Freeman Aikaeli Mbowe, chair of the main opposition party in Tanzania, has been apprehended and is being held in custody by the police on charges of “terrorism,” a weighty charge if there ever was one.
Obviously, this is big news, and the country is all agog because this marks a new high in the extraordinary political odyssey of Chadema’s leader, who has, over the past quarter century, managed to build and hold together the most consistent political force to challenge the hegemonic party in power, CCM. The interest in this case has drawn in international media as well.
Charges of terrorism are serious, for obvious reasons, some traditional, others relatively novel. Since the likes of Guy Fawlkes, made a folk hero/villain by the so called Gunpowder Plot in 1605, to Abdulla Ocalan of the Kurdish PKK captured in Nairobi in 1999, states have always viewed those characterised as such to be most dangerous men (or women) who must either be kept behind bars, or killed.
Variably, acts of terrorism have been described as any action that seeks to employ violence, usually in peace time, to achieve political aims, or in war times against non-combatants. Sometimes such epithets are applied to colourful characters such as Nelson Mandela (a national liberation hero) or Patricia Hearst (media heiress girl who fell in love with her kidnappers). Whatever the case, at such moments as these things happen, there is a lot of interest generated.
Speculation is bound to grow as the Mbowe case comes to trial, and there is no doubt the greatest legal minds in the country, and perhaps the region and farther afield, will be roped in this matter. Other issues rather than the ones preferred by the state may also be referred to, even if obliquely.
Thus far, there is no suggestion on the part of the state that there have been any overt acts of terrorism by Mbowe, such as Occalan (or Mandela before him) was accused of at the time of arrest, and chances are that the prosecution will attempt to rely on evidence of any act, or any series of acts, that the accused may have engaged in as a prelude to such acts of terror.
That is legitimate enough, because if it can be proven that a defendant did actually involve himself in any acts whose sole purpose could not have been otherwise than to cause an act of terror to take place, then there is a compelling case against the defendant, except that all the way, the presumption of innocence is held to be sacred.
This is so, especially because we know of no overt act of terror undertaken by any citizen that has been reported in such a way that the public is aware of it.
Contrary to that, the public knows of overt terror acts authored by people the state should know about, or should have tried to know about, but has not been too keen to take action on. In other words, there is a backlog of incidents that should qualify as terror acts that the authorities have blatantly paid no attention to.
The most recent of such acts was the one carried out more than three years ago by “unknown” individuals who pumped 16 bullets into Tundu Lissu, president of the Bar Association, chief whip of the opposition in parliament, vice chairman of the main opposition party. At the time of this attack, the official government premises where he resided had somehow lost their habitual guards, and the CCTV cameras were inoperative.
The Magufuli government, and the one under his successor, Samia Suluhu Hassan, has never shown interest in this extreme act of terror. I have heard some senior police officers make statements that would not be made even by police academy cadets regarding that incident.
We have had reports of known individuals disappearing, never to be seen again, such as Ben Sanane, a well known opposition party cadre who disappeared a day after casting doubts over Magufuli’s doctoral thesis, never to be seen again. Then there is the case of Azory Gwanda, a journalist taken away from his wife by suspected state agents some four years ago, never to be seen again.
These are some of the more blatant cases that many people know about, and which have struck terror in the public psyche; they are acts of terrorism because they have done violence to people’s minds, and maybe produced political impacts desired by their authors.
People who shoot political leaders have only one aim: to silence them and maybe kill their causes. People who kidnap reporters have only one reason: to keep some information under wraps, to kill transparency and enforce opacity.
We shall be watching to see if the authorities will perhaps, in the fullness of time, deign to institute investigations into all these glaring cases that have been neglected, so that we begin to have confidence that the state abhors terrorism, and will take action anywhere where that monster rears its ugly head in our midst.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]