NEW YORK (March 18, 2021) — Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, died yesterday in Dar es Salaam, the country’s former capital. Since coming to power in 2015, Magufuli steered Tanzania deeper into authoritarianism. After more than five years in office, he leaves behind a dark legacy of intolerance for criticism, widespread repression of peaceful activists, human rights abuses against independent media, and, in general, an almost complete muzzling of dissent across the nation.
“John Magufuli will be remembered for Tanzania’s backsliding toward authoritarianism. Undermining democratic institutions, creating false narratives against members of the opposition, and developing a cult of personality, were just some of the tactics Magufuli pulled from the dictator’s handbook,” said Human Rights Foundation (HRF) president Thor Halvorssen. “More than anything else, Magufuli leaves behind a nation crippled by the persecution and censorship of every opposition voice and rights group. His successor has a historic opportunity to break Tanzania’s authoritarian grip and restore democracy.”
Magufuli was elected president in 2015 and initially gained popularity by implementing policies intended to tackle corruption and wasteful government spending. However, his intolerance for opposing views and criticism quickly earned him the nickname the “Bulldozer,” as his policies increasingly devolved into authoritarian measures. Under his rule, Tanzania saw a harsh crackdown on independent civil society, media, and political opposition, creating a climate of fear and intimidation. Magufuli’s regime introduced repressive speech laws, revoked NGOs’ licenses, banned opposition rallies, arrested and jailed critics, and failed to credibly investigate abduction and assassination cases of journalists and opposition figures. In 2019, Tanzania became the second country in Africa to withdraw from a protocol to the African Charter, thereby eliminating the ability of NGOs and individuals to seek redress against the government for human rights violations before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Magufuli mocked the implementation of appropriate public health measures to address the crisis, dismissed the efficacy of vaccines, and even encouraged people to congregate in houses of worship to pray away the “satanic” virus. Shockingly, Tanzania stopped reporting coronavirus cases in May 2020.
Magufuli was reelected in 2020 in elections marred by allegations of massive fraud, along with killings, arbitrary arrests, violent repression, and internet shutdowns. Earlier that year, HRF submitted a case against Tanzania to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Theodory Faustine Giyan, a software developer who was unlawfully detained in retaliation for his association with prominent opposition activists and human rights defenders. The case is pending, and HRF expects a ruling in favor of human rights and Mr. Giyan.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. For interview requests of further comment, please email [email protected].