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On Tanzania, Inner City Press Asks UN of Chadema's Mbowe's Detention, Old Statement Repeated

By Matthew Russell Lee, Video, Video II

UNITED NATIONS, March 27 – Amid much news in Tanzania, in February Inner City Press asked the UN about the government killing of NIT university student Akwilina Anwiline and the subsequent calling in of the Chadema opposition party. After a few days of questioning the UN expressed concern and said it was watching closing. Then nothing. On March 27 Inner City Press asked again, about a new development - the detention of Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe and others - and the UN spokesman Farhan Haq repeated the same old statement, not updated, claiming to be watching closely. Video here. From the UN's transcript: Inner City Press: in [United Republic of] Tanzania, the… the national Chairman of the main opposition party has been arrested by the Government.  And I know that, in the past, maybe it was you or Stéphane — I can't remember — has had some statements on Tanzania.  Does… what does the UN think of this locking up the main opposition figure?

Spokesman:  I believe we've… yes, I think we have expressed our concerns about this some time back.  I would just refer you…

Inner City Press:  I think this arrest is pretty new, not to…

Spokesman:  Yes, but we've… but we had a wider concern about the situation that we expressed at the time, which I'm trying to find here.  Oh, yes.  We are following closely developments in Tanzania, and we would call on the authorities there to respect freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly." Following? Inner City Press on February 20 at the UN noon briefing put a question about it to the spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who spo a lot about preventative diplomacy. But the spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said only, "I had not seen those reports. I'll have to look into it and get back to you." Video here. Now on February 27, Inner City Press asked again, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: I hope this question has been asked.  In [United Republic of] Tanzania, an opposition parliamentarian, Mr. [Joseph] Mbilinyi, has been sentenced to five months in prison for defaming President [John] Magufuli.  And I know that you'd said back on 22 February that the UN is calling for freedom of expression.  Do you view the jailing of parliamentarians for being critical of the President as consistent with that? Spokesman:  "I don't have the details of that particular case, but, clearly, people should have the freedom to express themselves in speaking about anything, including their political leaders." the UN is like a broken record that does nothing (except protect itself with immunity and censorship). Inner City Press asked Dujarric again at the February 21 UN briefing, video here (at end), UN transcript here: Inner City Press: You said yesterday that you were unaware of this killing of the university student and the subsequent calling in of opposition parties and sort of blaming them for what… and I guess I just wanted to know, there… there are many groups in… in [United Republic of] Tanzania they're saying things are getting increasingly repressive.  What is the UN's position on this? Spokesman:  I don't have any language on Tanzania at this point." The next day, without Dujarric or Guterres releasing anything, Inner City Press asked again, video here, UN transcript here: Inner City Press:  I want to ask you again about Tanzania and then about Guinea.  But in… you'd said yesterday that you had no language.  Do you… is that looking down… Spokesman:  I do have something… Inner City Press: Ah, language emerges. Spokesman:  Language has emerged on Tanzania.  And I can tell you that we're following closely developments in Tanzania, including the sad news of recent deaths of a local leader in Chadema, the main Tanzania opposition party, and of a university student who was travelling in a bus nearby a march by members of Chadema as they were being dispersed by the police.  First, we would like to express our condolences to the families of the deceased and call on authorities to respect freedom of expression and the right of peaceful assembly." So they wouldn't have released even this unless asked again. Fear of being declared persona non grata again, failure of commitment. This too: it seems obvious that journalists should not be serving up the "delicacies" of those they purport to be covering. But at the UN, as with content neutral accreditation and access rules, that is thrown out the window. This month the UN Correspondents Association is partnering with Kazakhstan, whose new media law is called repressive and draconian, to distribute "national delicacies" every Tuesday and Thursday. Photo here. On January 5, Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesman Farhan Haq, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: I actually have a different kind of press freedom question.  I wanted to ask you.  In [the United Republic of] Tanzania, the Government has fined a number of TV stations for simply reporting on a report by the legal Human Rights Centre about irregularities in an election and human rights abuses, and I'm wondering.  I know it's one of the countries where the UN has a, you know, a country team, et cetera.  Is the UN aware of that?  Do they have any comment on the open fining of stations simply for… for reporting on human rights issues? Deputy Spokesman:  "I don't have anything in particular on this, but we'll ask with our country team about that." Seven hours later, nothing. And no response from the UN Department of Public Information, whose chief Alison Smale was asked the simplest of questions. No answer, even as she suddenly promotes Kazakhstan stories. More on this to follow.

It's that Kazakhstan is president of the Security Council this month, and UNCA is selling the correspondents it charges a hundred dollars to access, or the illusion of access, however it might appear. In November it was espresso served up by Italy, the country of UNCA's long time landlord president Giampaolo Pioli. Now, it's Kazakhstan. A new and peculiarly UN tradition, of sycophantry, is born. And the Free UN Coalition for Access opposes it. We are certainly open to hearing from the Kazazh Mission its side of the story. But any "press" group which partners to hand out delicacies, and limits information to those who pay it money, is no press organization at all, except in today's UN. Here is RSF's review of Kazakhstan's new law: "Under one of the most controversial amendments, journalists are required to obtain the permission of persons named in their articles before publishing information involving matters of 'personal and family confidentiality.' Investigative journalists fear it could obstruct their reporting, especially coverage of corruption. There is similar concern about a ban on “information violating lawful interests,” which are also not defined. One of the amendments complicates the right of access to state-held information. The length of the time within which officials must answer journalists’ questions is more than doubled, with the result that by the time journalists get their answer, there is every chance it will no longer be newsworthy. Furthermore, officials are also given the right to classify certain answers. Under one of the amendments, Internet users are required to identify themselves before posting a comment on a news website, and their information will be stored for three months. This suggests that there could be a further increase in the number of people being jailed because of their online comments, which has already grown sharply in recent years." But UNCA, now the UN's Censorship Alliance, will be serving up those Kazakh national delicacies for the Mission. In other related news, Iran will be the subject of a UN Security Council meeting of some type on January 5 at 3 pm. There may be a procedural vote - Inner City Press on January 4 asked Russian Ambassador Nebenzia about any Iran meeting and he replied, "Not unless they held one without me." Kazakhstan is the president of the Security Council for January, and just as they refused on January 2 to take a single Press question about Africa (the first question was given as a delicacy to UNCA, which allowed for questions to be bundled in packs of five to be evaded), on January 4 they sent notice only to their favored correspondents. (Notable, given press freedom issues there.) As quickly obtained by Inner City Press from multiple sources, they wrote: "Dear friends, To keep you informed, tomorrow SC meets on Iran at 3.00PM, open format. And a short announcement, our Delegation is delighted to invite you to a Tea and Coffee table with Kazakh national delights, to be served every Tuesday and Thursday, starting from 9 January, 9.30 to 11.30AM, in the UNCA Room, 3d Floor, Secretariat Building. Alma Konurbayeva, Spokesperson / Counsellor, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations." Of what might those "national delights" consist? When Kazazhstan held a press conference about its Presidency of the UN Security Council for January, Ambassador Kairat Umarov began by noting that the majority of the agenda involves countries in Africa: at least seven peacekeeping missions to be reviewed in the month, with Burundi and Cameroon not even listed. But when the Kazakh mission spokeswoman took questions, not a single one was on anything in Africa. There was climate change, from a self-described syndicated columnist. There were questions about two (non-African) countries in the Program of Work's footnotes. But not a single one on anywhere in Africa.

Inner City Press said loudly, “On the DRC did anyone even ask for a statement on the crackdown?” Video here from 44:15. But the Ambassador chose to answer another question, about an issue he called close to Kazakhstan's heart, then ended it.

 He had said, during the press conference, the Kazakhstan has energy resources for the next 100 years. They won the Asia seat over Thailand; apparently that didn't require political resources, at least in Africa. We'll have more on this.

Back in September 2017 with the UN Security Council presidency being taken over by Ethiopia's Tekeda Alemu, Inner City Press on September 1 asked Ambassador Alemu four questions, the answers to which sketch out the Ethopian government's worldview. Video here. In response to Inner City Press asking why Burundi, where even the UN says there is a risk of genocide, is not on his September Program of Work nor on the agenda of the Council's visit to Addis Ababa, Alemu said that you can't compare Burundi to Central African Republic, that Burundi has “strong state institutions.” But it is that very “strength,” which some say the country shares with Ethiopia, and with until recently military-ruled Myanmar about which Inner City Press also asked, that has led to the human rights violations. In this context, Inner City Press asked Alemu about the Oromo protests - and crackdown - in his country. He diplomatically chided Inner City Press for not having asked in private, saying that social media has played a dangerous role. On the other hand, when Inner City Press asked Alemu at the end about the murders of two UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan, he replied that while the DR Congo is due to sovereignty the one to investigate the murders, the gruesome nature of the killings put a “great responsibility” on the DR Congo. We'l have more on this. Alamy photos here. Earlier on September 1 in Alemu's briefing to countries not on the Security Council, Bangladesh specifically asked that the Council remain seized of the situation in Myanmar. When Inner City Press asked Alemu about this, he said he still had to inform himself more about that situation. The Security Council is traveling to Addis from September 5 through 9, when alongside African Union consultations the Council's member will meet for an hour with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Alemu said. The Council will receive the “maiden briefings” late in the month of the new Under Secretaries General of OCHA and on Counter-Terrorism. There will be peacekeeping on September 20, during the High Level week of the UN General Assembly, and Yemen on September 26. But tellingly, there will not be Burundi. Watch this site.
How lawless, some even say racist, is today's UN and its Department of Public Information? Kiswahili jobs and funds that the General Assembly specified to DPI must be returned and retained are nevertheless being eliminated or "stolen," DPI whistleblowers have complained to Inner City Press. DPI chief Alison Smale has refused to answer Press questions; after Inner City Press published the story it was discussed in the UN African Group meeting, and is the subject of a note verbale complaint this week. This goes to the top: Smale in November 2017 to the UN Communication Group insisted that everything must go digital. (Inner City Press is publishing the leaked 12-page minutes here.) On January 26, Secretary General Antonio Guterrs' Youth Envoy said that Guterres personally told her the UN is too analog and must go digital. Video here. Now, despite the General Assembly specifically ordering the the funds allocated for Kiswahili Radio be restored to that use, Smale's (and ultimately Guterres' DPI has refused, the staff now ostensibly free to speak to the press say. Inner City Press asked again, having received no response at all from Smale, on January 29. From the UN transcript: Inner City Press: the budget resolution that was passed says that resources for Kiswahili radio in particular should be reallocated back to where they were supposed to be.  My understanding is that this was raised now in the Africa group, and there's a note verbale coming to him.  Is it DPI's [Department of Public Information] position that they complied with that resolution that…? Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We've checked with our DPI colleagues.  Yes, they have complied with the resolution.  There's a certain amount of detail about how they provide Kiswahili and Portuguese services, but the bottom line is, yes, they have been working with Member States and working within the framework of the resolution.
Inner City Press: Are there Kiswahili-speaking staffers that are being let go 1 February and losing their visa and returning to Tanzania? Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that there was one case of someone who had… actually whose contract had ended at the end of last year and then got a one-month extension, in other words for the month of January, and that has now ended.  So, that is a case where the previous contract simply had gone to its limit. Inner City Press: But, is that post actually being filled?  My understanding is that it's not, that you're basically going to have one of the few Kiswahili things empty. Deputy Spokesman:  DPI is trying to fulfil all of the language functions within the range of the number of posts it has and the budget it has.  And with that, Brenden, come on up." The word used by whistleblowers is "fired." Then, from the PGA Spokesman's summary: "The Spokesperson was asked what would happen if there was disagreement over whether the Secretariat was fulfilling mandates outlined in the United Nations’ recently adopted budget – and whether there was a role for the President in that regard. The Spokesperson replied that it was up to the Secretary-General to provide periodic performance reports, which would focus on financial aspects, to the General Assembly. When the reporter referred to a specific budget line that referred to posts in the Department of Public Information, the Spokesperson responded that it would be premature to comment on whether this line was being complied with; he added that it would not be up to the President to weigh in on such a specific staffing matter within the Secretariat. Asked when exactly the Secretariat would report on its compliance with the budget that had been adopted by the General Assembly in December 2017, the Spokesperson later added that the first performance report would be expected at the end of 2018, and the second by the end of 2019." Inner City Press replied: "the issue of whether Para 167 of the UNGA budget resolution is being violated, as whistleblowing staff have said, will not be resolved by this schedule of reporting." The results is not only the loss of employment and US visas for Africans, but they say a steep decline in the provision of information in Kiswahili. One account which was "merged into" DPI's non-Africa specific account had a drop off in followers from 255,000 to 90,000. But, the sources say, Under Secretary General Alison Smale's DPI has misled Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who Smale so often cites for her anti-staff moves, telling him the overall account is up to 3 million. "It's a fraud," one source said. "And it's a real 'sh*ithole' disrespect to Kenya and Tanzania and countries like it, by the UN." Others have noted the irony, as Guterres flew off to the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, avoiding Donald Trump in Davos. Inner City Press has sought a response, including to the below, directly from Alison Smale, the former NYT Berlin editor who previously ignored detailed written questions in September 2017 when she arrived to take over DPI as Guterres' "Global Communicator." In November, according to the UNCG minutes, she said among other things "We need to make sure we are set up with our platforms and our resources to take advantage of the rapidly evolving ways in which the global public, and particularly the young, are consuming information. This means more social media." Then the Kiswahili radio resources were shifted, despite the GA resolution, to social media. Inner City Press asked Smale, "beyond the questions asked to date in the UN noon briefings, I would like you to explain DPI's compliance with the most recent budget resolution's Paragraph 167, to explain what has happened to the Kiswahili (and Portuguese) posts, and more generally to state what you are doing about the complaints raised to Inner City Press by DPI staff," below. The cited Paragraph 167, adopted by the UN Fifth (Budget) Committee at 2 am on Christmas Eve with Inner City Press the only media bothering to cover it, but still restricted, reads: "167. Requests the Secretary-General to ensure that the two posts from the Kiswahili Radio Unit and the two posts from the Portuguese Radio Unit are deployed for the purposes originally approved." The UN Secretariat reportedly tried to get the paragraph out, first by negotiation and then by stealth; now DPI officials are said to refer to it as "bullsh*t," another "sh*thole" echo. January 25, with no response as before from Smale, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: in the 2 a.m.  Christmas Eve budget resolution, there was a paragraph that remained in.  There was some contention about it, and I think the Secretariat tried to have it removed, but Member States wanted it in.  And it said, request the Secretary-General to ensure the two posts from Kiswahili radio unit and two posts from the Portuguese radio unit are deployed for the purposes originally approved.  And having reported at the time, the Member States were concerned that these resources had been shifted to non Kiswahili or Portuguese social media.  And I learned from whistleblowers, those affected, who believe they can now speak to the press freely, as you've said from this podium, that, in fact, the posts have not been returned and that the approach of the Department of Public Information (DPI), who I've also written to before you say that, they've been very dismissive of… of this General Assembly resolution.  And, in fact, I've heard that the Facebook page of… of the Kiswahili — they get very specific about it — has declined in followers from 255,000 to 90,000.  So, the feeling is that this is a disrespect for the language of a region that the Secretary-General is about to visit.  And I wonder if you can get an answer of whether this has been complied with and why people from that unit are being let go 1 February. Spokesman:  Okay.  I can't speak to a specific case of people being let go.  I don't know if that's true or not true.  I'm not going to start talking about people's employment without knowing more.  What I do know is that we have full respect for the General Assembly resolution, for the budget that was passed.  And, of course, it is the responsibility of the Secretariat to implement those resolutions.  So, that's not a… that's just a statement of fact.  The work that the Kiswahili unit does, that other language units does, whether it's Portuguese or any of the six languages, is extremely important in our efforts to do… to communicate in as many languages as possible.  Whether it's communicating through radio, through web, through social media, that is a very important… it goes at the heart of how we try to work and how we try to communicate.  And we have to be able to communicate in not only different languages but through many different media, whether so-called traditional or so-called new media.  And the Department of Public Information will continue to do that with, of course, the respect of the… that they have to follow in terms of the General Assembly resolutions. Inner City Press: That's a direct quote from the resolution.  It says, ensure that they are done as originally approved.  So, clearly there was a feeling that it wasn't taking place.  Since then… What's the status? Spokesman:  I feel I've answered the question.  I feel I've answered that question.  Okay.  Thank you." No thanks.  Questions have also been raised separately to Guterres and his Deputy Amina J. Mohammed. We'll have more on this, and on Guterres' UN's inaction on Cameroon and Tanzania, and mis-steps in Kenya, the undisclosed sending of Obasanjo and Fore's UNICEF's strange youth empowerment move, Inner City Press' coverage of which was picked up by the Star and Standard.


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