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Lawyers in Tanzania Decry State’s Interference With Their Right to Work

While they want to maintain their relationship with the courts, the lawyers say not ready to do so at the expense of their independence, safety and right to work.

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Mwanza. Efforts are underway in Tanzania to resolve existing tensions between independent legal practitioners in the East African nation and the government and the judiciary over alleged interference by state agencies in the lawyers’ right to work, which members of the country’s legal fraternity have described as “growing” and “worrying.”

Harold Sungusia, the president of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) told this publication recently that the bar association of Tanzania Mainland awaits responses from the judiciary to discuss concerns that TLS members have been raising about allegations of justices and judges declining to offer the advocates necessary cooperation that would allow them to carry out their duties smoothly.

Lawyers also want the meeting with the Chief Justice of Tanzania, Prof Ibrahim Hamis Juma, to complain about what they term an “arbitrary” suspension of independent legal practitioners and having their license revoked in “questionable” and “unjust” manners. The CJ office could not immediately respond to our questions if such a meeting could happen anytime soon.

“We need to meet with the Attorney General, Chief Justice, and the Ministry of Constitution and Legal Affairs to come up with something that will be understood and create a conducive environment for our lawyers,” Mr Sungusia said in an interview with The Chanzo. “I hope the meeting will happen sooner than later.”

Sungusia’s remarks came against the backdrop of frustrations that some TLS members have been expressing overtly and covertly over what they perceive as the government’s increasing “onslaught” on their independence, which curtails, among other things, their right to work and TLS’s mandate to function as an independent Bar association in defending the interests of its members.

READ MORE: TLS Throws Weight Behind Nshala, Demands ‘Death Threats’ Reports Investigated


The frustrations arrived at the climax on February 3, 2024, when a team of six TLS members issued a circular decrying “continuous, deliberate and open” attacks on independent advocates’ right to work in Tanzania, calling on their colleagues to be “resolute in defending their interests amidst a storm” of state’s interference.

Reading the circular before journalists at the TLS premises in Dar es Salaam, Dr Rugemeleza Nshala, one of Tanzania’s prominent private attorneys, flanked by his colleagues Ms Fatma Karume and Senior Counsel Mpale Mpoki, mentioned several incidents that imply authorities’ treatment of private attorneys as “second-class” advocates with the state attorneys being treated as “first-class” ones.

“There are incidents of attorneys being detained while representing their clients,” Dr Nshala pointed out during the press conference. “Others have been ignored and even intimidated while carrying out their duties. Many other attorneys have been punished not on the basis of professional misconduct but personal feelings of decision-makers.”

Dr Nshala, himself a victim of the state’s mistreatment, pointed to the suspension of Mpoki as a “classic” example of the state’s interference with independent lawyers’ right to work in Tanzania. Mpoki, who has been practising law for about 35 years, was suspended as he led a team of lawyers defending Boniface Mwabukusi, an advocate, in his ethics complaint before the Advocates’ Committee by the Attorney General.

The Attorney General accused Mr Mwabukusi of “professional misconduct” in his criticism of the controversial intergovernmental agreement between Tanzania and Dubai that would give an Emirati logistics company, DP World, some operations at the Dar es Salaam port. 

READ MORE: Suspended Advocate Mpale Mpoki Shares His Side of Story: ‘This Is Not About Me’

During the hearing of the case before the committee, Mr Mpoki was suspended for six months after informing the Committee that his team would appeal against its decision to dismiss the objections they had raised regarding Mr Mwabukusi’s case, in what Dr Nshala called “a clear manifestation of abuse of power.”

Many other incidents accompanied the suspension of Mr Mpoki during the case before the Advocates’ Committee, which Dr Nshala thought were “unprecedented” and threatened to have chilling effects on the advocates’ independence and integrity. One of these incidents involved defence attorneys being searched by plain-clothes state agents, which Nshala admitted made him “uncomfortable.”

“It was assumed that only defence attorneys could be dangerous because state attorneys never went through the same treatment,” Dr Nshala recounted. “It was not a normal procedure and we overheard one state attorney saying, ‘You’re being searched as you might be carrying firearms.’”

In their circular, the lawyers also raised the plight of their colleagues Mkwikwini Robert Joseph and Paulo Kalomo, advocates, who were suspended recently for five and two years, respectively, in a manner Dr Nshala complained “smelled of vengeance.” On top of the suspension, the Advocates’ Committee also ordered Mr Joseph to pay the fine of Sh10 million or risk a ten-year suspension.

Blocking meetings

The lawyers also accused authorities of preventing them from convening the Extraordinary General Meeting to discuss issues of concern by “abusing” available judicial mechanisms. The meeting, which was scheduled for December 16, 2023, couldn’t go on after a lawyer identified as Baltazary Bosco petitioned the High Court of Tanzania to suspend the meeting, a request the court granted.

READ MORE: Lawyer Who Opposes Dubai DP Word-Tanzania Port Deal Summoned by the Advocate’s Disciplinary Committee

The meeting, which the lawyers expected to use as a platform to discuss their plight and find a way forward, was suspended fourteen hours before it started, disrupting the timetables of lawyers who had travelled from upcountry to take part in the meeting called immediately after the AG brought Mwabukusi before the Advocates’ Committee and the suspension of Mpoki, among others.

Dr Nshala said the High Court blocked the meeting without affording the TLS the right to be heard, which Bosco’s petition addressed. Nor did the court hear from the AG, another respondent in the Bosco’s petition. Nshala described all these as “unprecedented” developments in the relations between independent attorneys and the judiciary.

“They paint a very gloomy and negative image on the independence of attorneys and the entire justice system in Tanzania,” Dr Nshala analysed. “There was no urgency to warrant dispensation with our [TLS members] right to be heard, but evil intentions of suspending the meeting and discussions on issues of concern.”

Lawyers also criticised the amendment to the Tanganyika Law Society Act, 2023, which they described as “discriminatory” as it bars young lawyers from contesting TLS leadership, among many other criticisms.

Right to work

Speaking during the February 3 press conference, Ms Fatma Karume, who still cannot practice law in Tanzania Mainland since authorities disbarred her on September 20, 2019, said it is increasingly becoming a “fashion” in Tanzania for authorities to rob attorneys of their right to work.

READ MORE: Police on ‘Death Threats’ Reports By Critics of Tanzania-DP World Deal: ‘They Cause Unnecessary Panic’ 

“Right to work is a fundamental right,” Ms Karume, who has served as the TLS president, said. “Before anyone denies a person such a right, several issues should be considered first. These include the right to be heard,” which she asserted doesn’t happen for suspended private attorneys in the country. 

She said the practice contributes to the “systemic failure” of Tanzania’s justice system, which ultimately affects the rule of law in the country.

Peter Madeleka, a private attorney, who also claims to have been mistreated by authorities, told The Chanzo that concerted efforts are needed to promote the safety and independence of his colleagues in Tanzania, noting that authorities are determined to go the extra mile in targeting them.

“An attack on lawyers is an attack on justice,” Mr Madeleka explained. “The Office of the Attorney General and the Judiciary have the same goal, which is to ensure that lawyers do not get their rights.”

The Chanzo asked Attorney General Eliezer Feleshi if he was aware of these concerns raised by private attorneys. The AG responded that no lawyer in Tanzania has had their right to work and practice denied, adding that measures have only been taken against lawyers committing “professional misconduct.”

READ MORE: Debate Swirls Around Samia’s Decision to Extend Juma’s Tenure as Chief Justice

But Sungusia, TLS president, admits that there’s a problem and he hopes his requests for meeting with relevant authorities will be accepted and a process to mend the relations between TLS’s members, the government and the judiciary can commence at the earliest.

“We are aware of infringements on lawyers’ rights in Tanzania, and we are closely monitoring it with all our might,” said Sungusia in an interview. “We do not want confrontation with the courts; we want to maintain our relationship with the courts, but not at the expense of seeing our lawyers being mistreated and humiliated.”

Matonyinga Makaro reports for The Chanzo from Mwanza. He’s available at

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