‘They will be beaten!’ PM spoke in Swahili, but I’m happy to translate

Saturday June 29 2013

 

By Jenerali Ulimwengu

The criticism that Tanzania’s Prime Minister Mizengo Peter Pinda has been receiving is something that he brought onto himself. It is his, he earned it and no one has the right to take it away from him.

A ritual has been going on in parliament whereby the prime minister fields on the spot questions from Members of Parliament, questions he has to answer on the hoof, as it were, without the preparations that usually go into answering the usual questions that members submit to the Speaker’s office in advance.

Both formats have their merits and demerits. With the previously submitted questions, ministers are forewarned, they have time to have their staff do some research, and their answers are written out for them.

All they need do is brace themselves for the supplementary questions, which is where the sting lies, the basic question being but a bait to draw the minister out.

The on-the-spot variety, however, does not afford the answerer the luxury of research and reflection; it’s an ambush into which the target walks knowing it’s an ambush, but without any way of knowing what form the attack will take and what weapons may be used.

Generally, these are occasions for show: The legislators asking the questions may have a genuine desire to know how their constituents’ concerns are dealt with, but there is also the quest for visibility and audibility.

The voters back home must see and hear their man or woman causing the government to sweat. Come the next election, those questions will be remembered.

For the ministers, too, these questions sometimes provide the opportunity to show what stuff they are made of, especially in the retorts given for supplementary questions. A sense of humour usually stands a minister in good stead.

Most often, though, statements from government ministers lack substance and consist of public relations platitudes and vague promises, which nobody expects will be followed up on. It is extremely rare that something categorical, clear-cut and concrete emerges.

That is why the prime minister surprised even the “unsurprisable” when he stated that government policy was to beat, beat and beat those who are seen to be troublesome. Tutawapiga, he said, we shall beat them. Watapigwa tu, he said, they will be beaten, simple. Tumechoka, he added, we are tired/fed up.

Let me open and close a parenthesis here.

The Kiswahili medium has created for us Tanzanians an enclave in which we can evolve without too much world attention, especially since we ceased being opinion leaders in African and world affairs. It is thus that a lot of what is said and done that is outrageous stays below the radar, except in annual reports of rights organisations.

Pinda’s statement to the effect that government policy is to piga is a very serious matter, especially in light of what has been happening even before that statement was made. There have been incidents of egregious police violence, including extrajudicial killings, and little has been done to punish those involved.

People have been abducted, tortured, mutilated, and they have claimed that state officials were responsible, and yet nothing has been done to allay our fears.

If all these acts of brutality have been carried out without the explicit piga statement, how much more are we to expect after such a highly placed official states that the policy is to piga?

Indeed, some police commander could be wondering right now whether the police have been neglecting their duties by not pigaring enough. Then he will go out and piga properly.

Pinda is a lawyer, incidentally, but he does not have to be one to realise that the issuance of such statements could lead to serious charges of vicarious responsibility, should an overzealous officer take the prime minister’s statement as carte blanche to clobber and bludgeon.

As for being tired, the only advice I can give him is that those who are tired must rest. There is little that is more dangerous than a tired man who wants to piga.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]