Our old ‘independent activist’ has to pay hefty court awards

Saturday October 30 2021
libel law suits

Tanzanians are suddenly waking up to a new phenomenon of court award of billions of shillings as damages in libel law suits against one of the most mysterious characters to have claimed the moniker of “journalist.” PHOTO | FILE


Tanzanians are suddenly waking up to a new phenomenon of court award of billions of shillings as damages in libel law suits against one of the most mysterious characters to have claimed the moniker of “journalist.”

This is a character who literally happened on the media scene with electronic and print outlets that purported to support former president John Pombe Magufuli, not only by lauding every move Magufuli made but also by wildly savaging anyone he deemed to be an enemy of the president.

He dubbed himself “an independent” or “free” activist, claiming to be motivated only by a desire to support the president and to combat any forces that were apparently bent on opposing Magufuli, and therefore the best interests of the nation. He seemed to have deep pockets and looked like he was capable of mounting endless campaigns on a regular basis and apparently spending stupendous amounts of money on the enterprise.

To call what this man published and broadcast “libel” would be to give him a measure of respectability, because there are important libel incidents in the history of journalism in which the accused has been found to have committed libel even though the intent was visibly honourable and defensible. This man’s posts were the venom-laden bites of an attack-dog set on people whose only discernible “crime” was to have a difference of opinion with Magufuli.

In his rabid rampage he spared no one, however respectable the subject was in the eyes of the public. Former top government and ruling party officials who were suspected of being against Magufuli came within his crosshairs with ease. Proper journalists and credible commentators who rubbed Magufuli the wrong way were vilified and subjected to all sorts of opprobrium by this verbal gunslinger who baffled many people as to his motivation.

Now, at the same time as this maverick hatchet man was peddling his nauseous spew, some government types in the Information ministry were making themselves look busy by banning this or that publication or platform on the pretext of curbing “harmful” journalism for this or that reason. For me, these were/are jokers whose stale jokes cannot even attract a snigger.


Now that the man that the “independent” activist was claiming to support is dead and gone, the activist is going through libel cases that look sure to ruin him.

In one case, a prominent Dar es Salaam female attorney, former chair of the nation’s bar association was granted an award of TSh7 billion. In a more recent suit, a former foreign minister has just been awarded 6,000,000,000 I know the Tanzanian shilling has been devalued seriously over time, but if you want to get your bearings vis a vis the American greenback, divide those figures by 2,400 and you will get the sense of the enormity of the bill that will be addressed to the “independent activist.”

It is not clear whether these court decisions have come about simply because the main beneficiary of the libellous material litigated against is dead, but it would not be an exaggeration to think that way, what with the kind of iron grip that Magufuli wanted to have on the Judiciary.

What is clear is that the false “journalist” no longer has anyone to pick up his tabs, and should the judgement creditors come collecting, the “independent activist” is likely to become a debt prisoner, if his accusers are prepared to pay for his accommodation and upkeep in jail.

This cannot give great satisfaction to those who sent this zany media operator to court. The damage that the “independent activist” did to them may never be erased, even by a hefty court award. There is always something that remains and sticks around when a person has been falsely accused of something they did not do. The attacks I am discussing here were some of the most scurrilous I have ever read, words that are not easy to print here, or repeat anywhere.

That this man was able to continue with his character assassination for so long without censure speaks to the state of affairs under Magufuli, when those who purported to speak in his behalf were left to do whatever they pleased without fear of being called out.

A former district governor of the time has recently been sentenced to 30 years of prison for, among other things, armed robbery. In his defence, this one openly claimed, in court, that all he did was in the course of implementing orders from Magufuli himself.

It is to be hoped that the lessons have been learnt by all and sundry. There can be no justification for the lawlessness we witnessed by people who claimed to be acting on behalf of the president. Since Nuremberg, whatever crime one commits becomes one’s responsibility and cannot be transferred to a superior who supposed sent one to do what one did. Full stop.

As for those Information ministry officials who allowed the “independent activist” to do all this damage while they pursued and persecuted people who looked like choirboys, I say this will not kill them but it will haunt them and shame them forever.

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