DAR-ES-SALAAM, May 23, 2017 – At Kinondoni Primary Court, Magistrate Esther Kihiyo meets with about 33 people a day. She takes handwritten notes for the case file on the evidence they put before her and delivers the court’s decision based on what is presented. The court building has no electricity, so she works under the natural light streaming in through the window.
It’s a challenging environment to do any sort of work, let alone the work of serving and protecting the rights of the 1.7 million people who live in the growing community of Kinondoni near the main port in Tanzania’s capital of Dar-es-Salaam.
Still, Kihiyo says, she tries her best, despite the lack of space, the lack of a computerized filing system, and having nothing other than sunshine to light her courtroom. “Our buildings are not good,” Kihiyo she said recently. “Sometimes they get rained out, and files do get lost.”
While Kinondoni District Court has its challenges, Tanzania’s former Chief Justice, Mohamed Othman, says there are millions of Tanzanians without access to any courts at all. “We have 26 regions, out of which 12 regions don’t have high courts, and we estimate that in these 12 regions, we have 25 million Tanzanians who have no access to the high court,” said Othman.
In a February 2016 Law Day address, Tanzania’s president, John Magafuli, said judicial reform was critical to foreign investment and economic growth. “Justice means getting funds that will be used to provide funds to citizens,” he said.
Delays and unnecessary procedures tie up an estimated US$464 million a year in the court system in Tanzania. Law Day was a time to reflect. For citizens or wananchi, the day meant hearing about recent developments to improve access to justice, like new policies and procedures to streamline the work of the judiciary and to make the Tanzanian legal system more transparent.