CPJ returns to Tanzania
Four years ago, our colleagues–CPJ’s Africa program coordinator Angela Quintal and CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative Muthoki Mumo–were suddenly detained by Tanzanian intelligence during a mission to the country to survey the press freedom situation. Last month, Mumo returned to Tanzania for World Press Freedom Day to speak with journalists on the ground, fortifying CPJ’s resolve to continue to report on Tanzania while reassuring members of the Tanzanian press that CPJ continues to stand with them. Mumo shares more in this month’s Q&A for Insider.
Given so much transition in the region, why was this the right time to return to Tanzania?
The trip was my first to Tanzania since November 2018 when my colleague Angela Quintal and I were detained by intelligence personnel in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. The memories of that incident remain painfully fresh for myself and my colleagues. Though we have long wanted to re-establish our on-the-ground presence, we wanted to make sure that the moment was right— not just for our safety but also for any journalists or civil society actors we might want to meet.
A World Press Freedom Day event— hosted as it was by UNESCO and the Eastern Africa Editors Society and drawing journalists from all over the continent seemed like the right moment. That the meeting was being held in Arusha, a city that is also a diplomatic hub, was a reflection of political changes in Tanzania over the last one year. A new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, took office in March 2021 following the death of her predecessor John Pombe Magufuli. Since then, CPJ has documented indications that this new government is taking a friendlier stance towards the press, in stark contrast with Magufuli’s administration. Newspaper and online television bans have been lifted and the government has indicated a willingness to reform a raft of problematic laws that have been repeatedly used to repress journalism.
At the same time, CPJ research shows old habits of media shutdowns and arbitrary arrests have not been fully abandoned. With positive signals and a long journey of press freedom reform still ahead, we want to be part of the community of journalists and civil society pushing to ensure that promises to reform are not broken and seeking accountability for past injustices– including the 2017 disappearance of freelancer Azory Gwanda. It was the right time to be back on the ground in Tanzania.
What did you hope to see, personally, on your mission to the country?
My main goal was to speak face-to-face with our local partners after such a long time. We achieved this. It was great to be in Tanzania again. Speaking with colleagues freely, and attending public discussions where journalists were frank about the challenges they continue to face working in Tanzania and beyond, really underscored how much safer the media community feels. I recall when it became difficult to even speak on the phone during the Magufuli years: people were afraid of surveillance and retaliation. But I did see and hear things I had hoped I wouldn’t.
President Samia was the guest of honor during the May 3 commemoration of World Press Freedom Day. And while she reiterated past commitments to legislative reform and urged journalists to write about her because she has a “thick skin,” she also made comments that made me worry whether the future for the media in Tanzania was as optimistic as we had hoped.
She spoke at length about how African journalists ought to be patriotic, that they should safeguard culture and tradition in their work, and report positively on their countries. And while these comments may not immediately strike one as problematic, they are similar to things we’ve often heard used in the region as justification for why journalists are detained and news sites blocked. President Samia went further. “Scratch my back, and I scratch yours,” she told a conference hall full of African journalists and diplomatic representatives. “If you scrape me, I will scrape you.” She, and information Minister Nape Nnauye, ominously warned Tanzanian journalists that despite the commitments to legislative reform of repressive laws, the laws remain in the books and in force.
What’s on CPJ’s radar for Tanzania, and the wider region?
We want to see specifically the Media Services Act, the Online Content Regulations, and the Cyber Crimes Act — all of which have been weaponized against journalists and media houses— amended urgently, in a process that is inclusive of the stakeholders, and in keeping with international standards on freedom of expression. We will continue to push for these reforms publicly and seek closer dialogue with the government on the same issues.
We also continue to be vigilant on other press freedom concerns. We are in an optimistic moment. But Tanzanian journalists are still facing the risk of arrest, and we’ve heard worrying comments from the government, including from President Samia, that suggest this administration has yet to fully embrace a vision of press freedom in which journalists can independently report, including on uncomfortable topics or from a dissenting position. We have also learned from the experience of Ethiopia— which was in a similarly optimistic moment in 2018 but which has regressed drastically since then— that maintaining vigilance, beating back any hint of impunity in attacks on the press, and ensuring that change is truly anchored in law are essential for long-lasting reform.
Leica Camera, CPJ, and the ACOS Alliance offer remote safety clinics
During Photoville, an annual, open air photography festival in New York City, CPJ is partnering with the ACOS Alliance and Leica Camera to offer free, expert one-on-one safety advice remotely to freelance photojournalists and documentary photographers–led by security advisers from CPJ, BuzzFeed News, The New York Times, IREX, Freedom of the Press Foundation, and others. The clinics provide photographers with physical safety advice, as well as advice on risk assessment, digital security and surveillance, online harassment, and trauma management.
Testimonies from photographers who participated in the clinics illustrate just how important these training sessions can be for those trying to keep us informed.
“I now put measures in place that help me communicate securely and protect my data from theft,” KC Nwakalor, a photographer and producer, said of the clinics. “I also draft up a risk assessment before I take assignments and make action plans in collaboration with the organizations I am working with.”
In a Q&A with Shatha Hanaysha, a correspondent for news website Ultra Palestine and a contributor to regional news website Middle East Eye, CPJ gets her perspective on the final moments of Shireen Abu Akleh’s life and on the way Abu Akleh had inspired her. “When I was young, my family members would tell me to ‘talk like Shireen.’ When I was asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I often answered, ‘I want to be a journalist like Shireen.’”
CPJ spoke with Sanaa Seif, the sister of imprisoned journalist Alaa Abdelfattah, while she was touring the U.S. to promote her brother’s book, “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated,” a collection of his writing that includes essays, tweets, and letters smuggled out of prison. “When I last visited Alaa in prison,” she told CPJ, “he told me that he was very happy about this book getting published. The reason for him being in prison is to imprison his voice, so since the book is out, his voice is out too.”
CPJ spoke with Wojciech Ciesla, the co-founder and president of Fundacja Reporterów, which is running a hotline for journalists in need of logistical support to leave Ukraine. Those humanitarian efforts were driven by a recognition that the threat to Ukraine’s existence is also a threat to Poland: There’s a Polish saying, Cielsa said, “If you live in Poland, you never smile at the circus”—meaning that the bear, Russia, could lunge toward you at any moment.
CPJ in the news
“Why Israel Is Afraid of Palestinian Funerals,” Foreign Policy
“Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh Was Killed in Jenin. Who Will Be Next?” The New York Times
“Three months of press threats in Ukraine,” Columbia Journalism Review
“Journalist killed in northern Mexico, the ninth this year,” Los Angeles Times