Anger as student is shot dead by stray police bullet in Dar

18Feb 2018
The Guardian Reporter
Guardian On Sunday
Anger as student is shot dead by stray police bullet in Dar
  • SHOT IN THE HEAD - "She wasn’t in the opposition demonstration - she was on a bus. A university student full of hopes and dreams, now deceased"

THE fatal shooting of a young female university student in Dar es Salaam by police gunfire has sparked public outrage across the country, with calls for the government to take action against law enforcement officers involved in the incident for excessive use of force.

Aquilina Akwilini Baftaha, a first-year student at the National Institute of Transport (NIT), was killed on Friday in Kinondoni District, after a stray bullet allegedly shot by a police officer to disperse opposition protesters struck her in the head.

Aquilina was not among stone-throwing supporters of the opposition CHADEMA party, who had blocked a road and were engaged in violent clashes with the police. 

She was simply minding her own business on a public commuter bus (daladala) en route from the NIT hostels in Mabibo to Makumbusho area, where she planned to board another bus to Bagamoyo town to submit a letter to an office for field practice.

Dar es Salaam police chief Lazaro Mambosasa told journalists yesterday that police clashed with supporters of the main opposition CHADEMA party on Friday, after they staged an illegal demonstration and blocked a section of a road from oncoming traffic.

"Police fired warning shots into the air to disperse the crowd after being attacked by stone-throwing opposition supporters. I understand that one of the bullets hit one person who was reportedly killed and two others were injured," he said.

The NIT principal, Prof Zacharia Mganilwa, confirmed that a team sent by his university to the Mwananyamala Hospital was able to positively identify the student’s slain body in the mortuary.

She suffered a single gunshot wound in her head, with the bullet striking her near her ear and exiting the other side of the skull.

Following news of Aquilina's tragic shooting, many Tanzanians took to social media to condemn her death, which came on the eve of the hotly-contested parliamentary by-elections in Kinondoni and Siha constituencies.

"She wasn’t in the march, she was on a bus. A university student full of hopes and dreams, now deceased. How? Why?" Carol Ndosi, a social entrepreneur and rights activist based in Dar es Salaam said via Twitter.

Tanzania has traditionally been one of Africa's most politically stable nations, but opposition leaders have recently expressed concern over a string of unexplained disappearances and violent attacks on political figures.

The Tanzania Police Force said on Wednesday this week that it was investigating the death of an opposition campaigner, Daniel John, who was reportedly abducted and killed by unknown persons in Dar es Salaam in the run-up to the Kinondoni parliamentary by-election.

"Two deaths in one week just for a by-election? That’s the reason why our party did not participate in these elections ... because of no level playing field," Zitto Kabwe, the leader of the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party said via Twitter.

"All the violence happening in the country ... aims at crushing the spirit and breaking the will of the people. They want opposition parties to crumble."

There were swift demands for accountability for police officers involved in the erstwhile accidental shooting of the university student.

"An innocent life cut short for no reason. We demand accountability in this," said Eliya Jonas Kwigeza.

Many questioned how the trajectory of a bullet from warning shots fired by police officers into the air could end up striking Aquilina in the head in a daladala.

"How long shall we wait for Tanzanians to continue being victims of police brutality until the government finally realizes the importance of making the police force accountable?" Bernard Matungwa said via Twitter.

Mambosasa told journalists late yesterday that the by-election in Kinondoni was conducted in a largely peaceful manner, but police were on standby after receiving intelligence reports suggesting that some rowdy opposition supporters planned to riot after the poll results were announced.

"We are on standby … we will not tolerate any troublemakers," he warned.

More than 200,000 registered voters were expected to cast their ballots yesterday to pick a new Member of Parliament for Kinondoni, in a two-horse race between Maulid Mtulia of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and Salum Mwalim of CHADEMA.

An on-the-spot check by The Guardian on Sunday at various polling stations showed that voter turnout was relatively low.

CHADEMA officials complained against irregularities in the election, saying their agents were barred from entering various polling stations to verify the ballots.

Mwalimu was also arrested and later released by the police following allegations that he was obstructing some officials of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) from doing their work.

There was controversy as an unidentified person reportedly disappeared with a ballot box at a polling station at the Magomeni area in Dar es Salaam yesterday and returned it later. 

It could not be immediately established if the contents of the ballot box were compromised.

Police said they were not immediately aware of the incident.

Elsewhere in the Siha parliamentary by-election in Kilimanjaro Region where CCM and CHADEMA also went head-to-head, there were similar complaints from opposition members of electoral irregularities.

The much-anticipated results of the two parliamentary by-elections in Kinondoni and Siha constituencies were expected to be announced late yesterday or early today.