SPACES FOR CHANGE’s Lotanna Nwodo participated in the Strategy Meeting of civic space issues in Tanzania between April 26-28, 2017. The Strategy Meeting, with over fifty organizations in attendance, was part of a three-day programme organised by the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRD Coalition) in conjunction with the International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), in commemoration of the Human Rights Defenders Day celebration. THRD Coalition is an umbrella body of non-profit organisations (NPOs) in Tanzania and was formed to foster the interest of non-profit organizations in the country. Consistent with its motto: “Defend the Defender”, the group provides a unified platform for advocates to address issues that affect the NPO sector in Tanzania.
The lead presentation by ICNL and the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) on Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Standards enlightened participants on the processes and procedures for engagement with the global body. It also highlighted how governments hide behind the shadow of compliance with FATF standards to restrict the spaces for civic engagement. As with many countries, it was apparent that non-profit organizations in Tanzania were largely unaware of FATF Standards, and the resultant effects its standards may have had on the regulation of the NPO sector in Tanzania.
Tanzania and Nigeria share striking similarities in the governmental regulation of NPOs. As with Nigeria, Professor Molley’s overview of the laws affecting the civic space in Tanzania include the Non-Governmental Organisations Act of 2002, the Cybercrimes Act of 2015, the Access to Information Act of 2015 and the Media Services Act. Specifically, the Cybercrimes Act of Tanzania and its equivalent in Nigeria are similar both in structure and in their application by the respective governments. Molley cited examples of the various ways the government of Tanzania is clamping down on opposition relying on provisions of the Cybercrimes Act. In this regard, pesky terminologies such as “public interest” and “national security” have been used by the Tanzanian government as pretenses for making these restrictive laws and regulations.
Professor Molley further argued that the Non-Governmental Organisations Act of 2002, which was supposed to be a unification of all the laws applicable to NPOs in Tanzania, was merely a parallel regulatory framework for NPOs in Tanzania. It only provided additional regulatory burdens on NPOs in Tanzania and subtly granted the Tanzanian government additional control over NPOs including the discretion to reject application for registration or cancel an NPO’s registration. These concerns formed part of the dominant findings of Spaces for Change’s latest report on closing spaces in Nigeria.
One important outcome of the meeting is the THRD Coalition’s resolution to immediately set up a task force of NPOs to confront the issues of closing spaces. The taskforce was also mandated to engage with the Tanzanian government and the East and South African Money Laundering Group, headquartered in Dar es Salaam. There was spectacular synergy within the THRD Coalition as members of the task force were nominated and the body constituted almost immediately.
Although a large part of the proceedings was conducted in Kiswahili, the first official language of Tanzania, the Strategic Meeting revealed the dire need for international cooperation and knowledge-sharing among NPOs operating in various countries. An issue facing NPOs in one jurisdiction should be considered as a problem for all NPOs globally, and the experience of NPOs in a country should signal NPOs in other countries to gear up to confront the same issue if and when it arises in those other countries.
Beyond providing a space for shared conversations around the restrictive regulation of NPOs across countries, the Strategy Meeting afforded an opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas between activists working in different regions of the world. As Nigeria is currently grappling with the NGO Bill which has passed the second reading at the National Assembly, and which contains farther reaching provisions than the Tanzanian NGO Act of 2002, there is an urgent need for the NPO sector to present a common front in challenging the Bill.