Here is to you, who look for and dare to speak the truth

Tuesday February 25 2020

Tanzanian investigative journalist Erick Kabendera in court on August 19, 2019. PHOTO | REUTERS


Dear Erick,

Greetings, my brother. May I begin by offering my deepest and sincerest condolences on the passing of your mother, Verdiana Mjwahuzi. You spoke about the role that she played in raising you to be the man that you are, supporting your career choices even as she told you that they might come with challenges.

She was wise and strong; she gave us all a gift in you. May she rest in peace. It was a breach of Utu not to let you say your farewell and it hurt us all.

Erick, I pray that you are faring as well as you can. It was a shock of course to hear of your arrest on charges of money laundering, tax evasion, crime, but not entirely unexpected considering the difficult times that the media is facing. Freedom of speech has always been dangerous business, Tanzania being no exception. But we had our halcyon days didn’t we?

We had a president who once was a newspaper editor and understood the values of the Fourth Estate, even if he wasn’t always keen to be on the receiving end of its work. And then we got one who was willing to enter into a relationship with media, especially young and new media. Those were the good times, right brother? The emergence of candid democratic conversation and debate on platforms like Jamii Forums, whistle-blowing with evidence. Bunge broadcast live, Tido Mhando lured from England to come and set up the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation. What a glorious youth we enjoyed, one that I think we can admit did a lot for our early careers.

And all that on the back of a previous era when it was all Radio Tanzania and ITV and just a handful of newspapers — but the quality! Oh, the quality was good. Of course liberalisation wasn’t all roses even in our time, was it? Funny story: I once attended a press conference at Haki Elimu when they were having trouble and needed to make a public statement. Our elder statesman of journalism was there, Jenerali Ulimwengu.


Afterwards we gave a couple of young journalists who had been sent by a newsroom a lift to their next assignment. During the ride, they interviewed us about what had happened at the event. They didn’t even know that Rakesh Rajani was the executive director of the organisation. Let’s just say I promptly dismissed my whole generation of scribes on the spot and remained wary for years.

Then I started working in media analysis. Then I met many journalists, great people. Then I met you. And I believed, again. Here I am, years later, still scribing. Whenever people call me a journalist I smile and politely correct them: I am a writer. Jenerali, Mngodo, Datoo, Kajubi and others set the standards.

You professionals break stories, look for the truth and then dare to speak it and defend the media ecology at your own risk. I just get to comment on stuff.

Stay strong my brother, as strong as I know you are. We on the outside miss you, hashtag you every day, our support is eternal and unflagging. You shall overcome. Yours in amour patrie, solidarity, and the fight for freedom of expression. Elsie.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]

This article was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on February 22, 2020, two days before Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera was released from prison.