Tanzanians Approach Election with Economic Advances, Rights Squeezed

Tanzania is heading toward October elections after five years under President John Magufuli.  He has initiated major infrastructure projects and fought official corruption. But critics accuse Magufuli of ignoring concerns about the projects and cracking down on opponents and freedom of the press. Like 16% of rural Tanzanians, 87-year-old Zainabu Mohamed has lived without power for 30 years.But she hopes the Rufiji hydropower project will change that by making electricity cheap enough for her to afford.”When the electricity project is completed, I will not have to use a kerosene lamp anymore,” Mohamed said, adding that things will be better as she’ll have electricity.One of President John Magufuli’s megaprojects, the dam is expected to be finished in 2022 and provide 2,100 megawatts of electricity, tripling Tanzania’s hydropower.Tanzanian President John Magufuli and Egyptian Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Mohamed Hamed Shaker attend the launch of the construction of the Rufiji Hydro Power project near Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 26, 2019.Magufuli said officials believe that when completed, many citizens will stop using firewood and charcoal. He adds that instead, they’ll be using electricity that will be available at cheap prices.Construction is taking place in the Selous Game Reserve, a wildlife protection area the size of Switzerland.Conservationists say, as with most of Magufuli’s megaprojects, the hydropower will come at a cost. Fridah Musilimu is an environmentalist from Mazingira Plus, an organization that fights for a better environment through protection and conservation advocacy.“The ecosystem of the Selous Game reserve is specifically for the wildlife,” Musilimu said. “So, the introduction of the hydroelectricity plant at the Selous Game Reserve … some species which used to be available in that area are going to be lost.”The president’s supporters note his projects, such as the standard gauge railway to link Tanzania to neighboring Rwanda and Uganda, will help boost the economy.Magufuli earned the nickname “The Bulldozer” for his road projects and later for his actions to reduce spending and corruption.Critics say he cracks down on a free press and is intolerant of opponents.Maxcence Melo is a founder of JamiiForums, a citizen journalism and whistleblowing website.                                                   Melo said he has experienced being questioned many times by authorities, arrested, held by police, and taken to prison. Melo adds that he has been charged with various crimes since 2016 and been taken to court more than 148 times.The opposition Chadema party’s Tundu Lissu, left, hands over his electoral nomination form to election chairman Semistocles Kaijage, right, in Dodoma, Tanzania, Aug. 25, 2020.Tanzania’s opposition Party for Democracy and Progress, known in Swahili as Chadema, chose Tundu Lissu, who returned from self-imposed exile in July, to challenge Magufuli in October’s presidential election.An outspoken Magufuli critic, Lissu left the country in 2017 after gunmen shot him 16 times. Singo Benson is a deputy secretary of Chadema.“During these five years we have experienced, against the constitution, against the law, political parties being prohibited from performing their activities,” he said.Benson added that, that is the first blow against democracy because democracy includes people’s freedom of expression, and to have many political parties, alternative parties that can give out alternative ideas.At the August launch of his reelection campaign, Magufuli touted transforming Tanzania from a low-income country to a middle-income one.While his critics see darkness washing over some freedoms, Magufuli’s supporters look to economic development for a brighter future. 

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