A high profile, and at times chaotic, operation against illicit drugs has been launched in Tanzania. The past fortnight has seen hundreds of arrests affecting the political, business, and entertainment classes. The operation’s disregard for the rule of law, dismissal of the separation of powers, and strong appeal to moralistic sentiment exemplifies President John Magufuli’s approach to governance. It has also revealed a shocking ignorance of existing law on the part of the country’s most senior political leaders. The continued use of political powers to serve political ends is increasing under the current administration, with implications for the rights of free expression and to go about one’s business unimpeded.
Spearheading the operation is Paul Makonda who is the Regional Commissioner for Dar es Salaam. Starting on 3 February, he has revealed two lengthy lists of suspects, and produced a third list for further investigation by the security services. For the most part the first list contained entertainment stars who dutifully presented themselves to Dar es Salaam’s Central Police Station that weekend. This caught the country’s attention. The second list included two politicians, one prominent businessman, and a preacher, as well as the owners of a number of well-known bars in Dar es Salaam. The chairman of opposition party CHADEMA, Freeman Mbowe, rejected the demand to appear before the police. Businessman Yusuf Manji and preacher Josephat Gwajima were both interrogated, drug tested, and detained for two nights.
As Regional Commissioner, Makonda does not have the power to compel people to appear before the police. His role as chairman of the Regional Security Committee has no legal basis and no official powers come with it. His power comes from the total backing that he enjoys from President Magufuli. This was exemplified on 12 February at a swearing-in ceremony for the new Commissioner Generals for the Immigration Department and the new Department for the Drug Control and Enforcement Authority (DCEA). Speaking to an audience, largely made up of senior security service officers, he called on ‘all Regional Commissioners and other leaders to continue with efforts to clear out the menace in the society.’