President John Magufuli expands authoritarian policies to constrain opposition, consolidate power within ruling CCM party ahead of October elections – Tanzania Analysis

Executive Summary

President John Magufuli’s first term in office has been characterized by the expansion and reliance on authoritarian policies, using the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party’s surveillance and patronage networks to consolidate support for Magufuli within the party as well as crack down on the political opposition and activists.

This recently included the introduction of two new bills that prohibit many forms of online content as well as require media outlets receive government authorization to publish foreign media content, which are designed to limit space for critical or contradictory information.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in March, Magufuli and the CCM have acted strategically to control the spread of information on the virus and deny its impact, while taking advantage of restrictions in order to prevent the opposition from organizing and campaigning.

Trends in CCM consolidation on the mainland extend to Zanzibar, where a history of violent, heavily disputed elections indicate that the upcoming electoral period retains the potential to be highly volatile.

Avoid all large gatherings in Tanzania as a general security precaution ahead of the elections and avoid openly espousing political views or affiliation to a specific party, either in person or online, due to high tensions and a restrictive political climate.

Current Situation

President John Magufuli declared Tanzania to be COVID-19 free on June 8 and safe for the return of tourism and international investment, while neighboring countries continued to report an increase of cases in their border regions and claim that the movement of Tanzanian truck drivers throughout the region is contributing to the virus spread.

Tanzania is slated to hold general elections on October 28, with President Magufuli and his running mate Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan seeking re-election for the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party. Defense Minister Hussein Mwinyi was nominated as the CCM’s presidential candidate to contest in Zanzibar’s October 25 general elections.

Tundu Lissu, Deputy Chairman of the main opposition party Chadema, who had been in self-exile since 2017 after a failed assassination attempt, expressed his presidential aspirations on July 8 and returned to Dar es Salaam on July 27. Lissu has since been formally nominated as Chadema’s presidential candidate.

Shortly after, the government announced the “Electronic & Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2020,” which outlines several forms of online content which are prohibited as of August 1, these include content that disseminates false information, calls for mobilization or demonstrations, and that risks national security, among others.

Following this, the government introduced the “Radio and Television Content (Amendment) Regulations 2020,” which requires domestic media outlets and broadcasters to acquire government permission before airing foreign media content and mandates that journalists be accompanied by a government chaperone when collaborating with foreign reporters.

On August 5, the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT-Wazalendo) party announced the nomination of former CCM member and Foreign Minister Bernard Membe as its presidential candidate on the mainland and prominent opposition leader Seif Sharif Hamad as its candidate in Zanzibar.

Background – Tanzania

Since 1995, Tanzania has held democratic, multi-party elections at all levels of government. However, the ruling CCM party has typically won between 60 and 80 percent of the vote and about 70 to 90 percent of the seats in Parliament. Despite the formal transition from a single-party system, the CCM still possesses mass organizational structures that allow the party to reach, monitor, and influence members from the national to the neighborhood level. Over time, the party’s networks and hardline policies have allowed the group to dominate the political space and weaken opposition parties such as Chadema.

Despite the CCM’s prominence and history of success during elections, President Magufuli won only 58 percent of the vote during his presidential race in 2015 and several key parliamentary figures lost their seats to opposition members. Subsequently, Magufuli has focused on boosting his popularity within the CCM by strengthening the party’s infrastructure and enhancing funds for CCM-owned industries. He has also geared his policies toward limiting the opposition and controlling the social and political space.

In recent years, Magufuli’s focus on anti-corruption campaigns, government expenditures, and public policy have heavily impacted opposition activities and citizens’ freedoms. With this, the government has passed legislation authorizing restrictions on media and communication, public gatherings, and online content, with strict guidelines for enforcement, often leaving opposition groups unable to organize, hold demonstrations, or openly prepare for elections.

Assessments & Forecast

CCM continues to employ historical tactics, regulates citizens’ political, social, economic behaviors

Despite Tanzania’s official transition to a multi-party democratic system in 1995, the CCM-led government has continued to rely on authoritarian practices to shape its governance. During the Magufuli administration, the party’s use of anti-corruption mechanisms to target controversial political figures and clientelist policies to secure local support have increased. Although the CCM has denied these claims, such practices align with historical tactics used by the party to gain support and monitor its members prior to the democratization of the country and have remained prominent since.

For instance, for several decades, the CCM operated on an intricate network system, where at the neighborhood level known as the “ten-house cell network”, a party representative would be in charge of monitoring ten households and their political activities as well as administering benefits for party engagement or punishment for various transgressions. Although under the current system, the CCM is no longer able to formally manage these networks, particularly as the government aims to appear transparent and democratic, the party still maintains a significant presence at the neighborhood level. This is evident both in urban and rural locations, which suggests that household monitoring has continued to some extent.

With increased internet connectivity and social media usage in Tanzania in recent years, Magufuli’s administration has instituted legislation that allows the government to closely monitor and censor online behavior of citizens and online media outlets. These capabilities were expanded with a new bill passed on July 17 that prohibits the publication or promotion of online content that may be perceived to be critical of the government, mobilize the population, or threaten national security. Subsequently, the government announced new legislation on August 10 that prohibits all domestic media outlets and broadcasters from carrying foreign media content without permission from the government and requires journalists working with foreign reporters to be accompanied by a government chaperone. This latest action further bolsters CCM control over the dissemination of information to the public through online and traditional media, especially when it comes to political narratives.

Additionally, during electoral periods, officials use bribes, vote-buying, and patronage systems where citizens and their companies can gain long-term benefits. For example, the government has awarded tax exemptions to companies and wealthy benefactors who consistently invest in the party, particularly during campaign periods. Given government transparency has become increasingly limited under Magufuli, it appears that regulatory legislation is only selectively implemented and that public access to data on the awarding of tax exemptions for political funding remains limited. The absence of official reporting and government oversight of such processes is likely strategic and has allowed the CCM to gain further influence across communities and within the private sector since 2015.

FORECAST: Moving forward, the CCM’s organizational capabilities and networks will likely be used to further consolidate support for the party and for Magufuli. Additionally, with elections approaching in October, the CCM will also likely use its existing capabilities to garner further support from elite benefactors as well as from communities that are dependent on government assistance. Furthermore, as such practices have become more pronounced during the Magufuli administration, the party is expected to continue to leverage its prominence to crack down on opposition activities, to limit political dissent, and to choke funding for any opposition causes.

Use of restrictive policies, networks by ruling CCM party to control internal dynamics, political opposition

In July, President Magufuli was selected by unanimous vote at a party congress as the CCM’s candidate for the October elections. Given the party’s long-time practice of suppressing inter-party divisions, the CCM’s unanimous selection is not surprising, given that Magufuli was the only presidential aspirant to submit all necessary application paperwork prior to the deadline. Despite this apparent show of unity, Magufuli previously faced challenges from opponents within the CCM, primarily from former Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe who was removed from the party in February after facing investigations from the party’s ethics and security committee over allegations of conspiracy against the president and his stated presidential aspirations.

Though it’s likely that Membe, along with former CCM secretaries-general Abdulrahman Kinana and Mzee Yusuf Makamba who were also under investigation for alleged “disciplinary” issues, have some allies within the CCM, the party’s behavior toward these officials reflects the authoritarian-style policies instituted under Magufuli as well as values inherited from the state’s former single-party system. Despite receiving some criticism for using party mechanisms such as the ethics and security committee to intimidate opponents and limit dissension within the ruling camp, dozens of opposition members have continued to defect to the CCM each year. Since 2018, nearly 140 opposition MPs and members of local councils have defected to the CCM. Though the motivation behind each defection may vary, opposition leaders often claim that the CCM offers money or other benefits as bribes, particularly during the electoral period to gain additional members.

These defections, as well as the treatment of remaining opposition members, have also become a major grievance of the opposition and a focus of human rights groups. The CCM has been known to use its capabilities and networks to heavily monitor opposition activities. Within this environment, any type of mobilization organized by opposition parties is typically banned, resulting in forcible dispersion measures by police and the arrest of organizers. Most recently, opposition ACT-Wazalendo party leader Zitto Kabwe was arrested on June 24 along with seven other party officials in Lindi Region for “unlawful assembly”.

Similarly, a media outlet owned by Freeman Mbowe, Chairman of the opposition Chadema party, had its license invalidated on June 23 likely due to the publication of controversial or anti-CCM information that was deemed threatening to the government. These actions, along with occasional arrests of journalists, have raised further alarm among critics and human rights organizations who demand the protection of democratic freedoms under Magufuli. However, the government has done little to address such criticism and has continued to implement restrictive policies. Consequently, this treatment may also contribute to the increasing trend of defections from Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo to the CCM as opposition members likely fear the possibility of arrest or persecution for participation in anti-government activities and may continue to grow frustrated with the opposition’s inability to alter the status quo.

Controversial COVID-19 regulations reflect Magufuli’s authoritarian approach

In the years after democratization, the government as a whole was internationally recognized for improving accountability, transparency, instituting human rights protections, and liberalizing the economy. However, since his election in 2015, President Magufuli has notably reinstated many of the country’s former authoritarian-style practices, often escalating restrictive measures particularly in his treatment of internal CCM opponents and opposition parties, as well as his use of technological advancements to control the public and online space. This has become a part of a shift in the perception of the government. While the CCM in all of its iterations has been a pillar of the Tanzanian government since the state’s independence, in his first term Magufuli has succeeded in becoming the sole face of the party and the driving force behind the majority of its actions. This transition from the party being perceived or associated with the Tanzanian collective to now embody Magufuli alone, with his ideology and vision, is illustrative of Magufuli’s character and aim to fully consolidate power.

Despite Magufuli having won a lower percentage of the vote in 2015 than has been typical for CCM presidents, his platform surrounding anti-corruption, economic restructuring, and simple living received widespread support. In fact, at the start of his administration, even opposition leaders and major government critics applauded his efforts to improve the functions of government institutions, to launch anti-corruption campaigns to demand accountability from public officials, and to deliver long-awaited benefits to the population. That said, opposition parties have since retracted these sentiments.

Notably, Magufuli’s policies for economic development have been coupled with enhanced restrictions, such as the prohibition on public and private broadcasting of parliamentary debate sessions in 2016. Although many of these policy changes would be expected to motivate widespread opposition, especially those that impact government transparency, the president has largely succeeded in limiting domestic backlash by stating that such restrictions are intended to save government funds that can later be invested in additional socio-economic programs. However, when Magufuli’s governance policies or decision-making has been criticized or questioned by international partners, the President has been quick to dismiss allegations and has frequently cut ties with partners and donors, though often only temporarily, to illustrate confidence in his own leadership.

Within this context, since the COVID-19 outbreak began in March, Magufuli has acted strategically to control the spread of information on the virus and public knowledge by implementing new restrictive policies, while also rallying the public behind the country’s response and the idea that Tanzania is well-prepared to handle such a crisis. To do so, the president has repeatedly called for mass prayer services and has tied public piousness to the success of the government’s COVID-19 response strategy. Despite receiving international and regional criticism for suppressing reporting on COVID-19 case numbers and treatment plans, Magufuli declared Tanzania to be coronavirus-free on June 8 and has since authorized the reopening of international borders and the resumption of tourism.

Regardless of the country’s official reopening, the government has taken advantage of the outbreak to maintain various health directives, including movement restrictions in Dar es Salaam and limits on public gatherings, particularly in Zanzibar. Police forces have been heavily deployed across the country to enforce COVID-19 restrictions and there is no indication that security has been reduced following Magufuli’s announcement. Though the public has widely adhered to government COVID-19 directives, likely mostly out of fear for police crackdowns or social consequences, opposition leaders such as Chadema’s Freeman Mbowe have noted that the lack of government transparency on the virus has contributed to the spread of rumors. For instance, despite the lack of official reporting on case numbers since May, citizens remain aware that the global pandemic is deteriorating based on foreign reports and began speculating about the government’s tactics for disguising the effects of the virus in Tanzania. Given Magufuli’s tendency to suppress critical sentiment, this rise in public speculation over his COVID-19 response likely contributed to the creation of legislation to restrict the dissemination of information on the virus as well as other political issues via online and foreign media outlets.

FORECAST: Although the public is likely aware that COVID-19 has not been eliminated in Tanzania, with the newly-implemented restrictions on reporting and the publication of virus-related content, understanding of the public sentiment and response to government directives is likely to remain limited moving forward. Ultimately, with elections approaching, the government is likely to benefit from maintaining COVID-19 measures and introducing online restrictions as political parties other than the CCM struggle to organize supporters and to hold campaigns both in-person and online. Moreover, by passing new legislation, the government has further legal authority to detain opposition leaders, journalists, and online content creators that are perceived to be spreading anti-government information and threatening national security. Though in most cases, rising criticism over such policies both domestically and from the international community would likely motivate a state to re-evaluate its tactics, these latest measures align with CCM and Magufuli’s long-time policies, and are therefore unlikely to significantly impact the party’s support base ahead of the October polls.

Background – Zanzibar

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania where citizens vote both in Tanzania’s general elections and for a local president and parliament. The CCM also dominates the local political scene there. Despite having a history of poor relations, the CCM and Zanzibar’s main opposition Civic United Front (CUF) party succeeded in implementing a power-sharing agreement and structure for a unity government ahead of the 2010 polls, which temporarily reduced electoral unrest and violence.

However, an escalation of political, ethnic, and racial tensions on the islands following the election of CCM candidate President Ali Mohamed Shein in 2010. The results led to the breakdown of power-sharing agreements and the unity government ahead of the 2015 elections. Zanzibar’s 2015 elections resulted in rerun polls following reports of electoral irregularities and vote duplication. In addition, the pre-electoral period and the months following the annulment of the polls were marred with political violence.

In the interim period, the CUF candidate Seif Sharif Hamad declared himself president, a move that was denounced by the CCM and electoral commission. The second round of elections was held in March 2016 despite a CUF boycott, resulting in CCM candidate and incumbent President Ali Mohamed Shein winning 91.4 percent of the vote.

Assessments & Forecast

Entrenched political tensions between CCM, opposition CUF could manifest into renewed unrest, violence ahead of October polls

Since multi-party elections were introduced in 1995, Zanzibar’s polls have been particularly contentious and characterized by bouts of violence, often to a much greater extent than those on Tanzania’s mainland. Though political tensions in Zanzibar are common over power-sharing disputes, policy changes, and concerns that the CCM is using security and surveillance apparatuses to consolidate power, the islands’ underlying ethnic and racial divides also tend to play a critical role in escalating hostilities. For instance, the CCM branch in Zanzibar is known to capitalize on its ethnic and racial ties to the CCM on the mainland, often accusing the CUF of representing the historic, controversial Arab Sultanate and seeking to destroy the archipelago’s union with Tanzania.

In the 2015 polls, the heavy deployment of security forces, mass arrests of CUF members, and the prohibition of all political rallies immediately following the nullification of the election results further enhanced tensions and motivated CUF candidate Hamad to cut all dialogue with the CCM. However, since the polls, the CUF has been fraught with internal tensions sparked by a rivalry between Hamad and the party’s National Chairman Ibrahim Lipumba, which Hamad has repeatedly attributed to infiltration by the CCM. This mounting friction eventually led to a breakup of the party, with Hamad’s faction officially joining Zanzibar’s ACT-Wazalendo party faction in March 2019 after a court decision named Lipumba as the CUF de-facto leader.

Though it remains unclear if Lipumba’s CUF faction has abandoned its opposition platform and fully restored dialogue with the CCM, that his leadership was secured by a government court order suggests that the party has underlying ties with the CCM. Meanwhile, Hamad has maintained a staunch opposition stance and will run as the presidential candidate for the ACT-Wazalendo party in the October polls. Despite this being his sixth presidential bid, Hamad claims that his leadership experience and candidacy are necessary due to the extreme threat posed by the CCM to Zanzibar’s multi-party system.

FORECAST: Thus, unlike his call for a CUF boycott of the 2016 rerun polls, Hamad is expected to advocate for overwhelming opposition participation in the upcoming elections, especially having joined forces with the ACT-Wazalendo party to enhance his following and chances of securing the presidency. To this end, with the ACT-Wazalendo central committee authorizing its branches to form alliances with other opposition parties to bolster their ranks, Hamad may attempt to form an opposition coalition with other minor Zanzibari parties, apart from the CUF, to strengthen his chances against CCM candidate Defense Minister Hussein Mwinyi.

FORECAST: However, given Zanzibar’s history of holding heavily disputed elections that result in violence, the upcoming October polls retain the potential to be highly volatile, both politically and in terms of civil unrest. Given that the central government has limited the presence of non-partisan local and external electoral observers during the polls, this potential lack of oversight is also likely to further enhance hostilities in Zanzibar.

FORECAST: Ultimately, as with the 2015-16 political crisis, there likely remains entrenched distrust for the election commission along with its polling operations and agents among Zanzibaris. This sentiment and possible personal safety concerns could dissuade some Zanzibaris from voting as well as trigger public demands for a more transparent electoral process in the run-up to the polls. Overall, continued animosity and tensions between the contesting parties could cause protests or unrest during the election period.


Travel to Dar es Salaam, Dodoma, and Arusha can continue while adhering to general security precautions regarding the risk of crime.

Exercise heightened vigilance throughout Zanzibar, including in Stone Town, due to risks of civil unrest in the period leading up to the election.

Avoid all large gatherings and protests in Tanzania as a general security precaution due to the potential for unrest and a violent security response.

Avoid openly espousing political views or demonstrating an affiliation to local parties, either in person or online, due to high political tensions and a restrictive political climate.

Practice increased health precautions due to potential exposure to coronavirus and remain cognizant of authorities’ instructions regarding restrictions, quarantines, and health procedures.