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Why Did It Take Tanzania Eighteen Years to Ratify OAU Convention on Terrorism?

Analysts attribute the development to consensus now reached within the government on issues of terrorism and violent extremism.

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Dar es Salaam. Home Affairs Minister Hamad Masauni said Monday that while it is true that Tanzania has not been affected by terrorism as hard as its neighbours in the region, the country is observing “signs” of the spread of violent extremism, making the ratification of the OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism urgent.

On January 27, 2005, Tanzania became the signatory to the convention that seeks to strengthen cooperation among AU’s member states in the prevention and combating of terrorism but fell short of ratifying it, a decision that analysts associated with how the East African nation perceived threats of terrorism.

On Monday, however, the government submitted a motion to the national assembly, asking lawmakers to ratify the convention and make Tanzania the third country in East Africa to do so after Burundi and Rwanda. 

“There are signs showing the spread of violent extremism in various parts of the country, leading people to join terrorist groups outside the country,” Mr Masauni told the parliament. “This puts our national security in danger. There are risks of terrorist activities to take place in Tanzania.”

Mr Masauni named five regions that the government considers to be the breeding ground for violent extremism indoctrination in Tanzania, informing lawmakers that authorities are at work in ensuring the networks are disrupted. The regions are Arusha, Geita, Mwanza, Pwani and Tanga.

Scourge of terrorism

The OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, adopted at Algiers in 1999, had put in place a solid framework to deal with the scourge of terrorism. 

It not only defined terrorism but also laid out areas of cooperation among the member states as well as guidelines for extradition.

Analysts have pointed out that the failure on the part of many African countries, including those facing terror attacks such as Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia and Chad, which are yet to ratify it, has enabled terror networks to continue operating in the African region.

It is against this background that a Dar es Salaam-based researcher on violent extremism who preferred anonymity described Monday’s decision by the parliament to ratify the convention as “a big deal,” noting that the development is thanks to a consensus that has recently been achieved within the government on terrorism.

“In the past, the government was reluctant to admit that there is terrorism in the country,” the researcher told The Chanzo in an interview. “It was during President John Magufuli when government leaders started speaking the language of terrorism.”

Mr Magufuli, who died on March 17, 2021, of heart disease, was the fifth president of Tanzania. It was under his watch that Tanzania experienced what analysts have described as an “unprecedented flurry of violent crimes” in the Kibiti and Rufiji districts, in Pwani, between 2015 and 2017.

A heavy-handed counter-terrorism response helped bring the situation back to normalcy in the districts but the threat of terrorism is far from over in the country. 

A violent insurgency taking place in the Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique, which borders Mtwara, southern Tanzania, for example, has authorities on constant alert.

This is not to mention reports revealed recently by The Chanzo on the presence of a network in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar that is recruiting youths between 18 and 29 years old to go and join what is believed to be terrorist groups outside the country.

A changing approach 

The ratification of the OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism itself came high on the heels of other notable steps that Tanzania has been taking recently, indicating its changing approach to countering the rise of violent extremism in the country.

This, in part, includes the establishment of a National Terrorism Coordination Centre within the government plus many other initiatives.

“The establishment of the SADC Regional Counter-Terrorism Centre [SADC-RCTC] in Tanzania, as an institution that coordinates counter-terrorism activities in the region, might also have played a role in Monday’s ratification,” the researcher told The Chanzo.

The centre, launched in March 2022, was established to ensure enhanced coordination, and strengthened partnerships, as well as to foster timely response to terrorism and violent extremism within the SADC Region.

During his submission on Monday, Mr Masauni told lawmakers that following the ratification, Tanzania will be better placed to prevent and combat terrorism for the instrument allows AU member states to share important information as part of collective efforts to fight against the scourge.

“Information-sharing is important if we as African nations are serious about preventing and combating terrorism,” Mr Masauni, who doubles as Kikwajuni MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM), said. “Ratifying this convention will make information-sharing easy among states.”

Amending terrorism law

Chairperson of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security Committee Vita Kawawa advised the government on the need to amend the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, in line with the OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism and other regional and international anti-terrorism treaties.

“This law is now outdated,” Mr Kawawa, who doubles as Namtumbo MP (CCM), told the parliament. “It needs to be amended to reflect the current situation. The law should be properly named as the prevention and combating of terrorism and not just prevention as it is now known.” 

Speaking in parliament, Mr Kawawa also told lawmakers that if the prevention of terrorism is to be successful, it should start at the household level. 

He also pointed out that if people are to take part fully in the efforts, they should be provided with the necessary education on the issues that would help them play their roles effectively.

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