Dar es Salaam. The Tanzania Police Force has had a hard time defending itself in the past few days following serious accusations that its officers behave unlawfully while on duty, resulting in torture, forced disappearances of suspects and even murder.
Reports of serious human rights violations involving members of the law enforcement organ have been making headlines recently, prompting Tanzanians to wonder if the incidents result from the force being systematically rogue or if it’s just the actions of a few bad apples.
The question becomes even more significant when one considers that this is not the first time the institution tasked with ensuring the protection of people and their properties has faced these accusations, prompting authorities as high as the presidency to demand the force to evaluate itself.
Police deny that they carry these violations deliberately, with its spokesperson David Misime telling Clouds Radio recently that the malpractices are committed by individual police officers who frequently are held accountable for the actions when found guilty.
However, the recurrence of violations begs the question of whether there is any accountability within the Police Force, as the institution rarely updates the public on the disciplinary or criminal measures taken against its officers involved in breaching the police code of conduct and the country’s laws while on duty.
For instance, on November 29, 2023, police in Dar es Salaam said they were holding two of their officers who allegedly shot dead a security guard at a popular pub in the city, Boardroom Bar. Almost a month later, no update has been released regarding the matter.
Perhaps it is this perceived lack of accountability of suspected offending police officers that contributes to the continuation of serious violations that officers commit while carrying out their duties.
Since the boardroom incident, for example, several other reports of police abuse and misconduct have been reported in different parts of the country, indicating that there is no end in sight to police abuse in Tanzania.
In December last year, thirty-eight-year-old Kalamba Ramadhani Mnenge, a livestock keeper from the National Housing Street in the capital, Dodoma, came out to accuse police officers in the capital of torturing and abusing him, causing him serious bodily harm.
While narrating his ordeal to The Chanzo, the father of one Mnenge said that the officers removed him from his house, ignoring his appeals to let the local authorities know of his arrest, and handcuffed his legs and hands before dumping him on a police patrol car.
“They took me to a house and stripped me naked,” Mnenge narrated. “They handcuffed my legs and arms again and left me hanging through a piece of iron bar. One of the officers was drinking water while occasionally pouring it on my naked buttocks.”
Despite the report by this publication forcing the police to issue a statement admitting to having seen the report and promising to investigate the allegations, The Chanzo is unaware of the status and outcomes of such an exercise, if any.
Even before the dust settled over this, in December last year, police in Dar es Salaam faced fresh accusations of murder, which Dar es Salaam Special Zone Commander Jumanne Muliro confirmed, describing the targets as members of a criminal group’ Panya Road.’
Police killed twenty-two-year-old Salehe Kachauka and twenty-one-year-old Bakari Ismail in Vingunguti, a working-class neighbourhood in Dar es Salaam, saying it was in “self-defence.” But relatives of the murdered men said their brothers were not criminals, describing their murder as “extrajudicial killing.”
Omari Salehe Shomari, who is the brother of one of the deceased, told journalists that police shot at his brother even though he was not posing any danger to them and after showing willingness to be arrested.
“While in pain, my brother was trying to stand up when police went on to shoot him more than five times in the thighs and waist, and I witnessed it,” he recounted. “I was confused because they had no weapons and were already down.”
Still, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Camillus Wambura defended the police’s actions, saying they used equivalent force based on circumstances.
“Their use of force is equivalent to the power that Panya Road had at the time of the incident,” Mr Wambura told the press on January 4, 2024. “Police are not meant to die recklessly.”
Now, this also is not the first time that police faced accusations of murder during their operations of ridding the streets of Dar es Salaam of ‘Panya Road.’
On April 6, 2023, The Chanzo published a story featuring parents and guardians whose sons died at the hands of police after having been taken from their houses alive, accused of being part of the Panya Road network, a charge they denied.
They include Amina Ally, a resident of Temeke whose twenty-five-year-old son, Amir Athuman Hassan, was taken alive by police on September 17, 2022, only to die at their hands. Amina told this publication they found the body of their loved one in a mortuary at the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), shot two times in the heart.
During his interview with Clouds TV, Mr Misime blamed these police malpractices entirely on individual police officers, saying that some officers did not receive a good upbringing from their parents and thus committed these violations.
“We have been taking actions against any police officer found guilty of misconduct,” Misime said. “These measures intend to ensure that every member of the force behaves according to the code of conduct and the laws of the land. So, these violations are purely a result of an individual officer’s behaviour.”
But others think differently, pointing out the need for wide-ranging reforms in the Police Force. Observers told The Chanzo that the recurrence of the incidents reveals that the problem is more systemic than Mr Misime would want the public to believe.
Dickson Matata, a human rights lawyer based in Dar es Salaam, told The Chanzo that there must be reforms within the Police Force, focusing his attention on the laws establishing the force, which he thinks need amendment.
“Laws governing the Police Force have many loopholes,” Mr Matata said in an interview. “This makes the police think they are above the law. We should carry out reforms to prevent police from killing people as it’s not the police’s job to kill people.”
Need for reforms
Dickson’s emphasis on reforms is timely as the nation waits to see the government implementing the recommendations of a presidential commission formed to investigate organs responsible for dispensing criminal justice in the country and how to improve them.
Chaired by former Chief Justice Mohammed Chande Othman, the ten-member commission submitted its report to President Samia Suluhu Hassan on July 15, 2023, containing several recommendations on improving Tanzania’s criminal justice system.
Among them is the need to transform the Police Force by emphasizing services instead of force as the institution currently appears. The commission proposed a comprehensive institution assessment to ensure efficiency and professionalism.
People working in cases involving police brutality in the country commended and welcomed the commission’s proposals, noting that if the recommendations are implemented fully, the practice would be ended.
Peter Madeleka, the activist lawyer who has been very vocal in exposing police brutality in Tanzania, told The Chanzo that the commission’s recommendations should be implemented sooner rather than later so that Tanzanians have an organ genuinely committed to protecting them and their properties.
“The Police Force needs to be disbanded and reformed because it’s still operating under a colonial-era concept that focuses on control rather than service,” Madeleka, who once served as a police inspector before leaving the force, said. “What is needed now is to enact a new law to re-structure the Police Force.”
John Heche, senior leader of the opposition CHADEMA party, echoes this sentiment, stressing the need for Tanzania to have an Independent Policing Oversight Authority.
“We need an oversight body to receive complaints and investigate the police,” Heche, who recently accused police of disappearing people in Tarime, Mara, and subsequently questioned for it, told The Chanzo. “If there is that body, then people will be safe; the alternative to that is that we are all in deep trouble, and no one is safe.”
As elections near, Tanzanians eagerly await to see whether the government will implement the proposals shared by Chande’s commission on reforming the Police Force, which plays a significant but controversial role during elections.
These expectations were somehow affected on September 4, 2023, when President Samia indicated her dependence on the Police Force, promising to find “anywhere” the Sh125 billion election budget it requested and give it to the force.
“This is to ensure that all the challenges the Police Force faces are sorted so that you can do your job well [during elections],” the Head of State said, “We all depend on you,” emphasized President Samia, a statement that has kept many observers worrying if any serious reforms will be undertaken before elections.