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

Sunday April 14 2024
Tanzania's CCM Party supporters

Some supporters of CCM at a rally in Micheweni, Pemba in Zanzibar. PHOTO | THE CITIZEN | NMG


Go, all you who would, to the East African coast, and pick a sprinkling of folk wisdom that has accumulated gems which, over centuries, have sustained the Waswahili through times sweet and sour, and propped up and girded them in their production of cultural products in such departments as cuisine, dress, architecture, commerce, worship, custom and protocol.

But be warned, the Waswahili can be sly, and they can say much without appearing to say anything, and woe to the uninitiated soul upon whom Kiswahili words have been unleashed in tricky combinations, without prior warning.

(Because they can, these words have the ability to take you by surprise and leave you bamboozled).

Take this word combination I am thinking about right now, for example: “Mzowea vya kunyonga vya kuchinja haviwezi”. It simply means, in straight parlance, he who is used to eating strangled animals will not eat properly slaughtered ones.

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That, obviously, is about culinary protocols and usage, and has its roots in the Islamic traditions, which, along with the Judaic faith, place stringent restrictions on which one can and cannot eat.


(Of the three Abrahamic systems of belief only the Christians seem liberal with what they ingest; the Muslims and the Jews have legislated profusely on the type of animals you can eat, whether they ruminate and what type of hooves they have on their legs, and so on).

But be warned, o, stranger! It is not food they are talking about; they are talking in parables. And their words wander far from the literal meaning you may be thinking of, and please remember Oscar Wilde’s advice to the effect that the man who said to call a spade a spade should be made to work with one. Which means such a man is meant to be a manual labourer as he has nothing of the poetic brain.

When the Waswahili employ the saying I have chosen as my example, they mean those used to doing wrong things, or behave in a reprehensible manner, cannot in any way be coaxed into more acceptable behaviour. A person used to thieve as a profession will not stop stealing even if the article he steals was going to be gifted to him anyway.

And this is political, and since you are asking me how that could be political, I will let you on to my explication.

Five years ago, a man called John Pombe Magufuli, who was then president of the United Republic of Tanzania, decreed that he would not brook the idea of someone he had appointed as election returning officer and whom he was paying a salary and paying various allowances, should, on election night, have the temerity to declare that the opposition candidate has won! True to his word, Magufuli made sure only candidates approved by himself were declared.

Now, that was an “election” in the minds of Magufuli and those of his ilk; otherwise, it was a charade and a masquerade, a travesty that even habitual vote stealers found too ugly to accept as an election; Magufuli and his acolytes had pushed electoral rigging very close to what was done by Liberia’s Charles D.B. King in 1927: shameless vote fraud like no one had seen up to that moment.

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After those non-elections in 2019 and 2020, many voices advocated a boycott, stating that there was nothing to be gained by participating in a masquerade whose outcome would be known before the first ballot was cast, but wise counsel prevailed, it is whispered, because President Samia Suluhu Hassan had given her assurance that this time round she would part company with her predecessor and that she would work to make sure the elections would be free and fair.

Skullduggery, again

But then, a few weeks ago, there was a couple of by-elections for contested civic elections for ward councillorship. The same old ugly head of skullduggery was played out again, notwithstanding Samia’s pledge. I had occasion to call up the top brass of the respectable ACT-Wazalendo party, which participated in the by-elections, to ask them what they made of the by-elections and the way they were run. Their response was : Mzowea vya kunyonga…

Apart from the Waswahili of the coast and their beautiful homilies, Tanzanians have had the fortune of receiving wisdom from a man named Julius Kambarage Nyerere, father to the Tanzanian nation, and the one man who dedicated his entire life to teaching: Talking about bigotry, discrimination and other political malpractices, Nyerere said, on a number of occasions: Such despicable sins are like eating human flesh; once you start, you can never stop, you will continue.

With those pearls of wisdom, we are enjoyed to ask ourselves, what is keeping us back from doing the done thing? Why do the statements and promises made by President Samia Suluhu Hassan keep being ignored and dared by her own underlings, by the same people who owe everything to her and who go around swearing by her name? Are they deliberately daring her, or is she not serious in what she says?

What are we to believe so that we may answer our tricky sages among the Waswahili of the East African coast?