Vicensia Shule, Dr.Phil., Department of Creative Arts, University of Dar es Salaam

Shrinking freedom of creative expression and artists’ struggles for alternative spaces in Tanzania

The election of John Pombe Magufuli in November 2015 as the fifth president of Tanzania was received with enthusiasm and expectation of better life and more freedoms. Magufuli was presented as the ‘savior’ who would crack down on rampant corruption and embezzlement of public resources. The ‘euphoria’ did not last long. On 26 January 2016 his government banned the live streaming of bunge (parliament) sessions. This was followed by a number of media bans through presidential speeches and ‘draconian’ legislations. Abductions, arrests and even torture of artists escalated. Use of social media was restricted and several artists were arrested for questioning president’s statements under what has been referred to as ‘sedition’.

The nature of censored acts has raised concern, why now? Where is the ‘free space’ for artists to ‘indulge’ with their creativity? Looking at a sample of unfolding events it is important to research further on the nature and the consequences of the imposed restrictions on arts and artists. This presentation not only assesses cases related to state control of arts and artists in mainstream and social media but also analyses the implication of state control on arts and artists. The observations reveal that state restrictions on freedom of expression are politically motivated and have consequences for the creative profession. Fear of abduction and torture, dismissal of ‘political’ content in the mainstream media, reduced incomes amongst artists are some of them. In order to ‘survive,’ artists have created survival mechanisms including refraining from producing works which seem to challenge the existing regime, compliance with the state propagated ‘moral’ dress codes as well as (re)joining ruling party membership.

Vicensia Shule is a senior scholar at the Department of Creative Arts, University of Dar es Salaam. She has researched and written extensively on matters related to arts, media, cultures, and gender in Tanzania and Africa. She is one of the prominent activists involved in the transformative feminist movement building in Tanzania and Africa. Currently she is on her sabbatical working on her new research in film and tourism in Tanzania.

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