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Key findings
  • Majorities of Tanzanians say they enjoy basic freedoms of speech, association, and the media, though they have to be careful when discussing politics. o Six in 10 citizens (61%) report that they feel “completely free” to say what they think, a proportion that has rebounded from a low of 46% in 2017. Another 26% say they feel “somewhat free” to speak their minds. o But a majority (58%) say people “often” or “always” have to be careful about what they say about politics. o Four-fifths (80%) of citizens say they feel “completely free” to join any political organisation they want. Only 6% say they lack this freedom. o Eight in 10 respondents say the country’s media is “somewhat free” (41%) or “completely free” (40%) to report and comment on the news without government interference.
  • But many Tanzanians express support for the government’s right to limit such freedoms. o Two-thirds (66%) say the government should be able to ban organisations that go against its policies. o While three-fourths (75%) of citizens say the news media should constantly investigate and report on government mistakes and corruption, half (49%) think the government should have the right to prevent the media from publishing things that it disapproves of. o More than seven in 10 citizens say the government should be able to limit or prohibit the sharing of news, information, or opinions that it disapproves of (71%) or that criticise or insult the president (76%).

Tanzania’s Constitution guarantees its citizens the rights to freedom of expression and association. Since the country transitioned from a one-party state under the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party to multiparty democracy in 1992, Tanzanians have been able to create and join opposition parties that contest elections, although the CCM has won every national election (Paget, 2021).  

Particularly during the administration of former President John Magufuli (2015-2021), domestic and international observers raised concerns about legislation and government actions that posed threats to Tanzanians’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association. In 2015, at least seven people were charged with spreading misinformation on the social media apps Facebook and WhatsApp under the Tanzania Cybercrimes Act, which had been signed into law earlier that year by Magufuli’s predecessor, Jakaya Kikwete (Macha, 2016).  The following year, at least five Tanzanians were charged with cybercrimes under the same act for criticising Magufuli on Facebook and WhatsApp (Brooks, 2016).  

Independent media and political opposition likewise became targets of legal action.  Between 2016 and 2020, Tanzania’s information ministry banned the independent newspapers Mseto, Mawio, Mwanahalisi, and Tanzania Daima under the Media Services Act of 2016, alleging that they had spread misinformation in their reporting on government corruption (Nyeko, 2022). Over the same period, Tanzania’s global ranking in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index fell from 71st to 124th (Aboud, Shomari, &  Gusenberg, 2022). In 2016, the government banned politicians from holding political rallies outside their own constituencies, and subsequent years saw opposition party leaders and activists face harassment, arrest, abduction, and assassination (Human Rights Watch, 2019). 

Under President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who took office in March 2021, the government in 2022 lifted its bans on the four newspapers (Nyeko, 2022) and in early 2023 announced an end to its ban on politicians holding rallies outside of their constituencies (Dausen, 2023). 

This dispatch examines Tanzanians’ views on freedom of expression and association, incorporating results from the Afrobarometer Round 9 survey conducted in 2022 and from previous surveys conducted since 2012. While a majority of Tanzanians report feeling free to say what they think and to join political organisations of their choice, and most consider their country’s media to be largely free, they also say that people have to be careful about what they say about politics.  

A majority of Tanzanians express support for the government’s right to ban organisations that go against its policies and to restrict the sharing of information that it disapproves of.  

Darren Janz

Darren Janz is an undergraduate student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, United States.

Martin Fikiri Oswald

Martin Fikiri Oswald is a researcher.