We need to talk about terror, yes, but first we must stop shouting at each other

Saturday April 18 2015

The thinking heads in and around Dar es Salaam have been having a field day on the Internet, labouring over what they see as a probable terror threat to Tanzania and wondering whether the country is prepared to deal with such a threat if it were to be realised.

There is an invitation in all the correspondence for people to take the issues of security and public safety more seriously than they are taken at the present for we could be in real trouble. What has happened in the region recently has been given as additional reason why we should cultivate more vigilance.

To which I say, yes, let’s discuss these issues, for they are real. Yes, we are faced with a real and present danger of getting attacked anytime, anywhere, because those who would attack us need no invitation and their motivation we may not exactly comprehend.

They choose and target the softest of soft points and mean to inflict maximum pain to a chosen section of unsuspecting humanity.

Yes, let’s discuss the whys and the wherefores, and maybe also the hows involved in the prevention of or reaction to such eventual attacks. We surely can learn more through sharing our ideas on the convoluted issues involved in this endeavour than if we continue to worry and panic ourselves over impending bloodbaths about which we can know but little.

And yet, how are we going to start discussing these questions, which in certain circumstances are considered sensitive, when we have lost the habit of discussing even the most non-sensitive matters? It’s been quite some time now since we Tanzanians abandoned all pretence of debating our problems and instead have taken to shouting slogans and hurling insults at each other, when not mumbling incomprehensive gibberish.


The political space — what they call political, at any rate — takes pride of place when it comes to this sad state. You don’t have to discuss policy matters to be a politician, as long as you know how to lie and how to shout every time you want to come across as having made a memorable speech.

It seems there is a tournament for foul mouth of the year now that we are headed towards a general election. Those who consider themselves political operatives have sharpened their tongues and hypothecated their brains till the elections are lost and won. For now, they will fly on autopilot, with no brains.

Unfortunately, security concerns need brains to address them. I believe the guys going around attacking people and institutions do so for a reason, because it’s hard to accept the perception that these are no more than a bunch of crazed thugs whose thirst for blood is unquenchable.

Done wrong?

If we gave ourselves time to have a continuing conversation about our situation at strategic level, we could maybe uncover a few areas where we have done things the wrong way: The questions we should be asking ourselves are legion and their list is growing. The greater the silence surrounding these problems, the longer the list grows because unanswered questions engender fresh ones.

Often has it been said that what is not used atrophies, and that is true of the habit of questioning everything in our midst. If we’ve lost that faculty of being inquisitive in our ordinary lives, we will not suddenly rediscover it in the heat of terror and destruction. When the worst attacks take place we will be as clueless as our rulers, and devil take the hindmost.

For those who will survive these troubled times some serious reflection is called for. An underground current of anger and resentment may be coming to the surface via movements and trends that we cannot fathom because they defy classical pigeonholing though they are as real as you and me.

Else, explain to me why young, super intelligent men and women abandon all the world seems to hold for them to go and join bands of utterly disgusting mass murderers. Are these kids mad, or are we, the supposedly normal human beings, in fact, raving mad, only we don’t know it?

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam.
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