The history of access to information in this country can be
traced back to pre-colonial times. Dr Ayub Rioba, in his 2008
thesis entitled ‘Media in Tanzania’s Transition to Multiparty
Democracy: An Assessment of Policy and Ethical Issues’, says that
in pre-colonial times access to information was mainly organised
through local and traditional means.
According to Dr Rioba, information passed from one generation
to another by elders through storytelling and drum beating.
Furthermore, information such as early warnings on invasions,
weddings, death or birth announcements etc. was shared through
word of mouth. Elders and other members of the community
would ‘horn-foot’ from the tallest trees or top of the mountains
to spread information or pass on the message.
He mentions that drama, theatre, and music played a significant
and unifying role in keeping the entire community informed of
crucial events, and at the same time passing on the legacy from
one generation to another.
The reason why Dr Rioba wrote this history was to show how our
ancestors recognised the importance of access to information.
Events such as hunger and famine would be communicated early
and thus communities would know how to avert it or how to deal
with it. It was crucial for the development of those communities.
Access to information is just as important today. Access to
information and the ability to report and comment on issues of
local interest are recognised as critical enablers for empowerment
of the poor and social accountability. More open information
flows and a greater range of communication channels are needed
to meet the information needs of the poor and to advance propoor perspectives in policy dialogue.
Despite its Constitutional mandate, the government often does
not inform the public about decisions and projects that could
potentially be of benefit to them. This can be deliberate, due
to the ignorance of information holders, or because sometimes
authorities don’t consider how important the information is for
the intended recipients. When the public does learn of such acts
through unofficial channels, enquiries into the withholding of
information often fall on deaf ears. As a result, the public is often
unaware of the potential hazards or benefits of many government
decisions and projects.
Several international initiatives have stated categorically why
access to information should be clearly provided for in national
Constitutions. For example, part of the deliberations of the 2013
G8 Lough Erne Declaration, emanating from the Summit on June
18 2013 in Northern Ireland, states: “Governments should publish
information on laws, budgets, spending, national statistics,
elections and government contracts in a way that is easy to read
and re-use, so that citizens can hold them to account”.


March 2013 witnessed the adoption of the African Union’s
“Model Law on Access to Information for Africa” by the African
Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The Model
Law is intended to guide African States on the adoption of access
to information (ATI) legislation, as well as provide benchmarks for
their “effective implementation”.
In Tanzania, efforts to enact an access to information law have
been in progress for almost a decade. Both the government
and civil society have been working towards this, sometimes
separately, sometimes together.
In October 2006 the Ministry of Information, Youth, Culture and
Sports took a positive step forward by posting, albeit briefly,
on its website a draft Freedom of Information Bill, and invited
stakeholders to provide their input on the proposed Bill. However,
the draft Bill was almost immediately removed from the website
and the government later renounced it. Nevertheless, it was the
beginning of an intense and engaging dialogue between the
government, media and human rights stakeholders calling for
the repeal of laws, which were acknowledged in the Information
and Broadcasting Policy 2003 as ‘bad’ laws restricting freedom of
expression and the press.
In the same year stakeholders met to discredit the Bill and
unanimously resolved to reject the draft Freedom of Information
Bill 2006 due to the fact that the Bill had the potential to further
restrict freedom of information and not to promote it, contrary to
Article 18 of the current Constitution.
The stakeholders also made a commitment to conduct a
nationwide consultative process to gather views and opinions
from various stakeholders and to provide input to the government
so that a better ATI law could be developed.
Since then, a Coalition on the Right to Information led by the
Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) has conducted a series of
consultative meetings with the government and the general
public working towards drafting a more comprehensive ATI law.
The Stakeholders’ Proposals on the Right to Information Bill
contains the following features:
Title: “Right to Information Bill”
The stakeholders decided on the title ‘Right to Information’ rather
than ‘Freedom of Information’ because a right can be exercised
but freedom can be a mere recognition without binding effect.
The title is derived from Article 18 of the Constitution of the
United Republic of Tanzania 1977 (as amended in 2005). Similar
provisions are also found in the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Overriding effect on other laws
The stakeholders’ proposed Right to Information Bill is intended
to have an overriding effect on existing legislation after its
enactment into law. The Bill includes a clause that aims to repeal
provisions of any other statute that denies or exempts access to
any information or document in the possession of a public or
private body.

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