by Ben Taylor

A leading civil society organisation, Twaweza, launched a new report in August drawing on data from their Sauti za Wananchi (Voices of the People) series of nationally-representative public opinion surveys. The report found that a large proportion of the population (68%) were concerned about the rising cost of living.

In response, the government warned that the survey was unofficial. “The findings are theirs (Twaweza) and we’ll look into them before we give the official government position. As the findings stand, they are not official,” said statistician general Albina Chuwa, responding to questions posed by Mwananchi newspaper.

On a positive note, the survey also found that a majority of citizens (68%) are satisfied with the improvement in delivery of social services and most 60% said they were happy with improvements in freedom of expression during the past six months.

The survey included a particular focus on recently introduced taxes and charges on mobile money transactions. The new levy was introduced in July 2021, then reduced by 30% in September 2021 and again in July 2022, making a total reduction of 60 percent of the previously set rate.

The survey found that 80% of citizens are aware of the introduction of the levy, but that citizens were divided on whether the levy represents a valuable new mechanism for raising money for public expenditure or an unnecessary burden on citizens’ own finances. A significant number of citizens (close to half) also report using mobile money services less often since the introduction of the levy – a finding that is supported by the mobile money services providers own accounts.

Aidan Eyakuze, the executive director of Twaweza, said, “Fees have increased the cost of important services, they have caused citizens to significantly reduce the use of these services and may in the end affect revenue collection.”

In order to balance the situation and build a just society, Mr Eyakuze said the government should listen to the voices of the people when making major decisions such as taxation. “The attention of the government will help build the confidence of the people, and increase their motivation to contribute to the development of the country,” he said.

“It’s not that people don’t want to be charged,” noted Dr Wilhelm Ngasamiaku, an economist from the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM). “The importance of tax is known for the economy, but it increases pain. Dr Ngasamiaku noted that in recent years, a big effort was in encouraging rural citizens whose bank services have not reached to use mobile phones with the aim of promoting financial inclusion, through these charges, he believes the goal may not be reached.

Another economist from UDSM, Dr Jehovaness Aikaeli, said there were few dependable sources of revenue for the government, and as a result the government collected taxes from sources that were visible such as mobile money and bank transactions.

The survey conducted in October 2021 and July 2022 involved 3,000 respondents, comprising a representative sample of all adults in Tanzania. The survey was conducted by mobile phone, calling respondents who had previously participated in door-to-door surveys and consented to be reached again in future by mobile phone.

Publication of the findings represent a significant step both for Twaweza and for Tanzania more generally, as such data had become highly politicised under President Magufuli, and Twaweza – while continuing to collect some data throughout, had not publicly released any new public opinion data in Tanzania since mid-2018. At that time, the data had revealed a sharp decline in public approval of the President’s performance. The government then responded by challenging the organisation’s right to collect and publish such data. Twaweza’s executive director, Aidan Eyakuze – a Tanzanian citizen – had his nationality questioned publicly and his passport confiscated.

Since President Samia Suluhu Hassan took office, the government has taken a more open attitude to freedom of expression, including the right of organisations like Twaweza to collect and publish public opinion data. Aidan Eyakuze has had his passport returned to him, and this first release of data for four years is seen by some commentators as a test case for political and civil society freedoms.

At the time of writing (late August), it is less than a week since the data was released – too early to conclude on its impact. However, it is notable that the release prompted heated online debate, including attempts by some to attribute claims to Twaweza that were not supported either by the report itself or by Twaweza’s statements at the launch. “Twaweza Battles Misinformation,” read one online headline.

However, this use of fake news as a tactic strongly echoes the kind of responses seen by Twaweza in the past, particularly around the 2015 general election. It is very different from preventing such research from being conducted or published in the first place.

(Full Disclosure: The writer of this article – also the editor of Tanzanian Affairs – works as a consultant with Twaweza.)

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