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Journalist Arrested in Mwanza for Publishing ‘False’ News About UDOM

Police accuse Kazimbaya Makwega of publishing false information about the UDOM on his Mwanakwetu blog, accusing the public university of mismanagement and other malpractices.

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Mwanza. Police here arrested journalist Kazimbaya Makwega Thursday morning for allegedly publishing false information on his blog, Mwanakwetu, about the University of Dodoma (UDOM), accusing the public university of mismanagement and other malpractices.

Reports allege that around 10 AM, two police officers arrived at the Malya College of Sports Development, a government-owned education institution where Makwega works as a Public Relations Officer, and demanded to talk to the blogger. 

When Makwega came to meet them, he was arrested and taken to the Mwanza Central Police after telling him he was arrested for publishing false information about UDOM. 

Police told Edwin Soko, the chairperson of Mwanza Press Club, which fights for the safety and freedom of journalists in the region, that they’ll travel to Dodoma with Makwega today, February 23, around 1 PM where he’ll be charged for the crime, Soko told The Chanzo.

“Fortunately, we were able to find [Makwega] here at Central Police, and we spoke with him at least for five minutes,” Mr Soko recounted. “Police, who refused to talk to attorneys, told me they’d leave with Makwega to Dodoma to face his charges.”

READ MORE: Embattled Simalenga Speaks Out As Journalists Declare Coverage Boycott 

Dodoma regional police commander Martin Otieno told The Chanzo on Friday that he was unaware of the operation, saying his office was too big to know all the operations his officers were taking. We could not reach Mwanza regional police commander Wilbrod Mutafungwa.

UDOM criticisms

Police also were not specific about what information about UDOM that Makwega has published was “false.” In his blog, Mr Makwega has published several articles that spotlight the mismanagement of UDOM that led to the poor academic performance of many students. 

The blogger’s articles also accused UDOM’s top leadership of being “irresponsible” for failing to take time and listen to the university’s students and find ways to address their issues and concerns.

In his most recent article, published on February 19, 2024, Makwega accuses UDOM chancellor Stergomena Tax of “failing” to protect young girls at the university from acts of sexual corruption, which he claims to be “rampant.” Dr Tax also serves as the Minister of Defence and National Service.

He gives an example of a young girl who told her father about her plan to drop out of college because a certain lecturer won’t let her study in peace as he regularly asks her to sleep with him.

READ MORE: ‘Licensing Requirements Cause Self-censorship Among Media Practitioners’

“When did Dr Tax last sit with these young girls and listen to their concerns?” Makwega asked in the article. “If Dr Tax sat with these young girls, she’d have learned a lot, and lecturers would have behaved themselves because their secrets would’ve been made open.” 

Sexual corruption at UDOM has been a concern for some time, leading the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) to investigate the allegations at UDOM and the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), where the practices are also reported to be rampant.

PCCB submitted its report to President Samia Suluhu Hassan on March 28, 2021, with its findings still yet to be opened to the public.

Regression 

Makwega’s arrest for his work as a journalist adds another episode to the press freedom regression that journalists in Tanzania have been worrying about recently. It comes a few days since Bariadi district commissioner Simon Simalenga ordered journalists to leave a key meeting, a decision press freedom advocates strongly condemned.

READ MORE: Bariadi DC Simon Simalenga Criticised After Kicking Journalists Out of Key Meeting 

The two incidents accompanying one another will most likely make some observers of Tanzania’s media landscape question the government’s commitment to protecting press freedom, which Samia shared with key stakeholders early in her administration.

Mr Soko, a veteran journalist, told The Chanzo that interference with journalists’ work has to stop as it creates a climate of fear among members of the country’s media fraternity, particularly as the nation prepares for civic and general elections. 

“It creates a very negative picture,” Mr Soko explained. “It becomes even more concerning when [police] officers do not follow their guidelines when arresting people. You cannot arrest someone and decline to say where you’re taking them. It’s very inconvenient.”

Difficult profession

A national study whose findings were revealed on February 16, 2024, in Dar es Salaam arrived at a chilling conclusion by describing journalism as a “difficult profession,” showing that half of 1,202 journalists interviewed report having been threatened, harassed or assaulted at some time in their professional lives.

READ MORE: Study Paints Gloomy Picture for Tanzania’s Journalists

The study, conducted by Twaweza East Africa, a regional governance think-tank, noted that two out of ten journalists have been arrested or detained by the authorities, and similar numbers have experienced sexual harassment or abuse or have had equipment or materials seized from them. 

Fifty per cent of journalists reported having been threatened, harassed or assaulted at some time, with many of them pointing the finger at government officials as the primary source of threats to their work. 

The study found that most journalists feel that the media in Tanzania has limited freedom to operate independently, without censorship or interference by media owners, the government, powerful individuals and private companies.

Aidan Eyakuze, Twaweza East Africa Executive Director, urged the public to “recognise and value the important work” journalists do, adding: “[W]e should all do whatever we can to make it easier for [journalists] to ask awkward questions and speak truth to power.”

Matonyinga Makaro reports for The Chanzo from Mwanza. He’s available at matonyingamakaro@gmail.com

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