There’s a fine lad in Tanzania called Aidan Eyakuze.
He’s the executive director of Twaweza, a not-for-profit organisation that researches a range of social issues.
Last year, Twaweza committed a very serious “crime” in the eyes of President John Magufuli and his government.
It commissioned an opinion poll on the big man’s popularity, and found that he had fallen from a dizzying high of 96 per cent in 2016 in the early heady months of his presidency, to 55 per cent in 2018.
Leaders of richer countries like US President Donald Trump, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, and French President Emmanuel Macron, who in January saw an “improvement” in his dismal popularity up to 28 per cent, would kill or sell their countries for 55 per cent. Not Magufuli.
Twaweza was ostracised, Ndugu Eyakuze’s passport was confiscated, and he was placed on a “no fly list.”
These are not easy times for people doing independent or creative anything. You cannot do opinion polls, at least unsupervised and without a government licence.
You cannot issue independent data. If you go to the market, and find that the prices of cabbages and tomatoes have doubled since you last shopped, you can go to prison for saying so.
That old joy of blogging is heavy punished if it irritates the powers that be, and even then you have to pay a licence fee of $900 – the only place on earth where that happens – for the pleasure.
In fact, you pay nearly twice more to blog in Tanzania, than you would as a nomination fee to run for president in a country like Zimbabwe.
You cannot sing and dance freely in Tanzania, as Diamond Platnumz has discovered on a few occasions. On that, though, Tanzania is not alone.
In Uganda, they have taken it a step farther; the government has readied a law that would require musicians to submit their lyrics, moviemakers and playwrights their scripts, and presumably dancers their moves, to a state censor for approval.
And, of course, it is deadly business being an opposition politician in Tanzanian.
What is truly tragic here is the anti-intellectualism. Anyone who knows Eyakuze will tell you that he is a worldly, cosmopolitan, and smart pan-African.
The fellow even married across the border. Ordinarily, he would be the pride of any country.
It says a lot about Tanzania today that, rather than unleash him on the world, it has elected to cage him.
But the fate of Eyakuze probably represents something far bigger – the last rites of Dar es Salaam as a centre of progressive thought.
In the late 1960s and the 1970s, Dar es Salaam University was the site of the biggest ideological debates of that era. Name a progressive intellectual, from Walter Rodney to Archie Mafeje, and all of them were in Tanzania at that time.
Some of the most memorable intellectual contests of all time on this continent, were the “Dar es Salaam Debates” of the early 1970s.
Julius Nyerere himself liked a good intellectual scuffle, and wrote combative opinion pieces, sometimes under pen names, in the papers, to push his case.
Not anymore. Tanzania is largely still the same country. Its people have moved forward. Its rulers, though, seem to have stepped back 70 years.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]