Three years on, Azory Gwanda’s wife’s muted cry continues

FOR Anna Pinoni, November 21, 2017 is a day she will live to remember with sadness. The mother of three, one of whom was still a pregnancy by that time, fights back her tears as she describes to SAUTI KUBWA how her husband, Azory Gwanda, vanished into thin air through abduction.

Azory, then a journalist with one of the leading media houses in the country, Mwananchi Communications, went missing ever since.

He was snatched by what police notoriously call “the unknown people.” They took him from his home village, Kibiti in Coast Region, Tanzania.

His disappearance still raises more questions than answers. His wife, media personnel, human rights activists and all well-wishers are still restless as they struggle to decipher what might have happened.

His vanishing comes against the backdrop of escalating cases of missing journalists and other government critics since January 2016, immediately after John Magufuli was sworn in as President of Tanzania.

The disappearances of people under mysterious circumstances in Tanzania was something of a hidden crisis in the country which was once praised as an icon of peace, democracy, human rights and freedom.

Some people disappeared forever. Others were found dead, sometimes with their bodies dismembered.

Remembering how his husband disappeared, Anna narrates how four people in a white Land Cruiser approached Azory ‘s home and asked his whereabout. She told them that he was in a trading center in their hometown of Kibiti. It was around 8AM.

At 10AM., Anna says, the vehicle stopped by their farm where she was working. Azory, who was seated in the back seat of the vehicle, called to her through a window and asked for the keys to their home. He told her that he was taking an emergency trip and would not be back until the next day. She did not recognize the other people in the vehicle.

When she returned home, there were signs their house had been searched. She reported Azory as missing to Kibiti police after six days as he was not reached even on his mobile phone.  His office in Dar es Salaam did not learn of the journalist’s disappearance until 30th November 2017.

Multiple journalists and human rights defenders who spoke to CPJ in 2018, on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said they believed Azory’s disappearance was connected to his journalistic work.

A June 2017 report from The Citizen indicated that 39 people had been killed over two years in the region. The attacks were mainly targeted at police officers and government officials, according to the newspaper’s report.

In its 2017 statement, Mwananchi said that police had “promised to investigate” Azory’s disappearance, but had not yet provided any further information on the case. The media company urged the security officials to “speed up investigations.”

Despite initial promises, authorities have failed to carry out credible investigations into Azory’s whereabouts and have provided contradictory, and sometimes dismissive answers when questioned about the journalist.

The then country’s information minister, Harrison Mwakyembe, in 2017 told CPJ that he found out about the journalist’s disappearance from the Mwananchi statement. Mwakyembe in 2019 said he wondered why people were still asking after Azory’s whereabouts, according to a report by Azory’s media house.

Lazaro Mambosasa, who is in charge of police in Dar es Salaam, told The Associated Press that the police were “shocked” by the news that Azory had disappeared. He asked the public to “share any helpful information” with investigators.

On July 10, 2019, the then Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Palamagaba Kabudi, told the BBC’s “Focus on Africa” program that Azory was among people that had “disappeared and died” in the Kibiti. Kabudi attributed the killings and disappearances, including of police officers and ruling party officials, to “extremism” that had been since contained and said that the government was taking measures to ensure the safety of all its citizens.

Kabudi later retracted his comments, saying that the state did not know whether Azory was alive or dead, and claiming he had been misinterpreted and taken out of context, according to a statement aired by Watetezi TV, the station has been banned for two years for unspecified reasons.

With all these contradictory narrations from authority entities on the disappearance of a journalist, it is now high time for the new President Samia Suluhu Hassan to rub off tears of Anna and colleagues which was stuck on her predecessor’s feet – and tell the truth on what exactly happened and the way forward of getting back alive our colleague, Azory.