IN a queer and unprecedented move, Tanzania’s foreign minister Prof. Palamagamba Kabudi has admitted that a missing journalist, Azory Gwanda, abducted on November 21, 2017, is dead.
In an interview with BBC Focus on Africa Wednesday this week, Prof. Kabudi was asked to comment on the whereabouts of Gwanda who is listed on the global list of top ten media cases. He said: “Let me tell you. When you refer to that matter, that was one of the most painful experiences that Tanzania went through….not only Azory Gwanda, Azory who has disappeared and died...”
Kabudi’s comments sparked off a flurry of criticism and a barrage of questions from Tanzanians and human rights activists worldwide. It immediately became a sensitive topic for social media discussions in Tanzania and abroad with some people questioning and seeking explanation on the modality of “Gwanda’s death.”
Tanzania security agents have been implicated in the disappearance of Gwanda, and the government has previously made no substantive statement on his abduction. A few weeks ago, the minister for home affairs threatened to take action against anyone raising in public the matter of Gwanda’s abduction.
In May this year, One Free Press Coalition, a global network of editors and publishers, included Gwanda on a list of top ten cases of press freedom violation incidents that require worldwide attention.
Arbitrary arrests, abductions and extrajudicial killings of activists, critics and journalists have badly damaged the image of Tanzania in the world since 2015 when John Magufuli became president and resorted to brutal politics that have left hundreds of citizens abducted, maimed, tortured and killed.
Whether or not Prof. Kabudi’s statement on “Gwanda’s death” was a slip of the tongue, it is the first-ever public statement from a senior government official apparently speaking the government’s heart and insinuating that the journalist is no longer alive.
It further pushes the government into a tight corner over other missing people, including activist Ben Saanane who was abducted in late 2016 after he had queried the authenticity of President Magufuli’s PhD – attained in three years of part-time study against the official curriculum of the University of Dar es Salaam that requires such a course to take six years.
Media stakeholders in Tanzania are calling on the government to give a further explanation on this matter. Whereas Information Minister Dr Harrison Mwakyembe has told the media that he is not aware of any official reports about Gwanda’s death, the troubled foreign minister has been attempting to distance himself from his own statement, saying the media had misinterpreted him.
The following day after the backlash, Prof. Kabudi sought an audience with BBC Swahili Service to “clarify” his statement, saying he had been quoted out of context, and wrongly interpreted in Kiswahili. Of course, that was a damage control mechanism.
The BBC Focus on Africa has an unabridged version of his statement on their website in which the foreign minister emphasizes, more than three times, that Gwanda was among tens of Tanzanians that had unfortunately died in Rufiji area.
Listen to this sound clip that quotes him verbatim – with particular emphasis from 03:41 to 05:00 minutes.