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Police Summons Lawyer Nshala Over Remarks About Tanzania-DP World Deal

Tuesday’s development adds to the growing concerns some observers have shared on the administration’s attempts to repress voices critical of the deal.

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Dar es Salaam. Police Tuesday summoned lawyer and advocate Rugemeleza Nshala over remarks he made during a discussion on the social audio app Clubhouse on July 3, 2023, where he criticised the Tanzania-Dubai deal, which would allow DP World, an Emirati multinational logistics company, to take control of the operations of the Dar es Salaam’s port.

In a letter dated July 10, 2023, which has been circulating online, the Director of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Camilius Wambura ordered Dr Nshala, who doubles as the Executive Director of the environmental group Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT), to report at the DCI’s office today, July 11, 2023, at 9:00 AM.

DCI said in his letter that his office was investigating the claims Dr Nshala made during the discussion that has since gone viral on social media platforms and that they needed to question the renowned advocate as part of that investigation.

READ MORE: Embracing the Orchestra of Voices: Ensuring Inclusive Dialogue on Tanzania’s DP World Deal

During the discussion, Dr Nshala described the controversial 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.

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.”

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

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 defecated 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.”

Dr Nshala was not immediately available Tuesday to confirm whether he honoured the summons. The Chanzo also wanted to know what transpired during the questioning. 

However, Tuesday’s summons came a few days since Dr Nshala claimed that “credible sources from the system” informed him of a plot to “eliminate” him following his criticisms of the deal.

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

Addressing a press conference in the city on July 6, 2023, Dr Nshala also claimed 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.

“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.”

Tuesday’s development will add to the growing concerns some observers have shared on the administration’s attempts to repress voices critical of the deal, with some describing the move as a litmus test to President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s commitment to protecting civic space in Tanzania.

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

Some developments that have worried observers include the police’s move to prevent peaceful protests against the deal in Dar es Salaam. 

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.

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.”

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