Mr President, take Tanzanians back to where ‘utu’ was the glue holding us together

Tuesday February 27 2018

Tanzania's President John Pombe Magufuli. PHOTO | THE CITIZEN


Dear John:

We need to talk. Please forgive the informality of my address to you, but there isn’t much time and it was a necessary if cheap device to create the mood for candid yet compassionate conversation between us. Your job is terrifying and I empathise with you immensely — the demands, the pitfalls, the never-ending pressure. I hope that you are taking care of your mental, physical and spiritual health because they are now matters of national security.

John, I would come to Ikulu and try to tell you myself but it’s not like it used to be, is it? Although by tradition you belong to us citizens, these days access to our president is severely restricted. And since there are a lot of guns around these days, I don’t want to catch a “stray bullet” “by accident” if you know what I mean.

There is nothing in the world that Mambosasa could say to my mother to console her if that were to happen. No parent should have to bury a child.

I don’t know what Mambosasa has to say to Aquilina’s mother, John. I read your short note of condolence on Twitter and your order that the matter of her murder be investigated. But we both know that mothers cannot be comforted by a short tweet, or blood money. Especially when the nonsensical circumstances that led to her death are unlikely to be dealt with satisfactorily. Even if the police scapegoats one of theirs for this crime, it will not be enough.

John, when you took an oath to protect this nation, Aquilina became your daughter too. Yet here we are today, she is dead, and your police force is using live bullets to confront unarmed civilians.


John, this is not a “simple” fight between political parties, is it? This is about separating the party from the machine of state, it is about the rule of law, rights, respecting the intellect of your fellow Tanzanians, and honouring our social pact of non-violent resolutions to conflict wherever possible.

It is about the one intangible commodity on which Tanzania’s “superpower” depends. In Wakanda they called it Vibranium. In Tanzania we have called it “Peace and Stability.” As with anything worthwhile, John, we both know that the production of this state takes a very heavy investment on our part but it has been worth it. And of course, Utu (being humane) is the not-so-secret ingredient in our alchemy.

John, I am writing you this letter to join the ranks of my fellow journalists, artists, youth, politicians, NGOs and regular civilians who have spoken on this. We are concerned. We are concerned from a place of tenderness, and we have told you so before. Without Utu, the formula goes wrong. Lead us back to a place where we use negotiated consensus to evolve our politics and economics. Let us not fall into the temptation of brute force.

Since you are not one for social media, let me be it’s ambassador today and tell you about something magical that is happening in our online conversation about Aquilina’s murder.

John, for every overly-testosteroned manchild who calls for an armed and violent reaction, there are ten reasoned comrades who call for peaceful resistance to this police state that is emerging. For every deliberately divisive insult hurled at your administration, there are a hundred who push back with a call to be better people.

It may be that in the echo chamber that you are inhabiting, “advisors” have convinced you that you are playing a zero-sum game. You aren’t. Just blink twice if you need a jailbreak and we will rise up to help you. We, your people, will.

John, you know that Tanzania is mostly made up of youth, right? And that thanks to the investments made in our development over the past 50 years by our government, we are increasingly literate and numerate and most of all we are genuinely compassionate and ambitious and loving. Tanzania has raised some good kids.

As long as we keep the guns off our streets, John, I think we can hope for yet another generation of young’uns who are genuinely and organically kind. Let us sow what we want to reap.

In conclusion, John, please understand: there are many who will read this letter to you and call me ‘soft,’ or a ‘traitor,’ or an ‘enabler’ because of the conciliatory tone.

There are many who won’t get it, who will accuse me of belonging to this or that camp. As if Tanzania can be reduced to such flimsy motivations.

They have the right to their opinion, but I have made a choice and it is constructive pacifism. Wakanda forever. What we do with power, even if it is only the power of the quill, matters.

John, if you ever want to watch Black Panther so we can discuss the references, I am more than happy to take you to a screening. I will buy the popcorn and we can talk about why women are so important statecraft, to begin with. Peace be with you.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]