Political sycophancy is as old as we’ve been around, let’s cut it out

Sunday May 19 2024

Lawmakers having a conversation in parliament in Dodoma, Tanzania. PHOTO | JONATHAN MUSA | NMG


The advantages of being alive for a long time, especially if you practise life to the full, can be many, but so can the disadvantages too.

Some measure of longevity — you do not need to be a Methusela — affords one some time to observe phenomena across different time and space, and to laugh at the inanities of the society in which you evolve.

Sometimes what you observe could be surprising, sometimes amusing, sometimes hilarious, sometimes annoying, sometimes just simply silly.

One takes all that in one’s stride, because it keeps you in that learning curve that you have to suffer, perhaps enjoy, but cannot avoid. You see, you are refusing to die, and that imposes a premium all on its own.

So, all ye of my cohort, enjoy what you observe, however boring, knowing that your younger generation will have no experience of what you went through many years ago, and they may be enjoying the novelty of the experience.

Read: ULIMWENGU: Tanzanians must not shy away from dissecting hard Union issues


When we were in primary and secondary school, the thing in the field of dress fashion was a pair of trousers with tube-width legs that made you think for one to put it on one had to lie on the floor for it to be pulled on.

Walked on platforms

After some time, we woke up one morning to find out that the bell-bottom trousers were all the rage, with flaps that completely covered your shoes, which were in turn made to look like they walked on platforms.

A character called Pecos surfaced on our film screens — “My name is Pecos”— with such outrageous trouser legs, and we all thought the flagging bottoms were divine.

In shoes the fashionable crowd had to wear “Consul” shoes (pronounced “Konsa,” where I grew up), which were a bother with their hard-knock soles that made such a dinnon office and college floors, but suggesting you had the cash to buy the shoes with such soles to announce your arrival wherever you marched on hard, cement floors.

Now, we have gone back to the tube-trousers of the 1950s, and the young ones have never had it so nice! In between, of course, we were taken on a little side journey where the trousers had to hang mid-bum and the skirts had to show yards and yards of skin.

That’s all on Fashion Street, but there are many more examples which make you realise that there is really nothing truly new; we are reliving what we lived through not so long ago.

We are rehashing things that used to be here, only the new generations are getting a fresh taste of them simply because they arrived on the scene rather late.

Read: ULIMWENGU: Politicians’ ugly deeds stink long after they exit the national stage

Now, in politics we are today going through pretty much what we experienced in the early days after Independence, that is to say, hardly being able to express a political idea without referencing it with the leader of the country, in that particular instance, Julius Nyerere, whose name has been replaced with others.

At times it was so nauseating that he himself told some people that they were overdoing it. At some stage, the praise singers got into the habit of shouting the slogan “Long live the correct thoughts of the Chairman!” but they were soon called to order by a party bigwig who intervened to say: “All the Chairman’s thoughts are correct!”

During that same period, political chiefs at every level behaved like they had been sent by God Almighty. They knew everything, and whatever they said was expected to be taken as the law.

Party ideologues

All along that long period, political thinking was strictly chaperoned along the lines set by the party ideologues, allowing for very little, or no diversion.

For a little while, after the retirement of Mwalimu, we got into a period of the easing of that enforced adulation of the person, that is, until the advent of John Pombe Magufuli, who looked, seemed and sounded like he wanted to revive the cult of Mwalimu without the wherewithal to do that, except for brute force.

His untimely departure foiled that eventuality, but it does not look like the culture of the cult has dissipated in Nyerere’s country.

It would look like, just as the tube-trousers, Pecos’ trousers and the miniskirts, political sycophancy is coming back, and those of us who saw it then —and are still around — can choose how to take it: Shall we take it as old fashioned tomfoolery, to be sneered at and let to be?

Shall we endeavour to educate the youngsters in our midst and urge them to take whatever they see and hear with ladles of salt because we know it is all transient and will not survive a generation, if that?

Or shall we remonstrate with the current practitioners of the cult and confront them with what we know, or shall we, in doing so, be risking provoking the younger generation into telling us that “those were your days; these days are different”?

Or do you just laugh at the ridiculousness of the whole situation?

You tell me.

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