Zitto Kabwe

Image caption

Mr Kabwe told the BBC he wanted the loan withheld because of human rights concerns

An opposition party in Tanzania has condemned death threats issued against its leader after he asked the World Bank to withhold a loan to the government over human rights concerns.

ACT Wazalendo said Zitto Kabwe had been vilified and targeted.

The speaker of parliament termed Mr Kabwe’s letter “treasonous”, while a ruling party MP called for him to be killed.

Human rights groups have warned about rising oppression in Tanzania.

They accuse President John Magufuli of repressing political dissent, detaining human rights activists, and muzzling the media.

Last week the World Bank reportedly postponed its decision on whether to proceed with a $500m (£385m) loan to fund education in Tanzania following pressure from civil society activists.

The bank had withheld the money in 2018 amid concerns over the country’s policy of expelling pregnant girls from school.

A coalition of Tanzanian activists, who also wrote to the bank, argued that approving the loan would be endorsing the “discriminatory policy” of keeping pregnant girls away from schools.

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Media captionTeenage mother: ‘College will allow me to determine my own future.’

The colonial-era law contains a clause that allows the authorities to expel pregnant girls from school.

Activists said the law had been given a new lease of life by President John Magufuli’s government and officials had been “overzealous” in implementing the controversial clause.

How were the threats made?

In a session in parliament last Friday, Speaker Job Ndugai called Mr Kabwe’s letter “treasonous” and equated it to the acts which led to US President Donald Trump being impeached, charges he denies.

“He [Mr Trump] has been impeached because he was conspiring with foreign countries to interfere in US domestic issues. We have a member of parliament who has engaged in similar acts like Trump – there’s clearly an element of treason,” he said.

Abdallah Bulembo, from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), called for Mr Kabwe’s elimination:

“There is one man who took our issues outside the country, he should not be allowed back but should be killed where he is. Treason! What Mr Zitto Kabwe has been doing is treason in our country.”

His party colleagues stamped and applauded after his comments.

Speaking at a party meeting over the weekend, CCM youth wing official Kenani Kihongosi said people who “defamed” Tanzania deserved to be killed.

“We are fed up with a few useless people who are defaming our country but we are tired with those being used by colonialists,” he said.

“I urge the youth to write about the good that the government is doing but also not to hesitate to criticise those who undermine our nation, they are our number-one enemies and they deserve to be killed.”

A human rights activist tweeted a video of Mr Kihongosi making the comments (in Swahili).

What does Mr Kabwe say?

ACT Wazalendo said that CCM had been running a “systemic campaign” against Mr Kabwe but “this campaign took on a dark and menacing tone on 31st January 2020.”

Last week, Mr Kabwe had reacted to his critics in an interview with BBC Dira TV in London last week, saying: “They should know that being patriotic does not mean being loyal to the government but to the country… and there’s no greater way to express patriotism than to criticise the government when it does wrong.”

According to a World Bank document outlining the proposed loan, about 5,500 girls were barred from continuing with their secondary school education after becoming pregnant in 2017.

Last week President Magufuli urged government officials to ignore critics of the policy saying: “The vice-president of the World Bank came here last year – they will give us money knowing Tanzania’s stand and what we are doing. The rest [of the people] are just noise makers, don’t even respond to them.”