SATURDAY July 13, 2019
By Joe Lihundi
Tranquility News Reporter, Arusha
A local media house has proved Tanzania Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi wrong in a BBC interview just as social media platforms are still awash with the minister’s ‘confirmation’ of the death of the country’s journalist Azory Gwanda.
In a latest interview with Focus on Africa, a BBC programme, Professor Kabudi’s tongue apparently slipped when he attempted to defend his country’s record on media freedom in London where he attended a global conference on press freedom.
He distanced Tanzania from allegations that it was suppressing press freedom by banning at least five newspapers ever since President John Magufuli popularly known as Bulldozer came to power in November 2015.
“The Tanzania government does not muzzle press, did not muzzle press and will never muzzle the press because freedom of the press is enshrined under Article 18 of the Constitution,” said Prof Kabudi, adding:
“Local and foreign-based media houses operate in the country, including BBC, DW, Radio France International, Reuters, Bloomberg, China, VOA, CCTV, and many other local bureau, including 226 newspapers, 158 radio stations, 84 television stations, 91 online televisions, six online radios, 63 news blogs, 30 web blogs and two online fora.”
Prof Kabudi said only one newspaper had been closed down since, while others were suspended. “Suspension is not arbitrary, one newspaper realised to have committed a professional misconduct, suspended itself for three months,” he explained.
Hali Halisi, the publishers of three Kiswahili weeklies, namely Mwanahalisi, Mseto and Mawio, said all its newspapers were indefinitely suspended. While Mseto was suspended in 2016, Mwanahalisi and Mawio were suspended the following year.
The Hali Halisi Publishers (HHP) says in a statement that its attempt to seek redress proved futile despite the High Court ruling in its favour.
“On July 26-27, 2012, the government published in the government’s gazette an order suspending the publication of Mwanahalisi and on July 30, 2012, the Registrar of Newspapers wrote to HHP, informing us of the government’s decision to suspend the publication of Mwanahalisi indefinitely,” the statement reads in part.
Mr Gwanda, a correspondent with a leading Kiswahili daily, Mwananchi, was investigating mysterious killings and disappearance of residents of Kibiti area in Coast Region in Tanzania when he also went missing over a year and a half ago.
Activists from across the world have been blaming the Tanzania government for not investigating into the journalist’s disappearance despite the Home Affairs Ministry reiterating now and then that it was following up on the case.
“Gwanda was among people, who had ‘disappeared and died’ in Kibiti,” Prof Kabudi told Focus on Africa, prompting activists led by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to plead with the Tanzania government to divulge details on the demise and whereabouts of the body of Mr Gwanda as confirmed by the minister.
“In the Rufiji area it is not only Azory who has disappeared and died. More than 10 of our police officers were shot dead and over 45 leaders of the ruling CCM were killed. Thank God we have been able to contain that kind of extremism in Rufiji,” he said, stressing:
“So Azory is part of many Tanzanians killed in Rufiji… We are now taking every measure, not only in Rufiji, but in other areas of Tanzania, to make sure our people are safe, be they journalists, police officers or ordinary citizens.”
“This is wholly inadequate and distressing. The government must immediately share publicly all information it has about Gwanda’s fate,” CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney was quoted as saying from New York shortly after the interview.
Bowing to pressure from social media and an online petition dubbed #WhereisAzory, which CPJ created on twitter, Prof Kabudi retracted his ‘confirmation’ in a clip posted on social media platforms, saying he had been ‘contextually’ misquoted in the interview with Focus on Africa.
“Unfortunately some social media reports have missed my interview to mean that I reportedly confirmed the missing Tanzanian journalist Azory Gwanda is dead,” he says in the clip.
“To date, the government of Tanzania has no confirmation on whether Azory Gwanda is dead or alive. Security organs are still investigating the matter as well as the fate of other Tanzanians who either went missing or were killed during the insecurity in Kibiti,” he added.