Govt by flip-flops: When a PhD is reduced to censoring press meetings by rappers

Thursday April 20 2017



For President John Pombe Magufuli, the remaining three and a half years of his rule will be anything but a cakewalk.

Well, let it be said that no one could have imagined that governing this country was going to be a Sunday morning stroll, what with its economic woes that have defied solutions despite the country’s abundance of resources.

But, aside from the hard economic issues over which politicians and experts have been scratching heads, the softer but all important questions of governance are more likely to dog Magufuli’s administration, if the past few weeks are anything to judge by. And, at any rate, it will always be the kind of governance one has fashioned that will provide the context in which the economic struggles are waged.

Stories have become common of individuals allegedly being harassed, arrested and/or tortured, sometimes held incommunicado for a number of days by shadowy groups that have been linked to the state security system by some complainants.

It is now becoming clear that those complaining of such shabby treatment are not necessarily political actors but include even rap musicians whose lyrics are deemed to be anti-establishment.

Opposition politicians and human-rights activists are no longer the only ones raising their voices against these trends, because increasingly voices are being raised from within the ruling CCM party, which may suggest that King Belshazzaar son of Nebuchadnezzaar needs to sit up and start reading the writing on the wall.

When dissenting voices stop being predictable as those who have a political axe to grind, and when princes in the royal palace are no longer afraid to say what they think of the king’s swordsmen, it is advisable for the sovereign to think of assuaging the popular apprehensions, lest he be adjudged to be arrogant, aloof and insensitive.

Former information minister Nnauye Nape, who was thrown out for castigating a governor who stormed a TV station and ordered the airing of what he wanted, is sounding more openly rebellious, and this should be an object lesson for whoever wants to keep their political sanity about them.

It is the same Nape who presided over the enactment that pushed the Tanzania media back 60 years, and now he finds himself in the unfamiliar territory of having to defend press freedom. Very soon, his own begotten law may be invoked to accuse him of committing sedition. Flip-flop.

Nape’s successor as chief censor, Harrison Mwakyembe, recently crashed a press meeting called by one of the musicians claiming to be victims of kidnapping, and sat there without uttering a word, but making it clear to all that he was there, one, to inhibit the young artiste in his revelations, and two, to show his boss that he is working very hard.

He may have succeeded in both.

I wrote in this column a couple of years ago that the post of information minister – which some tyrants have historically coupled with “national guidance” – is an anachronistic office that has no place in a democracy. When a PhD in law is reduced to censoring press meetings by young crooners, you get to see my point.

In all fairness, Nape and Mwakyembe are not alone in this parade of the absurd. Kitila Mkumbo, a PhD in education psychology, was appointed Permanent Secretary in the Water Ministry. Interestingly, only recently he criticised Magufuli’s penchant for appointing academics to positions of government because this was depleting faculty. Apparently this does not apply to him. Flip-flop.

But maybe it does not matter. I have always said that this is a country where everyone is doing someone else’s job. We find politicians wanting to do work that should be done by experts and the other way round.

Even Magufuli was once heard saying he wished he were Inspector General of Police (IGP).

My worry is for when, after they have done other people’s jobs in government and they are fired, these academics flip-flop back into faculty. Will they fit in after all those flip-flops?
However that may be, everybody, and especially Magufuli himself, needs to realise that not all is well and that there is a crying need for a greater democratisation of the public space.

The president still has time to do the right thing. It is not too late.

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]