The fight against arbitrary arrests by ‘Orwellian forces’ will go on

Tuesday October 12 2021

Journalists in Tanzania during a past demonstration in Dar against the suppression of the press. Government censors have also stepped up their banning orders against media content they don’t like. PHOTO | LEONARD MAGOMBA


A recurring phenomenon has been with us for some time in Tanzania and, though at first I thought it would be reined in by someone, it is showing no signs of letting up. It is the repeated arrests of individuals who are said by the police to have made or published “seditious” content, in newspapers or on social media. Government censors have also stepped up their banning orders against media content they don’t like.

I am using the word seditious rather guardedly, because I am not sure it is the exact English translation of the word “uchochezi” in Kiswahili, which is the exact word beloved by our police. Though it has been given that loose translation, my little knowledge of the legal term “sedition” does not seem to represent the way it is used by our police.

Roughly construed, sedition should be understood as something spoken, written, broadcast or otherwise put out to the public, whose obvious purpose is to make people so unhappy with their legitimate authority that they would take it upon themselves to remove the said authority by means other than those permitted legally.

Other words

Now, that is the rub. For something to be seditious the means suggested for removing the authority must be unlawful, whereas the authority alluded to here would have to be legitimate itself. In other words, and in part, if one suggests that at the next election people should turn up vote en masse and remove the government in place, that would not be seditious, because intending to remove the government through elections is a perfectly legitimate quest.

It would seem to me that actions by our police suggest that anything said that connotes that the speaker does not like the current rulers and would like for them to be thrown out of government, would be seditious, and therefore a criminal offence.


That would mean that we are not allowed to disagree with our rulers, and if at all we do, we must not verbalise our feelings. In other words, we are supposed to keep quiet and keep our thoughts to ourselves.

That is where I sense the danger to our society. Generally, Tanzanians can be said to be docile, meek and pliant, even if it is not possible to make any empirically provable conclusions about the veracity of this assertion.

The aforementioned trait, if indeed it does exist, would be derogatory and pointing to a major weakness of our people, something we should fight with all our resolve. It is a dangerous quality that will spell doom for our country, for countries inhabited by the meek, pliant and docile are incapable of undertaking anything that their people can be proud of.

That is why I incline to believe that those in power (and all of us together with them) have to do all that is necessary to stamp out this trait, which may be taking us to a very unproductive place.

I fear that the recent arrests are made by the police with a view to making it appear that they are keeping the country safe from “disruptive” tendencies, whatever that means.

This trend started during the Magufuli days, when sometimes we were treated to laughable (literally) episodes, one of which involved police arresting a young comic and charging him with incomprehensible infractions. It turned out that the clowning youth had posted a video of himself heartily laughing at a picture of the then president shown in an oversized suit from the days when he looked like someone “out of the sticks”.

The young man was eventually released, but not before he had lost time, energy and money trying to get himself out of police hands. It is a sad day indeed when people cannot have good, innocuous laughter at the expense of their rulers, because the latter are all the time laughing at the former with all the empty declarations about how they “care for the downtrodden.”

We should thank that we still have members of our society (young and old) who from time to time dare to voice some dissent and ridicule directed at those who tend to take themselves too seriously simply because they happen to occupy some office or other.

Otherwise we will be driven to a point where our ministry of police will establish a Department of Thought Police (Idara ya Polisi-Fikra), to find out what people are thinking about their rulers, and stop the thoughts before they enter the mind!

Whole Society

That would serve as the ultimate vindication of George Orwell, who in 1949 wrote the frightening novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which a whole society is terrorised by the all-pervasive surveillance of Big Brother and his ubiquitous thought-control systems.

That is far from anything any society would wish on itself. The time-servers in government offices, and those in the security apparatuses who execute their orders unthinkingly should allow themselves a little time to think about what they are doing and examine their consciences against the atrocities their unthinking is causing to their people.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]