Last Thursday, a non-event took place on Tanzania’s Union Day anniversary, but it was hilarious to observe some of the goings-on.
Since 1965, April 26 has been the date when the unification of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which eventually gave birth to what is Tanzania today, took place.
It is the country’s National Day, superseding all other official holidays, and it is usually marked with military parades and a degree of fanfare.
Now, this year’s April 26 was slightly different because people paid greater attention to what was not done — what was always not going to be done — rather than what was done.
It is not as complicated as it reads. A slight young woman, who may not weigh more than 45 kilogrammes and who lives in the United States, decided to put that very date to some bizarre use. She is a blogger who spends a lot of time bashing President John Magufuli and his government.
Whereas she was once Magufuli’s ardent supporter, she has clearly changed tack and gone to the other extreme.
She posts all manner of unflattering — and unprintable — accusations against the man dubbed the “Bulldozer,” and it is clear she derives her courage from the distance she has put between herself and her homeland.
This time around, she decided she would organise a demonstration on Union Day to denounce Magufuli and his government. It will be remembered that demonstrations have been banned in Tanzania, though it is not clear under which law.
Now, it was clear that the young lass was being more than a bit mysterious: How was she going to organise a demonstration in a country where such activities are banned, and herself living in faraway California?
There was always a fat chance she was going to catch a plane from Los Angeles, land at Dar airport, beaming from ear to ear and waving to her supporters, and from there on to a huge, popular downtown demo, complete with placards calling for Magufuli’s resignation. You would have had to be crazy to believe that was her game plan.
But the security forces behaved like they believed that was just what she was going to do. They started making public statements condemning her and warning anyone who was thinking of joining the march that they would be met with resolute force.
The girlie just went ahead to circulate sample placards with aggressive messages, suggesting the demo’s preparation were going on apace.
Then the police upped their act a couple of notches, some trotting their officers out onto the streets of several regional capitals, singing and flexing their muscles, and making some unsavoury intimations as to what would happen to those who dared disobey the order to stay away from the walk.
I do not know how this happened, but there were reports some youngsters had been apprehended in a couple of places and incarcerated because they had been caught in the act of mobilising people to demonstrate.
But all in all, it was the massive presence of police on the streets, rather than a demonstration, that was remarkable.
Someone I spoke to found this funny, suggesting the young woman’s campaign had failed to draw crowds onto the streets of Tanzania — and that was perhaps never her intention anyway — though scant groups of youngsters were filmed picketing a couple of Tanzania’s chancelleries in Europe.
But she had managed to lure the tough-looking coppers onto the streets, where they looked appropriately ludicrous.
Who benefited from this non-event? Of course, this was another occasion for a procurement fiesta, if anyone could convince anyone at all that the dangerous little lady in America was the devil incarnate, and that she was plotting doom for her country and people.
Then all the purse strings would be unloosened and the exchequer would be emptied to buy batons, guns, handcuffs, teargas canisters and pepper spray trucks.
She may be petite, but who wants to take risks with someone threatening to shut down the whole country with a demonstration?
We now know that we have been spared that doom that seemed to be bearing on us, but all we can say is that the California girl managed to bring the toughest of our boys down to the streets, in much ado about nothing.
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]