Tanzania goes to polls as Vodafone accused of blocking opposition texts

One of the president's key opponents is Tundu Lissu who survived being shot 16 times by gunmen with Kalashnikovs in 2017

Tanzania goes to the polls on Wednesday amid reports of massive state repression, internet censorship, the arrest of a top presidential candidate and the alleged deaths of five protestors.

John Magufuli, the country’s strongman president, is seeking a second five-year term in office in a vote which has been widely condemned by critics and international analysts.

The president is facing 14 candidates including Tundu Lissu, a prominent human rights lawyer and former MP who survived being shot by 16 times by unknown gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs in September 2017.

Mr Lissu, who leads the main opposition party Chadema and is a fiery critic of Mr Magufuli, claims a massive plot is underway to rig Wednesday’s elections. Mr Magufuli strongly denies repressing the opposition.

Almost no international journalists have been granted accreditation to cover the election and Tanzania, a country once lauded for its tolerant political culture.

Mr Magufuli, 60, nicknamed 'the bulldozer', has gained popularity for his nationalist rhetoric and uncompromising anti-corruption drive.

But over the last five years, he has led a major crackdown on civil society groups across the east African nation of 60m.

The government has taken the unprecedented decision to order major telecoms companies to block individual text messages containing the Mr Lissu’s name and the name of another key opposition leader in Zanzibar, Maalim Seif.

The UK telecoms giant Vodafone, which operates in the country under the name ‘Vodacom Tanzania’ and boasts more than 12m customers, is currently enforcing the government’s order. A Vodafone spokesperson declined to comment when asked by The Telegraph about the issue.

“It is absolutely outrageous,” said Nic Cheeseman, an expert in African democracy at the University of Birmingham, reacting to Vodacom's decision. “It comes back to this point that for authoritarian leaders to get their way, they need the complicity of multinational companies and the international community.”

On Tuesday, the Zanzibar Archipelago region went to the polls a day earlier than the mainland amid the heavy security presence and reports of tear gas and gunshots.

The semi-autonomous region has a separate president and parliament to the mainland. It is a hotbed of opposition and is also crucial to the ruling party’s political ambitions.

To change the country’s constitution to allow him to run for a third term in five years, Mr Magufuli needs a two-thirds majority in the region's parliament.

Zanzibar’s ACT Wazalendo opposition party claim that at least eight people have been shot dead by police in recent days and that their candidate for the region's presidential elections, Maalim Seif, was arrested by police on Tuesday morning.

Analysts and human rights campaigners have warned that more blood will be shed in the coming weeks, as the opposition will almost certainly take to the streets after Mr Magufuli's probable re-election.

This article was published by The Telegraph.

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