Is­sue highlights con­cern over hu­man rights

Windsor Star - - NP - TOM BLACK­WELL

A ma­rooned Bom­bardier air­liner is at the cen­tre of a strange in­ter­na­tional dis­pute that has prompted a di­rect ap­peal to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau from Tan­za­nia’s pres­i­dent, and high­lighted grow­ing hu­man rights is­sues in the east African na­tion.

The Q400 tur­bo­prop, bought by Tan­za­nia but not de­liv­ered, was re­cently or­dered im­pounded by a Que­bec Su­pe­rior Court judge at the re­quest of a Bri­tish con­struc­tion com­pany that claims the coun­try owes it mil­lions.

Mean­while, the op­po­si­tion politi­cian who first ex­posed the air­plane’s seizure — and was briefly ar­rested for em­bar­rass­ing the gov­ern­ment over the af­fair — is re­cov­er­ing from an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt, fu­elling fears of creep­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in Tan­za­nia.

Pres­i­dent John Magu­fuli de­fi­antly promised last week to get the plane back, say­ing he had writ­ten a let­ter about it to Trudeau, and dis­patched a se­nior cab­i­net min­is­ter to Canada to press Tan­za­nia’s case.

“They thought we would pay the money through in­tim­i­da­tion,” Magu­fuli said in a speech re­ported by the English-lan­guage Ci­ti­zen news­pa­per. “We will not. We will pur­sue the is­sue through le­gal chan­nels.”

But the pres­i­dent’s diplo­matic en­treaties — his mis­sive was de­liv­ered in per­son by the for­eign min­is­ter — ap­pear to have been for naught.

In a let­ter Trudeau sent back, re­leased to the Na­tional Post, the prime min­is­ter said he couldn’t do any­thing while the case is be­fore the courts.

“It is un­for­tu­nate that this sit­u­a­tion has de­layed the de­liv­ery of the air­craft,” Trudeau wrote. “How­ever … the gov­ern­ment of Canada is not in a po­si­tion to in­ter­vene. We are con­fi­dent that the court will ad­ju­di­cate in the high­est order of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and im­par­tial­ity.”

The plane was one of five or­dered from the Mon­tre­al­based com­pany for state-run Air Tan­za­nia, part of a push to at­tract more tourists by im­prov­ing travel op­tions.

One then fell prey to a dis­pute over a road-con­struc­tion project by Bri­tishreg­is­tered Stir­ling Civil En­gi­neer­ing, which ap­pears to op­er­ate chiefly from a base in Uganda.

The Tan­za­nian gov­ern­ment can­celled the con­tract be­fore it was fin­ished and re­fused to pay Stir­ling, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal news re­ports. An ar­bi­tra­tion court then re­port­edly awarded the firm $28 mil­lion for its work, plus in­ter­est.

When the gov­ern­ment did not pay up, Stir­ling ob­tained a court order reg­is­ter­ing the award in Bri­tain, and ear­lier this year re­quested a Ugan­dan judge to do the same. That court re­fused, call­ing it a bid to “un­der­mine the sovereignty” of Tan­za­nia.

Stir­ling then ap­pears to have asked the Que­bec Su­pe­rior Court to regis­ter the award and order the Bom­bardier plane seized against it.

Stir­ling did not re­spond to re­peated re­quests for com­ment.

The seizure was first ex­posed in Tan­za­nia this Au­gust by Tundu Lissu, an op­po­si­tion mem­ber of par­lia­ment and hu­man rights lawyer.

The “fierce and out­spo­ken” gov­ern­ment critic was promptly ap­pre­hended and ac­cused of in­sult­ing the pres­i­dent, one of his six ar­rests this year, ac­cord­ing to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional.

Two weeks af­ter re­veal­ing the Bom­bardier af­fair, Lissu was shot re­peat­edly out­side his home in the Tan­za­nian ad­min­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal of Dodoma.

Amnesty con­demned the “heinous crime” and urged the gov­ern­ment to prop­erly in­ves­ti­gate the shoot­ing, not­ing “space for dis­sent is quickly shrink­ing.”

There has been no ev­i­dence ty­ing the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion to the gov­ern­ment, with Magu­fuli — whose nick­name is the Bull­dozer — de­nounc­ing the shoot­ing as a “bar­baric act.”

But con­cern about the regime has in­creased since Magu­fuli’s 2015 elec­tion at the head of a party that has ruled Tan­za­nia since in­de­pen­dence. Four news out­lets crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment have been shut down, jour­nal­ists ar­rested and op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal ral­lies banned.

“Magu­fuli is in­deed con­tro­ver­sial — ad­mired by some for crack­ing down on cor­rup­tion, weak per­for­mance by civil ser­vants, et cetera, but also (dis­liked) for be­ing very heavy handed in other re­spects,” said Stephen Rockel, an ex­pert on East African his­tory at the Univer­sity of Toronto. “He ad­vo­cates ex­pelling preg­nant girls from school, and has be­gun to ex­ert ex­treme in­tol­er­ance over ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.”

Still, Rockel said po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion is rare in main­land Tan­za­nia, which has been a rel­a­tive oa­sis of sta­bil­ity in Africa since its in­de­pen­dence.

An of­fi­cial at the Tan­za­nian high com­mis­sion in Ot­tawa re­fused to dis­cuss the case.


Tan­za­nia’s pres­i­dent John Magu­fuli asked Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau to in­ter­vene in a dis­pute be­tween Tan­za­nia and a Bri­tish com­pany in­volv­ing a Bom­bardier air­liner.


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