TANZANIA President John Magufuli has ordered the Head of EU Delegation to Tanzania, Roeland van De Geer, to leave the country immediately. Sources close to State House told SAUTI KUBWA that the order requires the ambassador to leave Tanzania within 24 hours.
By the time we published this article, no official statement ha been issued in this regard, but some sources within the government and diplomatic circles say this action did not surprise many of them.
“We understand the EU has had some hard position on Tanzania regarding human rights violations by government officials including the president. Magufuli is not a democrat and he never tolerates criticism. So, given EU’s stance in the past one year since the deterioration of human rights situation in Tanzania, some of us expected this, as we knew it was just a matter of time.
“What is obvious is that such action by the president will not improve his approval ratings within the country and with the international community. He can try to silence some people for some time, but he cannot silence the entire world. In fact, he is like shooting himself in his foot,” said one informed source.
One reliable source told SAUTI KUBWA: “Ambassador van De Geer has fallen prey to President Magufuli’s draconian, isolationist and repressive regime. He has been ordered to pack up and leave Tanzania within a 24-hour notice.”
Under Magufuli’s three-year old regime, ambassador van De Geer is the fourth foreign diplomat to be expelled from the country for reasons never explained by the Tanzanian government. The Head of UN Women was the first to be expelled immediately after the October 2015 elections followed by the Head of UNDP and the Head of UNESCO.
All of them had, in one way or other, prickled the Magufuli government due to the mandate of their respective agencies. Magufuli’s autocratic noose has been a subject of public debate even before his ascent to the presidency in 2015. As minister he was known for unruly dismissal of various contractors in total violation of their outstanding contracts with the government.
Disregard for rule of law has been a key feature of Magufuli’s governing style, and has consequently led to massive financial damages. He has personally been responsible for causing international disputes, including one involving a Canadian construction company that later sued the Tanzania government and subsequently received a court order to impound an aircraft purchased by the Tanzanian government in early 2016.
Outspoken lawyer and Member of Parliament Tundu Lissu revealed this saga to the press, and was arrested, was called a traitor, and was later gunned down at his residence in Dodoma. He survived miraculously, but he has been in hospital since September 2017. Another lawyer Fatma Karume, has been experiencing unending harassment from the government. Her legal firm’s office was bombed a few weeks upon serving the order to the Tanzania government.
Ambassador Van de Geer has been a strong and steady critic of Tanzania’s repressive tendencies. The EU delegation, which he leads has consistently spoken out against actions amounting to gross violations of human rights and Tanzania’s international commitments.
In May 2015, the EU was the first international body to speak out when the Tanzania government passed a draconian cyber crime law that goes a long way in restricting expressive freedoms. The EU delegation led other ambassadors in speaking out against the military operation employed to rig Zanzibar bye election in March 2016 following illegal nullification of the Zanzibar election results in October 2015.
In alignment with other missions in Tanzania, the EU denounced the conduct of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission and called for the administration to act in good faith to find an amicable and peaceful resolution to the electoral crisis in the isles. The EU delegation and Ambassador Van De Geer remained closely involved in negotiations aimed at resolving the crisis that was, however, made extremely difficult given Magufuli’s isolationist approach to foreign policy.
When the EU along with other missions (US, Norway, Canada, Switzerland) immediately resolved to suspend bilateral collaboration with the Zanzibar government, the Magufuli government responded by refusing to interact with the EU through structured dialogue framework and by denying access as well as refuting the report of the EU Election Observation Mission.
This followed earlier expulsion of officials working on an EU funded elections project in Zanzibar. The EU Delegation website provides evidence of Ambassador Van De Geer’s leadership and extraordinary commitment to human rights. A litany of statements have been released calling on the Tanzania government to account for its numerous actions including electoral fraud, attacks on minorities groups, crimes linked to an anti-terror operations and the complete shut down of rights of political parties.
The ambassador has been a trusted ally of many critical dissenting voices of democratic actors in the country. It is an open secret that his office has hosted uncountable meetings with political actors, activists, journalists, religious leaders and even frustrated government officials under Magufuli’s regime.
He has remained ever sympathetic to most of these actors throughout the challenging times in Tanzania. Even though in a diplomatic tone and style, ambassador van De Geer did not approve of Magufuli’s violent approach to government. He is known to have spoken out in public and private meetings, an attitude which, on most occasions, has completely upset the Tanzania President.
It is understood that the president’s current notice follows several attempts by the Tanzania foreign minister, former UN Ambassador Augustine Mahiga, requesting Brussels to recall the outspoken ambassadors. Following such unsuccessful attempts, the Tanzania government has finally decided to pull the trigger with the most unpleasant option available to them.
Besides his unshaken commitment to human rights, Ambassador Van De Geer is a passionate advocate of Tanzania. In his three-year tenure, Tanzania has received grants to the tune of EUR 800m for a wide portfolio including Public Financial Management Reform, Agriculture and Energy. Tanzania has been one of the largest recipients of EU funding. Until very recently, the government of Tanzania regarded EU as a reliable partner for its developmental ambitions.
This latest move is aimed to stir fear among the diplomatic community, which the president called out in October 2018 while inaugurating the new Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Damas Ndumbaro. At the inauguration, Magufuli was quoted as saying: “those foreign diplomats think they can do anything in this country. We need to teach them that there are limits and there is the Geneva convention. I need you to go out and make sure they are regulated.”
Ambassador Van De Geer was dismissed while organizing a response by the EU missions on recent homophobic campaign orchestrated by a Dar es Salaam demagogic regional commissioner, and which has already led to violent arrests and harassment. The same afternoon, an opposition leader was leaving the cell after 52 hours of unlawful detention by the police force.
Indeed, Tanzania is no longer a safe place for supporters of democracy. Anyone too passionate about human rights risks facing the violent whip of President Magufuli.
Follow up reaction by the government of Tanzania later on Saturday, and Tundu Lissu’s questions regarding the government’s response.