Like sense of smell, you don’t know you have freedom of speech until its gone

Wednesday October 4 2017

Freedom of expression is like a sense of rhythm

Freedom of expression is like a sense of rhythm or smell. You don’t miss it until you don’t have it. PHOTO | FILE 

More by this Author

Recently the Tanzanian online community got to read the regulations that have been produced to enforce the Cybercrime Act of 2015...because where else to get this kind of news if not online.

Fun times are coming our way. Cybercrime suppression? Not so much. Freedom of expression threats? Plenty. It wasn’t a surprise, but for those of us who hold on to a tenacious belief in the best of our civil service, it was disappointing.

Freedom of expression is like a sense of rhythm or smell. You don’t miss it until you don’t have it. And when you don’t have it you get to wonder why everybody else is having fun and trying not to stare at you with pity as you flail around helplessly.

Back in my day, when folks got together they would talk about politics like it meant something good to have an opinion. The point was not to agree, because where is the fun in that? The point was to discuss, and have a fine time doing so. Bit like a sports match, really, but with food on the table and music weaved into it. Kids could sit around and pretend not to listen because the adults were pretending not to notice their presence since they were teaching by example.

Learned more swearwords, politics and religion at the knees of my elders than this generation ever will.

Which is uncomfortably nostalgic. Them same elders who were all like “respect your culture and know where you come from” have turned into everything they warned us against in our childhood. For shame. An oral culture cannot become silent by mandate! Fine folks with fine centuries of fine speech and suddenly here we are being legislated harshly about what that means and where the apparent boundaries are.

Honestly, if it made any sense to have legal “difference” between forms of expression I would love to know how. We all express — Makonde carvings, music lyrics, columns, movies, novels, poetry — name it.

Where is the guideline? Where does it begin, where does it end? More importantly, where does the Griot tradition fit into this — the fool, the strummer of heartstrings, the King’s Poet?

This concerns me much more than partisanship or all the other things that legislation is trying to narrow things down to. Any King without a Fool risks being the Fool himself. And then what are we to tell our ancestors when we meet them? That we let the stories go and allowed nonsense to happen in their stead?

Eh bwana eh, nobody needs that kind of drama in the Beyond.

Silver lining

Nobody told us that the 21st century would be filled with small men with small minds, but here they are locally and globally. At least locally we still sing to them and about them to remind them to stay fit in spirit and not bitter, lest the burdens of state overwhelm them.

Now thanks to this small legislation, even that has become cumbersome for Tanzanians. This is trouble, and like I stated before, the excuse that “everyone else was experimenting with Fascism!” probably won’t impress our ancestors when we get to see them past the mortal coil.

The silver lining, you ask? Perhaps this move will re-invigorate our print and broadcast news industries that have been suffering of late — it’s not like people cannot migrate content from here to there. But as a child of an era in which the state could not cyber-spy or cyber-regulate your life, I just want to take a moment to note the passing of an era. Okay, moment done.


Post Scriptum: This one is in mind of Hugh Hefner who died this past week. Most of us know him as Mr Playboy with the mansions and the bunnies and the unapologetically hedonistic lifestyle. Yet his was an evolution from early heartbreak that spurred him to social liberal activism.

He found and published unique voices ranging from feminists to science fiction authors and African American comedians, pushing the boundary, unapologetically, of intellectual freedom. Take that as you wish, but at least read his Wikipedia page before you clutch your rosary and clear your browser history.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]