One could not have missed the irony that at the same time that the Algerian courts were dishing out long prison sentences to former bigwigs of the political regime accused of corruption and sleaze, Tanzania’s rulers were rushing through parliament a law that will offer immunity against their eventual prosecution in their personal capacity for any infraction they will have committed while in office.
The two stories are a set of twins, really, in that the one from the north comes to tell us what any self-respecting state should do with its thieves and embezzlers, while our story is about people who know they shall do wrong and want the burden for that wrong to be borne by some faceless office called attorney general.
In the Algerian case, a number of former political chiefs, including two prime ministers, several ministers and their associates have been sent to prison for long periods, basically for stealing from their people while Abdelaziz Bouteflika was president, that is, before he was chucked out courtesy of popular protests more than a year ago.
The lesson here is that there is a reason why long-serving and no longer useful despots find security in holding onto power, and because such longevity necessarily breeds a feeling of impunity, the longer one eternalises oneself in office the more corrupt one becomes and less touchable one feels. This clearly happened to Bouteflika, who offered his services as the ‘civilian’ face of the military machine running the country while the old generals and their stooges did the plundering and looting.
In fact, such an arrangement allows the military elite to totally usurp power and do whatever they want to do with it while remaining anonymous, unseen, unheard from.
There does exist a Freudian pact between the military and their front-man, for the latter to do the good optics and audios while the brass does the skinning of the camel. That worked for Bouteflika and his handlers, until he expire, not fit for use.
The other arrangement is the one the Tanzanian variety of rulers have done, that is enact a law guaranteeing they will not pay a personal price if they transgress. They have placed themselves on a list of untouchables: the president, vice-president, prime minister, speaker, deputy speaker, chief justice. I was wondering why they chose to isolate such a short list. Surely, if conferring such a mantle of exception is such a good thing.
Yet we should know that at the back of their mind there is little voice that tells them that they are doing wrong, hence the necessity to shroud the enactment in woollen layers of obscurity and certificates of urgency to curtail transparency and debate. And they look at what the new order has done in Algeria and they shudder, because one day they are bound to be made to account, perhaps even posthumously, when circumstances change.
The Algerian cliques tried to delay such a change by keeping Bouteflika in the chair, but biology and attrition have their immutable laws to impose on us, and one is that you shall not live forever, and your demise comes in small, steady doses, debilitating you and taking away the pretence that your handlers had that you would live forever.
For the record, in the 1990s we had a group of Tanzanians who attempted to corrupt a meek man by the name of Ali Hassan Mwinyi by coming out with a proposal that we amend the Constitution to remove the term limit to allow him to extend his tenure, because, they said, he was ‘very popular’. Luckily Julius Nyerere was still around, and unafraid, and he made a public statement denouncing the thought.
It is instructive to recall what Nyerere told Mwinyi, which I will paraphrase for posterity: Do not listen to what these hooligans are telling you. They want you to stay on, not because they love you so much, but because they themselves want to stay on, and they don’t know if they can do that when you are gone. I passed the baton to you in 1985 and in 1995 you have to pass it onto someone else, period.
Mwinyi, who, up until then, had seemed to like the idea, backed down and heeded Nyerere’s advice. I will not allow myself to think that such moves will not be attempted again this time, because we seem to be proficient in the production of sycophants. And they have just passed a law that grants immunity to a group that could come under scrutiny.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]