The public too would love to beat up on officials feeding their inner despot...

Saturday June 29 2013

Elsie Eyakuze

Elsie Eyakuze 

By Elsie Eyakuze

Well, Mister Prime Minister, that’s one way of getting an already nervous population of civilians quite terrified. “Wapigwe tu!” — what an unfortunate sentiment to put out there — “They will be beaten...”

Over the course of a career in the public sector, there must be numerous occasions when the urge to smack some sense into whoever is apparently misbehaving becomes overwhelming. I want to assure you, sir, that the feeling is mutual.

There are far too many instances in the life of a civilian when public servants behave in a manner that can only be described as infuriating — often, it seems, just to feed their inner despot.

People are annoying, and often they are dangerous, it’s true. But that’s no reason to abandon an adherence to the rule of law.

As it is, there is entirely too much ambiguity about what is going on with the current wave of instability.

With the various events of the past few years, from the rough treatment and killing of journalists to clerics being targeted and an escalation in religious strife to the regular manhandling of the opposition, and the belligerence of elected leaders, some questions do emerge: What is the role of the state in all this? When did it become “reasonable” to approach these problems with a blanket policy of police violence?

When, Mister Prime Minister, did our government become so incompetent at its job of maintaining a reasonable level of security and stability for its civilians?

Was it under this administration, or has the problem been simmering for longer? While I am fascinated and appalled by the sheer scale of preparations for Obama’s visit to Tanzania, there is a part of me that’s relieved he’s bringing half of arms-bearing America along for his protection.

Because left to the devices of this current government, well. Good thing Obama isn’t taking chances.

But back to the point: “Wapigwe tu!” was unexpected.

There are plenty of thugs in short-sleeved suits from whom such a pronouncement would have been thoroughly unremarkable. What happened to that spirit of conciliation we have come to depend upon from the prime minister, considering our head of state’s aversion to dealing with complicated domestic issues?

Surely, if for no other reason than to uphold the tattered pride of the Grand Old Party, silence would have been a better option. Not a perfect one, but one that displays the common sense that is becoming so scarce.

We already beat each other up too much and it’s always the wrong people who get the short end of the stick. For example, mob justice — isn’t it amazing that a young man who steals a chicken or a mobile phone can be subjected to the most horrific public execution while those caught with their hands in the public coffers are hardly inconvenienced?

If you’re serious, Mister Prime Minister, about this business of beating grown-up, free Tanzanians for purposes of extrajudicial justice, then I have a punishment list I would be glad to share with you. As you can imagine, it is not populated with civilians.

If we’re going to turn our police force into a vigilante group, and our taxes pay them, well then we should direct their brutality to more lucrative targets.

But I like to think that we are above such behaviour even if our capacity for restraint is fraying. Tanzania is considered a peaceful country, and there is a bit of truth to that, but our culture of silence has contributed to upholding the image long past its validity.

Most of us civilians already think that the police are baton-happy brigands.

What we need right now isn’t fear, it is trust. Let the police earn it back by doing their jobs according to the rule of law, not by following pronouncements from an executive that is haemorrhaging credibility.

These are strange times indeed, when civilians constantly have to fight against suspecting the worst of the government.

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