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Inside Tanzania’s trend of disappearing dissidents

The Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) counts 17 kidnappings since 2016

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Tanzania to export 700,000 tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe

Some turn up dead or injured. Others are never heard of again: A wave of kidnappings in Tanzania that appears to target critics of the government has set the nation on edge.

In May, high-profile dissident Mdude Nyagali was snatched by four gunmen after leaving work, and was dumped, seriously beaten, in a village two days later, according to the main opposition Chadema party.

The incident came just hours after he had branded President John Magufuli a “hypocrite” in a Twitter post. He later blamed security forces for his kidnapping.

Nyagali was one of the lucky ones.

In February 2018 Chadema member Daniel John was kidnapped in the middle of a political campaign, only to turn up dead with machete wounds to the head.

Two years earlier, Ben Saanane, an assistant to Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe, disappeared and his fate is still unknown.

“I cannot recall a wave of kidnappings of this magnitude before 2016,” said Aidan Eyakuze, a civil society activist who has written op-eds criticising a clampdown on Tanzanian media and Magufuli’s approach to democracy.

The Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) counts 17 kidnappings since 2016 of “human rights defenders, journalists, businessmen, politicians and artists”.

“People say they are afraid because no one seems to be safe. In public transport and bars, people no longer talk politics. They are scared of the people seated next to them,” an Arusha bus driver told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Magufuli, whose nickname “tingatinga” means “bulldozer” in Swahili, swept to power in 2015, presenting himself as a no-nonsense, corruption-busting, man-of-the-people.

However, rights watchdogs say a climate of fear has set in since his election. 

“Kidnappings have increased, mainly targeting people who openly criticise the regime, in particular, political opponents,” said Fatma Karume, former president of the Tanganyika Law Society.

“Even amongst us, in the CCM (ruling party), people are afraid. No lawmaker dares to say anything out of fear of being targeted or struck off the list of candidates in the next election,” an MP from the party told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Plot to divide the nation

Opposition parties place the blame on the government, recalling that since Magufuli’s election, their meetings have been banned, top officials arrested while newspapers have been shut and their journalists arrested or threatened for criticising authorities.

Opposition lawmaker Tundu Lissu has blamed authorities for an attack in 2017 which saw him shot multiple times at his home.

“The regime is behind all this. These are the tactics of a regime which does not accept any criticism,” said lawmaker Halima Mdee, leader of Chadema’s women’s branch.

A Tanzanian journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said those who survive their kidnappings often remain mum on the details out of “fear of retaliation”.

Opposition members and rights activists say that investigations into the kidnappings go nowhere.

As for the government, it says many of the disappearances are faked.

“On social media, there are people fabricating kidnappings and disappearances. This can divide the nation and sow panic among the population,” Interior Minister Kangi Lugola said earlier this month at a public gathering.

He ordered police to “find and arrest those spreading these lies in order to turn the population against the government”.

In March last year, student activist Abdul Nondo was kidnapped and found injured. But when he reported the incident to police he was arrested for making it up. 

A court acquitted him in November 2018. 

The THRDC this month called for a “national conference” to discuss the issue of kidnappings.

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Ugandan police confirm the death of 19 people in fuel truck blast

The blast occurred Sunday evening in the Kyambura trading centre, a mountainous area near the Queen Elizabeth National Park

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Ugandan police confirm the death of 19 people in fuel truck blast

Nineteen people died when a fuel truck barrelled into other vehicles in a busy town in western Uganda and exploded, police said Monday.

The blast occurred Sunday evening in the Kyambura trading centre, a mountainous area near the Queen Elizabeth National Park.

“Ten people died instantly when the fuel truck lost control and hit three other vehicles, leading to multiple explosions that also burned 25 small shops,” said regional police spokesman Martial Tumusiime.

“Of the people that were rushed to the hospital, nine of them have also died as a result of wounds,” he added. 

In 2002, 70 people were killed when an oil truck rammed into a bus in Rutoto, less than 50 kilometres from Kyambura.

And in 2013, 33 people died in an explosion after a fuel truck overturned — many having rushed to the scene to siphon fuel.

The accident in Uganda came eight days after a fuel truck exploded in Tanzania. The fireball engulfed a crowd thronging to collect petrol from the wrecked vehicle, leaving 95 dead.

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President pardons 4 jailed opponents in Comoros

The four were jailed for life for attempting a coup and threatening state security but had their terms reduced to 20 years in May

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Comoros President Azali Assoumani pardons 4 political opponents

Comoros President Azali Assoumani has pardoned four opposition figures jailed for life for an attempted coup in the Indian Ocean islands. In a decree issued Saturday, writer Said Ahmed Said Tourqui, lawyer Bahassane Ahmed Said, Mohamed Ali Abdallah and El-Had Ibrahim Halifa were “pardoned from all of their remaining sentences”.

The four were jailed for life for attempting a coup and threatening state security but had their terms reduced to 20 years in May when 17 other jailed opponents were pardoned. The charges were linked to unrest that followed a controversial constitutional referendum to extend the president’s term last year. 

Pay Attention: Comoros awaits results of divisive poll

Bahassane is the younger brother of Jaffar Ahmed Said Hassani, a former vice-president to Azali now living in exile in Tanzania after denouncing the president’s authoritarianism. The pardons follow Azali’s re-election in March, in which he pledged “appeasement measures” to quell accusations of voter fraud.

He was credited with nearly 60 per cent of the ballot, an outcome rejected as fraudulent by the opposition. Comoros has had a volatile political history since independence in 1975, enduring more than 20 attempted coups, four of which were successful.

Pay Attention: Comoros oil boom dream hinges on seismic survey

Azali initially came to power in a coup, then ruled between 1999 and 2006. He was re-elected in 2016 in a vote marred by violence and allegations of irregularities.

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Tanzania mourns 69 who were killed in fuel tanker blast

“We’re currently mourning the loss of 69 people, the last of whom died while being transferred by helicopter

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A Tanzanian security officer controls the area where the carcass of a burnt out fuel tanker is seen

Tanzania was in mourning Sunday, preparing to bury 69 people who perished when a crashed fuel tanker exploded as crowds rushed to syphon off leaking petrol. President John Magufuli declared a period of mourning through Monday following the deadly blast near the town of Morogoro, west of Dar es Salaam.

He will be represented at the funerals by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, an official statement said. “We’re currently mourning the loss of 69 people, the last of whom died while being transferred by helicopter to the national hospital in Dar es Salaam,” Majaliwa told residents in comments broadcast on Tanzanian television. 

The number of injured stood at 66, he said. The burials will start Sunday afternoon, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jenista Mhagama announced during the morning after relatives identified the dead.

“The preparations for the burials have been completed. Individual graves have been dug and the coffins are ready,” Mhagama said, adding that experts would be available to offer psychological counselling to the victims’ relatives. 

DNA tests would be carried out on bodies that were no longer recognisable, Mhagama said, adding that families could take the remains of their loved ones and organise their own burials if they preferred.

Two men carry the remains of a burnt out motorbike after a fuel tanker exploded in Tanzania
Two men carry the remains of a burnt-out motorbike after a fuel tanker exploded on August 10, 2019, in Morogoro, 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam. – At least 60 people perished in Tanzania when a fuel tanker overturned and then exploded as crowds of people rushed to syphon off leaking fuel. The deadly blast, which took place near the town of Morogoro, west of the economic capital Dar es Salaam, is the latest in a series of similar disasters in Africa. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

Pay Attention: Fuel tanker blast kills 10 in Nigeria

In the latest in a series of similar disasters in Africa, 39 seriously hurt patients had been taken to hospital in Dar es Salaam while 17 others were being treated in Morogoro, 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of the economic capital of Tanzania.

Footage from the scene showed the truck engulfed in flames and huge clouds of black smoke, with charred bodies. The burnt-out remains of motorcycle taxis lie scattered on the ground among scorched trees. A video posted on social media showed dozens of people carrying yellow jerricans around the truck.

No-one wanted to listen

“We arrived at the scene with two neighbours just after the truck was overturned. While some good Samaritans were trying to get the driver and the other two people out of the truck, others were jostling each other, equipped with jerricans, to collect petrol,” teacher January Michael told reporters.

“At the same time, someone was trying to pull the battery out of the vehicle. We warned that the truck could explode at any moment but no one wanted to listen, so we went on our way, but we had barely turned on our heels when we heard the explosion.”

Police tape cordons off the area where the carcass of a burnt out fuel tanker
Police tape cordons off the area where the carcass of a burnt-out fuel tanker is seen along the side of the road following an explosion on August 10, 2019, in Morogoro, 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam. – At least 60 people perished in Tanzania when a fuel tanker overturned and then exploded as crowds of people rushed to syphon off leaking fuel. The deadly blast, which took place near the town of Morogoro, west of the economic capital Dar es Salaam, is the latest in a series of similar disasters in Africa. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

Pay Attention: Tanker accident in Tanzania claims 57 lives

President Magufuli called Saturday for people to stop the dangerous practice of stealing fuel in such a way, a common event in many poor parts of Africa. He issued a statement saying he was “very shocked” by the looting of fuel from damaged vehicles. 

“There are vehicles that carry dangerous fuel oil, as in this case in Morogoro, there are others that carry toxic chemicals or explosives, let’s stop this practice, please,” Magufuli said. Last month, 45 people were killed and more than 100 injured in central Nigeria when a petrol tanker crashed and then exploded as people tried to take the fuel.

Among the deadliest such disasters, 292 people lost their lives in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in July 2010, and in September 2015 at least 203 people died the South Sudan town of Maridi.

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