DAR-ES-SALAAM, Tanzanian President John Magufuli has sacked Information Minister Nape Nnauye after he criticised an ally of the president who had stormed into a television station here accompanied by armed men.
Thursday's dismisal came amidst an uproar over the incident which took place at one of Tanzania's main private sector broadcasters, and was seen as yet another example of the restriction of basic freedoms since Magufuli came to power in October last year.
A statement from the presidency did not give any reason for the firing of Nnauye, and merely announced that a new minister had been appointed.
Last Friday, Dar-es-Salaam regional commissioner Paul Makonda stormed into the offices of Clouds FM Media Group with six armed men to demand the airing of a muckraking video aimed at undermining a popular local pastor with whom Makonda has a dispute.
The station refused to broadcast the video in which a woman claims to have had an illegitimate child with the pastor. While condemnation for Makonda's action poured in from civil society and Members of Parliament, Magufuli offered support to his embattled ally.
"I, as president, don't let anyone tell me what to do. I decide who should be where. So you, Makonda, do your job and ignore the rest," he said.
Nnauye had visited the broadcaster in the wake of the incident, and launched an immediate probe which wrapped up on Wednesday. I have the responsibility of protecting free media and freedom of expression in the country and I would not deserve to be in this position if I fail to do so. I will advise my bosses to take punitive measures against the regional commissioner," he said.
The probe team chairman, Deodatus Balile, said Makonda had threatened station staff with blackmail and jail if they didn't air the video.
Magufuli, whose nickname "tingatinga" means "bulldozer" in Swahili, swept to power as a no-nonsense, corruption-busting, man-of-the-people but critics see a wide streak of authoritarianism at the core of his populism, as he acts on impulse regardless of due process or political niceties, while being intolerant of dissent.
"Since the inauguration of President Magufuli, attacks on freedom of the press have increased in a worrying manner," said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the Africa head of Reporters Without Borders. "To legitimise this type of behaviour towards the media is to undermine the fundamental freedoms of all Tanzanians to express themselves and to be informed freely," she said.
Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK