Azory Gwanda

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Azory Gwanda, a freelance Tanzanian journalist, has been missing since November 21, 2017, according to a December 5, 2017, statement from Mwananchi Communications Limited, a privately owned media company. Gwanda frequently wrote for two of the company’s newspapers, Mwananchi and The Citizen.

Gwanda’s wife, Anna Pinoni, in 2017 told the company that four people in a white Land Cruiser picked up Gwanda from a trading center in their hometown of Kibiti, which is located on Tanzania’s Coast region, on November 21 at around 8 a.m.

Sources who spoke to CPJ in 2018, on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said Gwanda may have been picked up from a shared office space in the trading center, from where he worked.

At 10 a.m., Pinoni said, the white Land Cruiser stopped by their farm where she was working. Gwanda, who was seated in the back seat of the vehicle, called to her through a window and asked for the keys to their home. He told her that he was taking an emergency trip and would not be back until the next day, according to her account in the Mwananchi statement.

At the time Pinoni said she did not recognize the other people in the Land Cruiser. Several sources who spoke to CPJ in 2018, on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said they believed that these men were security personnel.

When Pinoni later returned home, there were signs the couple’s house had been searched. Pinoni reported Gwanda as missing to Kibiti police on November 23, 2017 after he failed to return home as promised, the Mwananchi statement said. 

Gwanda had last been in contact with Mwananchi Communications on November 20, 2017, according to the statement from the media group. Mwananchi did not learn of the journalist’s disappearance until November 30, according to the statement.

Bakari Machumu, executive editor at Mwananchi Communications Limited, in 2017 told CPJ that the company did not have enough information to link Gwanda’s disappearance to his work as an investigative journalist.

In a separate interview with Mwananchi newspaper, Pinoni said that although very little was clear about the case, she thought her husband’s disappearance might be linked to his work reporting a series of killings and disappearances in Tanzania’s Coast region.

Multiple journalists and human rights defenders who spoke to CPJ in 2018, on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said they believed Gwanda’s disappearance was connected to his reporting.

A June 2017 report from The Citizen indicated that 39 people had been killed over two years in the region. The attacks were mainly targeted at police officers and government officials, according to the newspaper’s report.

In its 2017 statement, Mwananchi Communications said that police had “promised to investigate” Gwanda’s disappearance, but had not yet provided any further information on the case. The media company urged the security officials to “speed up investigations.”

Despite initial promises, authorities have failed to carry out credible investigations into Gwanda’s whereabouts and have provided contradictory, and sometimes dismissive answers when questioned about the journalist.

Tanzania’s information minister, Harrison Mwakyembe, in 2017 told CPJ that he found out about the journalist’s disappearance from the Mwananchi statement. Mwakyembe in 2019 said he wondered why people were still asking after Gwanda’s whereabouts, according to a report by Mwananchi.

Barnabas Mwakalukwa, who was police spokesperson at the time, in 2017 told CPJ to direct questions to the police inspector general, Simon Sirro, or the criminal investigations director, Robert Boaz. Neither Boaz nor Sirro responded to a phone call and text message from CPJ on December 6, 2017.

Lazaro Mambosasa, who is in charge of police in Dar es Salaam, told The Associated Press that the police were “shocked” by the news that Gwanda had disappeared. He asked the public to “share any helpful information” with investigators.

In May 2018, then Home Affairs Minister Mwigulu Nchemba told the public to “shut up” about disappearances such as Gwanda’s, unless they had evidence to share, according to a report by The Citizen.

His successor, Kangi Lugola, in July 2018 said that his ministry was not involved in the case because they “don’t interfere in the freedom of an individual that gets lost while at his home,” according to this same source. Speaking to Gwanda’s colleagues, Lugola would later walk back his remarks, but suggested that Gwanda had run away from family responsibilities.

On July 10, 2019, Tanzania’s foreign affairs minister, Palamagaba Kabudi, told the BBC’s “Focus on Africa” program that Gwanda was among people that had “disappeared and died” in the country’s Rufiji region. Kabudi attributed the killings and disappearances, including of police officers and ruling party officials, to “extremism” that had been since contained and said that the government was taking measures to ensure the safety of all its citizens.

Kabudi later retracted his comments, saying that the state did not know whether Gwanda was alive or dead, and claiming he had been misinterpreted and taken out of context, according to a statement aired by Watetezi TV, a broadcaster associated with the non-governmental organization the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition.