The English language seemed to me to be an elusive object that I constantly pursued without the slightest hope of ever catching it.
But still I went for it, dogged and unyielding, till I could at last pluck from its many branches enough twigs I could work with and find myself some accommodation among those who used the lingo to make a living.
I mean, it could frustrate you. Take, for instance, the thing about having your cake and eating it too, which we were told was not possible. I tried to explain to gentle Mrs Wiggins, the English lady who was my Form One English mistress, that it is only when I have my cake that I can eat it, though I could not get myself to understand the “too” at the end of the sentence.
Her response was to tell me to simply get the saying right and forget about my logic. I developed a new way of seeing things English without too much questioning, especially when I came to discover that the noun for the adjective “inquisitive” was “inquisitiveness,” not “inquisitivity,” as would be suggested by “sensitivity.”
So much for my past misery. But when I got the news that our President John Pombe Magufuli had appointed the chairperson of an opposition party to become regional governor of Arusha, I jumped with a start.
“No,” I said, without even thinking about it, “he cannot have his cake and eat it too!” I had forgotten all about my initial reaction before the Yorkshire woman disabused me.
Indeed, it would seem that Magufuli is having his cake and he is eating it too. He is the one who famously said, a little over a year ago, that no opposition politician would ever serve in his government.
But here he was, appointing one Anna Mughwira, chairperson of the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party to the powerful post of regional commissioner.
Ms Mughwira, lest you don’t understand, is not only chair of the ACT; in the last election held in 2015 she was presidential candidate for her party, running against the ruling party’s Magufuli, though to say that she gave him a fight would be to exaggerate.
But now, there she is, smack in the middle of government.
An explanation was perhaps in order, and the president’s reason was that in choosing people to help him he does not look at party affiliation but rather at their ability to deliver.
That is roughly the same reasoning used when Magufuli picked another ACT cadre, Mkumbo Kitila, a university don, to serve as permanent secretary in the government.
There are naturally bound to be raised eyebrows when one only one opposition party suddenly develops the knack of having cadres who are seen as being capable of delivering in government. How did it acquire highly talented cadres that the other parties have failed to acquire, train or lure?
The tongues will of course get busy, and some have been suggesting ACT is no opposition party but a Trojan horse within the opposition, and that its founder, Zitto Kabwe, uses it to cut deals with whomever needs to be kept sweet.
But if that is so, why would Magufuli now expose ACT and Zitto to the glare of public scrutiny?
Maybe Magufuli doesn’t care; he has his cake and he wants to eat it too, and he wants people to see him enjoying himself. After all, ACT may have run its course now and its usefulness in the future may be limited.
All one needs to do now is to throw a little ministerial bone for Zitto the sole MP for his party to chew on while the political caravan pushes ahead, wherever it is going.
The Civic United Front, a really potent force in Zanzibar and in some pockets of the Tanganyika mainland, is momentarily crippled by strife between Maalim Seif Hamad, the Zanzibari bigwig, and Professor Ibrahim Lipumba, favoured by the government machinery.
So, really, the only opposition party worth talking about will be Chadema, and that can be taken care of at a later date.
The chemist that Dr Magufuli is will eventually enable him to say one day that he can have his multiparty system that is enshrined in the Constitution he swore to protect without necessarily having parties on the ground.
Have it and eat it too.
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]