Investigative journalist pays £90,000 to go free in Magufuli’s independent media bashing Tanzania

Posted: 1 December, 2019 | Category: Features & Analysis

 25th February 2020

A report in The Times (today) said that Erick Kabendera was persuaded to admit money laundering and tax vasion to get out of prison.

But he was freed after agreeing to pay a fine of £90,000.

The paper’s Africa correspondent Jane Flanagan (writing from Cape Town) said that a friend of the journalist described the fine as “extortion.”

She quoted  un-named human rights activists as saying that said the case against the Tanzanian invesigtaive reporter had been politically motivated.

Flanagan quoted rights groups as saying that the reporter’s plight had been part of a media crackdown since President Magufuli’s election in 2015.

He is campaigning for a second term.


By Trevor Grundy


Fifty years ago this month (December 1969) President Julius Nyerere nationalised the English media in Tanzania.

Without a single day’s experience  on a news desk or five minutes of ambulance –chasing when a young man, he made himself editor-in-chief of The Lonrho-owned English language newspaper The Standard and its sister paper the Sunday News and appointed a South African ANC activist and South African Communist Party-supporting Frene Ginwala as managing editor.

The nationalisation came two years after Nyerere’s ill-thought out Arusha Declaration (February 1967) which led to the nationalization of most of the economy and two years before the equally ill-conceived Mwongozo Guidelines of the ruling party , the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) which led to nationwide factory shut-downs that brought Africa’s universally applauded socialist country to its knees.

Frene Ginwala did not last long at The Standard and was effectively deported in 1971 after an editorial which she did not write but which she approved infuriated Nyerere.

But for a short while (roughly between 1969 and 1975) there was freedom of expression in Tanzania such as few African and “Third World” countries have ever enjoyed.

The Kenyan journalist Philip Ochieng wrote in his 1992 book “I Accuse the Press” (Initiative Publisher, Nairobi) – “In all my 26 years of experience as a newspaperman in all the three East African countries I do not recall anything like the kind of openness and depth of debate such as took place in Tanzania  . . .”

Today, many young Tanzanian journalists (many of them not born in 1969) look back to that time and wonder what went wrong.

Because the situation in Tanzania for those anxious to expose the vast corruption and inefficiency of the Tanzanian Government is grim, dangerous, deadly.

Although the Commonwealth does everything possible to avoid angering African leaders by drawing attention to the way so many of them act like tin-pot Third Reich fuhrers when it comes to the media there is, says Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, a mounting climate of fear, censorship and repression in a country that once led the “free world” in its attacks on all white rule in Rhodesia, apartheid in South Africa and tiny minority rule by Lisbon in Portugal’s African colonies, the two most important being Angola and Mozambique.

In October ( 2019) the two highly respected human rights watchdogs barked loudly and came to the conclusion that President John Magufuli’s government  has adopted or enforced a raft of repressive laws that stifle journalism and severely restrict the activities of non-governmental organisations and the political opposition.

“As President Mangufuli marks four years in office (November 2019) he must carefully reflect on his government’s record of ruthlessly dis-emboweling the country’s human rights framework,” said Roland Ebole, Amnesty International’s Tanzania researcher.

The regressive policies and actions of the authorities have stifled the media, sown fear among civil society and restricted the playing field for political parties in the lead up to elections, commented Oryem Nyeko, African researcher at Human Rights Watch which interviewed 80 journalists, lawyers, representatives of non-governmental organisations and members of political parties.

Amnesty International interviewed 68 government officials, representatives of non-governmental and inter-governmental groups, lawyers, academics, religious leaders and diplomats and reviewed court decisions, national laws, government notices and orders.

They found that the president and senior government officials frequently made anti-human rights statements, at times followed by cracking down on individuals and organisations.

The remarks have stifled independent reporting by journalists and public discussions on human rights violations.

Since 2015, the government has stepped up censorship by banning or susending at least five newspapers for content deemed critical. These include Tanzania’s major English language daily newspaper The Citizen in 2019 and four others in 2017. The Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission also shut down a radio station, Swahiba FM in October 2015 because it reported on the annulment and subsequent re-run of the 2015 elections.

Both Amnesty and Human Rights said they saw a dangerous escalation towards repression in Tanzania.

“The authorities are denying citizens their rights to information by administering only those ‘truths’ sanctioned by the state, said Amnesty’s Ebole.

In July 2016, President Magufuli announced a blanket ban on political activities until 2020 in contravention of the country’s laws. The ban has been selectively applied against opposition politicians, several having been arrested and prosecuted on trumped- up charges. In 2017, un-identified assailants shot opposition MP Tundu Lissu and in 2018 un-identified assailants killed two officials of the main opposition party, Chadema.

Although the police claim to be investigating these killings, no arrests have been made.

Now, the Tanzanian government has taken its most draconian step to date and issued a warning to local journalists about quoting foreign organisations and representatives in their reports.

Sammy Awami of the BBC said that the warning came a few hours after American and British diplomats released a statement criticising the process of the just-ended local elections in the country which diplomats said were marred with irregularities.

The ruling party won 99.9 percent of the seats contested.

Government spokesman Hassan Abbas said in a tweet that some foreign organisations and representatives (he must have meant Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, American and British diplomats) were party to mis-information by quoting foreign sources.

“For this matter,” he said, “the government has done enough explaining, given enough warning and enough pardons. Now we will take stern measures.”

Meantime, a case involving the missing journalist Erick Kabendera, the renowned and highly respected investigative Tanzanian reporter, has been postponed until December 4. This is the eight time the case of his disappearance has been postponed.

Kabendera was arrested in July and charged with being involved in organized crime, failing to pay taxes and money laundering.

The journalist has written for many international publications including The Times and The Guardian in the UK.


Half a century ago, Julius Nyerere promised his countrymen that nationalisation of the foreign-owned media did not mean censorship.

For a short while, it didn’t.

But the people who followed in the footsteps of the leader known as Mwalimu (The Teacher) by his countrymen ignored the promise he made.

So if you seek their monument– Look around.