The Tanzanian government has banned 1,268 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and sent warnings to a further 1,406 NGOs, Home Affairs ministry spokesman Isaac Natanga announced on Friday (11 December) in a press release. Listing organisations that “interfere with other faith affairs or do politics” among those banned, this vague and undefined requirement threatens local churches and Christian organisations, particularly those in Muslim-majority parts of the country, “Ally”, a Christian leader, told Barnabas.
According to the spokesman’s interpretation of Tanzanian laws, all NGOs must:
- Pay annual fees
- Publish an annual report
- Not interfere with other faith affairs or do politics
“Our main worry is that most of the local churches and mission-based organisations are registered as NGOs and last year more than 37 were closed on this account,” said Ally. “They pay their fees, they report their work, but they were closed for breaking the [prohibition] of interfering with other faith affairs (converting a Muslim, preaching to a Muslim, or even [allowing] a convert [from Islam] to run and hide in their homes).”
The law does not define what it means to “interfere in other faiths affairs”, meaning that Tanzanian Christians who live in parts of the country where they form a minority are particularly affected. If local Muslims complain about the presence of a church or Christian organisation, this could be sufficient evidence of “interfering”, said Ally.
The names of the NGOs affected have not yet been made public, and as yet it is unknown how many of those impacted are Christian. Authorities have given 1,406 NGOs 21 days in which to defend their right to remain open. However, another 1,268 have already been banned outright.
According to the Tanzanian constitution, all citizens are free to exercise and propagate their faith. And all those above 18 years of age have freedom to change their religion. However, Islamists are pushing for greater autonomy for the Zanzibar archipelago, which is 98% Muslim, and for the introduction of Khadi (Islamic) courts across mainland Tanzania (already in force on Zanzibar). Many of the key posts in the country’s political, judicial and security services are held by Muslims.
The overall population of Tanzania is approximately 60% Christian and 36% Muslim, with traditional African religions accounting for the remainder. But even on the Christian-majority mainland, Tanzanian believers are persecuted for their faith, and church leaders are particularly liable to suffer violence. Church buildings have been burned to the ground and Christians have been attacked and killed for their faith.