Tanzanian Government likes to keep the facts to itself

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The Independent Online

It seemed almost too macabre to be true: albinos being hacked to death by alleged witch doctors who wanted their hair and blood as ingredients for potions that, when imbibed, were supposed to bring untold wealth.

I was sent to the north-west of Tanzania to cover the story last year. We now know that 53 albinos have been murdered in similar circumstances and this month three men were sentenced to death for killing 14-year-old Matatizo Dunia for his body parts.

Reporting this story has not been straightforward. Local leaders were ordered not to speak to journalists who did not have clearance letters because the issue was "sensitive to the national security". I used my own ways to report the albino story unnoticed, but this type of experience is common in Tanzania. If I want to access information on how much government is spending on a project meant to help the poor, I need to put my request in writing and then take a letter to the relevant government office. It could take three months to get a response.

You might be told that the National Security Act of 1970 prohibits civil servants from releasing "classified information" to journalists. At other times you might fall foul of the Civil Service Act of 1989, which prevents civil servants from disclosing information without departmental blessing.

These draconian laws are used to ban journalists from taking pictures of "prohibited" places, such as bridges or police stations. The Newspaper Act of 1976 allows a minister to ban a paper without going through the courts. Tanzanian journalists receive about £2 per story. Some go without pay for months. There is a watchdog body, the Media Council of Tanzania, but this grandly-titled institution remains toothless and mute.

The writer is a Tanzanian journalist and winner of this year's David Astor Journalism Award