It has been dubbed the post-truth era, when it does not matter whether you tell the truth or lies, as what matters is what works. What matters now is the repetition of emotional/ideological mantras and assertions that refuse to yield to factual corrections.
The most visible proponent of this practice is, of course, Donald Trump, who even refuses to read a picture that shows how small the crowd at his inauguration was compared with that of his predecessor. Even his spokesperson called that barefaced lie “alternative fact.”
Trump went to call his bungled effort to help Puerto Rico after a storm hit that island “an incredible unsung success” and he is still refusing to accept that almost 3,000 people died in that catastrophe.
But he is only the chief of the lying brigades; his Indians are to be found strewn all over the world.
A couple of weeks ago, a Tanzanian minister, a former law professor, was addressing Tanzanian residents in the state of Washington, and he was asked why, after a whole year, his government had failed to arrest anyone in connection with the shooting of a leading opponent of the government.
To keep his job, the professor could have danced, bobbed and weaved, ducking the question like a boxer ducks an oncoming jab. But no, he was not one for cheap evasion; after all, he is a professor, and his job is to … er, profess. So he goes and gets his red herring from the US, right where he was standing, and tells a huge lie.
He tells his audience– I am paraphrasing – that the investigations are still continuing and such matters do take time. You see, even in the US, where you are right now, they have not been able to solve the assassinations of two presidents, though they are much more advanced than us technologically! And I am like, seriously?
Look, nobody was ever trying to liken the shooting of Tundu Lissu to the shooting of any American president; they just wanted to know what the government had done to catch Lissu’s assailants, and the don went off on a tangent.
What is more, five American presidents were shot, not two, and only one survived. Third, all the five assailants and their co-conspirators were caught and dealt with.
Fourth, when the American presidents were shot, CCTV technology had not arrived in America, whereas Lissu was attacked at a house with a 24/7 surveillance system, apart from human guards, but not even a grainy picture has been released from the scene.
Then we go to Uganda where Bobi Wine, the young musician who has become the surprising nemesis of Yoweri Museveni, the former revolutionary turned despot, is badly tortured, and has to travel to the US for treatment.
This is of course a serious indictment of Museveni and his regime, so a minister comes up with an interesting explanation. In effect, the minister – who, I suppose, must have attended some school or the other – tries his hand at some English, by stating that the young man was “only beaten” but not tortured.
It looks like our despots are creating a new lexicon by which they will rule us: We can beat you up and break every bone in your body; we can beat you up till you are crippled, deaf and blind, but do not dare call it torture, for torture is a specialised discipline.
In post-truth times, dictionaries are obsolete, words do not necessarily mean what they say, and when you have military power, you can say black is white and the populace will applaud you.
The alternative to applauding the chief is usually very costly, and it is better to use your hands to clap than to have them cut off.
There is a Faustian compact that a lot of our erstwhile thinkers enter into when they are invited to join African governments. It consists of eschewing whatever they believed in before, and getting into the role of praise singers, cheerleaders and spin-doctors.
Dr Faust had absolute power to know anything he wanted to know and see what was unavailable to the human eye.
But the devil had his own terms: “For twenty years, you can enjoy all this, after which your soul is my property.” When the time had elapsed, Mephistopheles came collecting.
The difference lies in the fact that Faust sought absolute knowledge, erudition – he was a true savant – whereas our current Faustians seek obfuscation.
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]