While bemoaning the apparent determination of our government to do away with plural politics and a free media (alongside free thinking), one is compelled to consider what is likely to happen when this quest for total government control is fully realised.
Our current government has consistently demonstrated an inordinate desire to muzzle independent media, and this it has done in a variety of ways. It has set itself up, especially through its Directorate of Information, aided by other state agents, as chief censor and arbiter of what is and what is not proper in journalism.
To effect this, it has arrogated to itself the power to decide who will be, and who will not be a journalist; what may or may not be put out as news, views or commentary; who may and who may not do research and publish data from such research, et cetera et cetera.
As all this goes on in the realm of journalism, the extant political organisations, otherwise known as parties, have been told that there is no room for them to practise politics, and, strangely enough, they have acquiesced in this interdiction that is based in neither law nor simple, old-style common sense.
So the political parties have desisted from doing what political parties do, and they now go about their muted business like lost souls wandering in a misty cobweb.
This combination is deadly, to say the least, and augers very badly for our body politic. We are beginning to look like the famous Japanese Three Wise Monkeys –Mizaru, covering the eyes, Kikazau, covering the ears, and Iwazaru, covering the mouth: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. For Evil, substitute Nothing, and you will get my drift.
A society deprived of the most basic rights for its people to organise and express themselves will not prosper, however much its rulers go round proclaiming that they are working for rapid economic transformation. Development, for it to be development, has to be people-centred; it cannot be imposed from above.
The free flow of information is an integral part of the process leading to true development, and that has to happen in an atmosphere in which an independent media thrives as a platform for social intercourse and fecund deliberation. Free political organisations are germane to permanent conversations about issues that affect the whole polity.
Scrapping any one of these freedoms – in this case, both – opens any polity such as ours to attacks from the faceless and sinister forces that thrive in opacity, rather than transparency.
Our government has rammed down our throats a spate of laws seriously constricting freedom of information, communication and research. It has created a monster called Director of Information who is a caricature of George Orwell’s Squealer in Animal Farm.
Now it is in the process of shoving through parliament a Bill creating another monster called Registrar of Political Parties, who will become the boss of all parties, because he will determine who can, and who cannot run for party leadership, as well as having the right of access to any information he may require of any party, however confidential.
Very soon, we shall revert to being a one-party state, something we thought we had outgrown back in the 1990s. It looks like there is no end to our adolescence, and we may actually be called upon to revisit our childhood, if current trends persist, and I do not see how they can be stopped.
Still, this will launch us on the thorny path of lawlessness and clandestine engagement. People used to interacting freely will not be easily cowed into non-interaction; rather they will craft devious ways to enable them to get across to fellow members of society, and some of these ways may not be catholic.
The steep rise of fake news does not come as a surprise to me, especially in this age of social media, which has made a journalist of whoever happens to hold a mobile device.
Plus, in a progressively complex world, it may be dangerous vainglory for anyone to think they can hold a big section of their population beholden to their half-baked thinking, shorn of any philosophical undergirding.
In a fast changing world with sometimes confusing phenomena, even for the initiated, it is imperative to pause and think before taking precipitate action that may come back to bite its author.
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]