to fix as eyes are now set on President Suluhu.