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Debate Around Tanzania-Dubai Deal Gets Ugly As Critics Claim To Receive Threats

The reports come hot on the heels of other worrying trends where people’s right to dissent is attacked, including a crackdown on peaceful protests.

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Dar es Salaam. The debate on the inter-governmental agreement between Tanzania and the Emirati of Dubai on the operations of the Dar es Salaam port got uglier on Thursday after some critics reported receiving death threats following their criticism of the controversial deal.

Rugemeleza Nshala, the country’s celebrated lawyer and advocate, came out today to reveal to the public that his life was in danger after being tipped by insiders on the plot aimed at “eliminating” him with his statements concerning the agreement named as the motivation.

Nshala, who doubles as the Executive Director of the environmental group Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT), told a press conference in Dar es Salaam that “credible sources” from the government informed him of the plot, noting that he’s willing to die to defend his country.

READ MORE: Will DP World Issue Influence Tanzania’s 2025 Electoral Politics?

“I called this press conference today to inform the public that I’ve received news from credible sources within the system that my life was in danger after criticising the agreement between Tanzania and Dubai,” Dr Nshala said.

Nshala, who served as the president of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), the country’s bar society, in 2021, said he did not just wake up and call a press conference to claim that his life was in danger, describing the threats as “real and worrying.”

He also said that he received reports that his fellow advocate Boniface Mwabukusi from Mbeya confirmed to have received the same threats. Mwabukusi represents some Tanzanians who have petitioned the High Court, pleading with it to declare the agreement entered as unconstitutional.

Nshala, who has litigated several cases to influence essential reforms in the country, said past incidents of people being extrajudicially killed motivated him to report the threats to the public.

“That is the state of our country at the moment,” Dr Nshala said. “This country’s leaders demand our obedience to and live under them. I do not accept that. I can’t live in a country which is a republic, and some people think they have got the licence to end others’ lives.”

Dar es Salaam Special Zone Commander Jumanne Muliro was not immediately available to respond to our questions if the law enforcement agency’s aware of Nshala’s reports and its plans to protect his life.


The death threats that Dr Nshala has reported are connected to the remarks he made during a discussion on the social audio app Clubhouse on July 3, 2023, where he passionately criticised the Tanzania-Dubai deal, which would allow DP World, an Emirati multinational logistics company, to take control of the operations of Dar’s port.

During the discussion, Dr Nshala described the deal as equivalent to “selling the country off to foreigners,” pointing out that the decision to sign such a deal constituted “betrayal and treason” against Tanzania.

“In a republic, the president is a servant to the country’s people,” the renowned lawyer said. “When she begins to do things against her oath of office, I don’t know any other way of describing her than a betrayer and treasonist.”

President Samia Suluhu Hassan has dismissed the accusation of selling the country, pointing out that selling off the country has never been among her priorities as the country’s leader. She has said that she has her eyes on the country’s development, which she said is everyone’s role in ensuring its accomplishment.

Dr Nshala was speaking in the context of attacks that a self-identified Muslim cleric directed against a respected Tanzanian intellectual, Prof Issa Shivji, who has joined the camp of those opposing the deal that lawmakers unanimously approved on June 10, 2023.

Fundamentally flawed

During a seminar at the University of Dar es Salaam on June 29, 2023, Shivji, one of Africa’s leading experts on law and development issues, described the agreement as fundamentally flawed and impossible to improve. He suggested that the best way to address the issue was for the parliament to reverse its resolution.

“[The inter-governmental agreement] lays all responsibilities on the Tanzanian government and gives all the rights to the Emirati of Dubai,” Shivji interpreted the agreement. “My reading of the agreement tells me that it is one-sided.”

The self-identified cleric, Said Mwaipopo, criticised Prof Shivji for his analysis of the agreement, telling him that instead of criticising the government, he should be grateful for it to allow him to live in the country despite his Indian origin.

He urged the government to ignore him because “he has never supported the government since the independence.”

During his Clubhouse discussion, Dr Nshala blamed the cleric’s “hateful” attacks against Shivji on the government, claiming it was responsible for fronting these people to humiliate people seen as critical to the administration.

“These people, [by agreeing to the terms of this agreement], have literary defecate on our constitution,” Dr Nshala said. “Does a person who does that deserve to be the president? Tanzania is a republic, not a monarchy. We have been betrayed.”

But the government has continued to play down these feelings, with Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa telling the public recently that authorities have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish with the deal and that people have no reason to worry.

“The government has a clear vision of delivering positive results to the country, as far as the agreement is concerned,” Majaliwa said. “This reputable firm [DP World] is credited for handling 190 ports in 68 countries worldwide.”

In a move that observers have interpreted as a determination to proceed with the deal, the government has sent to the parliament the Written Laws (Misc Amendment) No. 2 Bill, 2023, intending to amend, among other laws, the country’s natural wealth and resources legislations so that they will not apply to the operations of multinational logistics company DP World’s operations in Tanzania.

READ MORE: Tanzania Wants Natural Wealth Laws Not to Apply to Ports’ Operations

Worrying trends

Reports on death threats come hot on the heels of other worrying trends where people’s right to dissent has come under attack, including the police’s move to prevent peaceful protests against the deal from taking place in the commercial capital of Dar es Salaam.

Police arrested some people who defied the ban and went to the street to protest. On July 5, 2023, the protest leader whom the police arrested, Deusdedith Soka, complained that police have made them report regularly at the Oysterbay Police Station, which causes them much inconvenience.

“Police have seized all of our belongings: ATM cards, office and home keys, SIM cards; they took everything,” Soka complained on Twitter. “It’s almost a week now, and I haven’t been able to enter my house. We are being persecuted for defending our country.”

There are reports of a media company reportedly being ordered to suspend a public discussion, and an ‘order from a high office’ demanding a television show about the deal be cancelled.

READ MORE: How the Port Deal Discussion Is Testing Samia’s Resolve to Protect Civic Space

But the critics have vowed not to allow the government silences them, promising to continue opposing the deal, which they have interpreted as going against national interests.

“I’ll let nobody silence or intimidate me, at least not by someone as mortal as me,” Dr Nshala said during his press conference on Thursday. “But if I’ve to die defending my country, then so be it. If I die, let my blood be a seed for struggles to defend our country’s natural resources.”

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