Tanzania has come under scrutiny from human rights groups and campaigners who are calling for the immediate release of critics of the government’s deal with the United Arab Emirates to manage the country’s ports.
This call comes amidst growing concerns over the increasing influence of Abu Dhabi in East Africa.
The deal, signed by Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan last October, grants the Dubai-run logistics company, DP World, the authority to manage all ports in Tanzania in consultation with the government. Despite being ratified by Parliament in June, the agreement has faced criticism from various quarters.
However, the Tanzanian government has responded to the critics in a heavy-handed manner. Over the weekend, Tanzanian authorities arrested three prominent critics of the ports deal, including former parliamentarian and diplomat, Willibrod Slaa. These individuals had publicly expressed their discontent with the deal.
Amnesty International, in a statement, highlighted that the detained critics are likely to face treason charges, potentially leading to the death penalty. The group’s east and southern Africa director, Tigere Chagutah, stressed the need for the Tanzanian government to cease arbitrarily detaining activists who peacefully express their views and to release these activists immediately and unconditionally. Chagutah further expressed concern over the growing intolerance to dissent, as evidenced by the crackdown on critics of the UAE port deal.
The arrest and potential prosecution of individuals who are critical of the UAE’s involvement in managing Tanzania’s ports raises serious concerns about freedom of expression and human rights in the country. Critics argue that the Tanzanian government’s actions demonstrate a lack of tolerance for differing opinions and a disregard for democratic principles.
The harsh crackdown on criticism of the port agreement by the authorities has been widely condemned by various groups, including the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition. In a joint statement, they emphasized that human rights defenders have every right to express their opinions, even regarding the port agreement. They strongly believe that these critics should not face intimidation or arrest for exercising their freedom of speech.
One of the main arguments against this deal is that it poses a potential threat to Tanzanian sovereignty and security. Under this agreement, DP World is granted exclusive rights for 12 months to negotiate with the government on how to effectively manage Tanzania’s 80 ports.
On the other hand, the government maintains that this agreement will greatly benefit both the country and its ports. They argue that it will enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and increase revenues. The Transport Minister, Makame Mbarawa, stated in Parliament that DP World’s investment will lead to improved performance and allow more ships to dock. He also mentioned that transit cargo costs are expected to decrease by nearly half as a result of this partnership.