A young public intellectual in Dar es Salaam has had a bone to pick with the unethical behaviour of our rulers, and he recently decided to air his displeasure in The Citizen.
I have chosen to reference his thinking so that it is shared with others in the region, seeing as it concerns many more than the isolated thinking heads around.
The young man cites Julius Nyerere’s speech back in 1963 in which the nation’s founder hit out against the lack of ethical behaviour among his colleagues, urging them to shun doing anything that was unethical even when it was allowed by the constitution and the laws.
Nyerere is quoted by the young man as saying, “When the nation does not have the ethic which will enable the government to say, ‘we cannot do this; it is un-Tanganyikan,’ or the people to say, ‘that we cannot tolerate (because) it’s un-Tanganyikan.’”
If the people do not have that kind of ethic, it does not matter what kind of constitution you frame, they can always be victims of tyranny.
What we must continue to do all the time is to build an ethic of this nation, which makes the head of state, whoever he is, to say, ‘‘I have the power to do this, but I will not do it, because it is un-Tanganyikan.’’
Nyerere goes further in this quote: ‘‘Or for the people of Tanganyika, if they have made a mistake and elected an insane person as their head of state, who has the power under the Constitution to do XYZ, if he tried to do it, the people of Tanganyika would say, ‘we won’t have it from anybody, President or President Squared, we won’t have it.’”
Reading this quote reminded of something about the way our rulers treat Nyerere, whom they refer to as the Father of the Nation but treat as a complete stranger, even an enemy, in their actions.
Even some of them who had the luck to serve directly under him behave like they learnt nothing from him.
And yet, we now do have a wealth of literature dedicated to the man, and whoever wants to complete their education can avail themselves of the depth of the thoughts of the man with principles of a liberating humanity and generous accommodation of all he came into contact with, be they individuals, movements and nations, from East Timor to Venezuela.
How we lost Nyerere will remain a huge mystery to me, but one of the answers could be that he failed to institute systemic channels of grooming young people who would carry his work and thoughts forward.
But perhaps even this is unfair, for what human person has the capacity to drive his or her oxen to the river and make them drink?
Speeches and papers
He has bequeathed unto us a lot of writing in his speeches and papers, one of which is quoted by the young man alluded to above.
But how do you get the ignoramuses in charge of the party he founded to read even a page of his writing when career advancement has taken precedence over principle?
On the point quoted above about the hypothetical situation posited by Mwalimu of the people making a mistake and electing an insane person…that question was recently put to the public by a ruling party official, and he received a lot of flak from his own people, as if he had expressed an unthinkable idea. The poor man had to kind of apologise, saying that he had just thought of a possibility in the future.
Some of us wondered whether somewhere, some people felt they had done just that at some stage and did not want one of their own bringing up the embarrassing subject.
The young intellectual, like Nyerere, posits at the end of his article that the way out of our quandary is to equip our young people with ethical education, and over this subject no one can ever find reason to disagree.
But how do you go about giving ethical education through an education system that has been so corrupted?
Very often when people talk of corruption they think of the zillions of shillings individuals and companies have been spiriting away from public coffers. That is, of course, a problem, but it is hardly the crux of the issue.
Bribery, thievery and larceny
Before bribery, thievery and larceny manifest themselves, the moral corruption has eaten up the soul, and the polity, community or nation are but empty shells.
Beyond the material corruption, there is the corruption of the senses, where one laughs when one is pinched and cries out when tickled; where the thief is sent to parliament and the people’s leader goes to jail; where the ignoramus is the head teacher and the local philosopher is jobless; where the wolf tends the sheep and the hyena guards the village butchery; where people die of thirst while they drink champagne for breakfast; where certificates are sold on the market.