On December 26, 2021, five young men - Tawfiq Mohamed, Seif Swala, Edwin Kunambi, Hemed Abass, and Rajabu Mdoe - went missing after they left for a beach party in the Kigamboni suburb of Dar es Salaam.
On December 26, 2021, five young men - Tawfiq Mohamed, Seif Swala, Edwin Kunambi, Hemed Abass, and Rajabu Mdoe - went missing after they left for a beach party in the Kigamboni suburb of Dar es Salaam. © Ali Mkumbwa/unsplash

Tanzania: Police Under Scrutiny Over Disappearances

“The issue inflicts immense anguish upon families left not knowing whether their loved ones are alive, suffering, or dead.”

Monday, 25 March, 2024

The Tanzanian police force have been criticized for their apparent lack of action amid a fresh wave of disappearances across the country.

International human rights organisations have periodically raised concerns about enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions by the police, for instance in the aftermath of the October 2020 elections.

The more recent wave of disappearances do not seem to be politically motivated, as most of the victims have been entrepreneurs, traders or mining dealers.

In the absence of official data, human rights activists estimate that there were more than 100 disappearances between 2021 and 2023.

Many family members accuse the force of involvement, a charge the police completely refute. In public statements, police officers have insisted that investigations continue and that the disappearances could be related to criminal activities.

Relatives told IWPR of the devastating impact these disappearances have had on their families and communities, amid what they describe as a complete lack of support or interest from the authorities.

On December 26, 2021, five young men - Tawfiq Mohamed, Seif Swala, Edwin Kunambi, Hemed Abass, and Rajabu Mdoe - went missing after they left for a beach party in the Kigamboni suburb of Dar es Salaam. All were traders based at the Kariakoo trade centre in Dar es Salaam.

Kunambi’s father Longili Martin told IWPR that for almost two years now, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) had not answered phone calls.

“It was only recently, after the resurfacing of disappearance-related cases, that the IGP picked up his phone and promised to call back. This is after I told him that I and his fellow parents are making every effort to meet President Samia Suluhu Hassan,” he said.

“Every day when I wake up, I still believe that my son and his friends are in the hands of the police. Because when they left for the beach part of Kingamboni, they did not reach the respective destination. We believe they were arrested by the police,” Martin said.

“Since my son went missing, life has not been the same. I used to plan a lot of things with him, but now that he is missing, I feel like things are falling apart.

"I have just been at Msimbazi and Central Police stations [the main police station at Kariakoo] to see if there was any development. Unfortunately, there are none. The police only say that they are still investigating,” Martin said.

Mdoe’s mother, Taabu Saidi, said that she had also continuously visited police stations since her son went missing.

“As a parent, it is not easy for me to stay at home, relax and eat, and yet I do not know where my son is,” she said. “I do not know whether he has eaten or not, dead or alive. Every day I am on the road to cross-check in each and every police station to see if I could be lucky enough to find him alive.”

A resident of Manzese in Dar es Salaam, Salehe Swala’s brother Self is also among the missing. She said that she continued to visit police stations and mortuaries in the hope of finding her brother, but with no success.

“It is a very unhappy situation to see a person you are close to going missing in a mysterious way. But since the police are still investigating, we hope they will come up with answers about the whereabouts of my brother,” said Salehe.

"The depth of our suffering is indescribable; only God truly comprehends the anguish we carry within.”


Stakeholders fear that the real scale of disappearances could be far greater.

“The reported cases could just be the tip of the iceberg,” said Anna Henga, the executive director of the Legal Human Rights Centre (LHRC). “There could be numerous unreported disappearances.”

The LHRC had been providing relatives of the disappeared with legal aid, but with little progress on police investigations had decided to switch to campaigning to raise awareness of such cases.

“The issue inflicts immense anguish upon families left in limbo, not knowing whether their loved ones are alive, suffering, or dead,” Henga told IWPR.

The vice chairman of the government Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRGG) Mohamed Hamad, said that the organisation had begun documenting the incidents of disappearance.

“We have heard about the missing people through the mass media and the number is shocking. But we do not have the exact data,” he told IWPR.

Concerned relatives took advantage of a January series of live-broadcast public meetings by ruling party's Ideology and Publicity Secretary, Paul Makonda, to come forward, claiming that their husbands or sons had disappeared without trace. They all reported that there had been no proper police investigations.

In one televised meeting, Mwanahamisi Sombi, a resident of Shinyanga in central Tanzania, told the event that her 50-year-old husband Haruna Iddi and her brother-in-law, Juma Iddi, 45 – both timber traders – had gone missing in 2021.

With no income, she could not afford to send her seven children to school.

“My husband and my brother-in-law were abducted in December 2021. Until now, nothing has happened. We have gone to the RPC [Regional Police Commander] and to the regional commissioner, and they say they do not have any information on their whereabouts.”

In another public meeting, Mariam Hussein, from the city of Singida in central Tanzania, said that her mechanic son Issa Hamis went missing on November 25, 2023. She reported the case to the police but had not received any support.

Hussein said that no court case had been filed and that the police chief had refused to tell her anything about the investigation, once even chasing her from office.

“The regional police officer was a good friend of my son because he used to fix his cars. I have made close follow-up efforts to no avail,” she noted.


Many relatives of those who have disappeared report that they were taken away by people who identified themselves as police officers, driving what seemed to be police vehicles.

However, when the family members made enquiries at local police stations, they were told that no arrests had been made in this particular case.

In one high profile incident, mining dealer Mussa Mziba disappeared after apparently being arrested by police on December 7, 2023. His wife claimed that whenever she followed up on the issue, she was told investigations were still going on.

Hamad, from the CHRGG, said that numerous families had reported disappearances under similar circumstances. 

“It is distressing that there are claims of individuals who have gone missing purportedly after being taken by the police,” he concluded.

Dar es Salaam Special Police Zone Commander, Jumanne Muliro, told a local radio station on February 8, 2024 that criminal gangs were impersonating officers to abduct their victims.

“We do not arrest people at night or in hiding,” he said. “What we have discovered is that there are criminals who introduce themselves as law enforcement agents, but their intentions are purely criminal.”

Police force spokesman David Misime did not respond to requests for comment, although in previous public statements he -and other senior officers – have reiterated the explanation that investigations were ongoing.

The Inspector General of Police, Camilius Wambura, could not be reached and the minister of home affairs Hamad Masauni was also unavailable when contacted for this article.

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