Something is rotten in our state; rumblings can only get louder

Monday September 11 2023

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


The current political situation in Tanzania may not resemble something you want to worry about, but if that is so, maybe you should take another look. You could, just could, come up with a long list of factors which, if conjugated together, could produce a toxic state of affairs that one had hardly thought possible.

The general tableau of deepening impoverishment in a country with a lot to offer in terms of economic opportunities need not be overemphasised, as that is the lot of nearly all African countries. Likewise, with the generalised corruption wherein public officials seem to have gone through one central training academy where they are taught how to squeeze the last centime out of anything they have to deal with, rather than render services to their constituencies.

Even that can be taken as an attribute of almost every country— rent-seeking—wherein the holding of public office is a warrant to self-enrichment. But at least there should be action seen to be taken every time such acts reach intolerable levels. When such a situation goes unchecked by the official organs set up to do just that, you expect noises to be raised by the organs which are set up to act as control mechanisms or safety valves.

In certain countries they have set up Ombudsmen or Public Protector’s offices, whose job is to cry foul every when they discern something untoward. (We remember the cause celebre of Thuli Madonsela and Jacob Zuma in the Nkandla years).

Read: ULIMWENGU: In punishing Zuma and Trump we indict ourselves, but it must be done

Apart from such devices as these, it is normal practice for polities cognisant of the need for probity and political hygiene to equip themselves with robust checks-and-balances mechanisms to keep a finger on the pulse of the nation. A strong representative body is such a mechanism, working day and night to parry any attempt by the executive to appropriate for itself powers it should not have.


The operative concept here is the executive, for therein lies the extraordinary ability to do right and to do wrong. When it is directed by forces imbued with a sense of duty, service and caring for the other before self, the executive becomes a compelling force for good. But when it falls in the hands of nefarious elements, it easily becomes the very antithetical manifestation of all that is anti-people.

When Oliver Cromwell and his parliamentary officers in the 1640s were overthrowing and beheading Charles l, that was a symbolic cutting off of the head of a serpent, doing away forever with the poisonous theory of the “divine right” of kings. Well, the serpent still came back, but elsewhere in France the head-choppers made a reappearance in 1789.

The king represents absolute power, and with it the unquestionable authority to do what he pleases. With that, he also wields immense power to levy taxes and expend the proceeds therefrom as he sees fit. At the seat of the executive, therefore, sits corruption unchecked.

Now, the societies that went before ours saw all these forces at play, and took measures to alleviate some of the ills they could discern in their own times and spaces. It would be foolhardy to pretend we do not recognise what those who went before us saw as truths and bequeathed unto us.

Read: ULIMWENGU: What promise, Premier? Give a directive officially

That is to say, the executive needs to be strong because it has to carry out the duties of the executive, including raising armies for our defence and civil militias for our internal security and enjoyment of property.

But, the executive has to be reined in and not allowed to run amok with people’s liberties, or with people’s properties, and in the event that such an eventuality arises, rebellion is justified. Hence, in certain jurisdictions, the right to bear arms, as guarantor against tyranny, the tyranny of the executive.

No situation has the capacity to accelerate toward a critical point in total opacity, and it is normal that gradual steps will be accumulating one on top of the other, as the escalation takes place, however imperceptibly. Those who are capacitated to see on behalf of the others come in at this point.

Like the young herdsman on top of a hill grazing his sheep who sees a swarm of locusts headed for his village, he holds the duty to blow his bugle to signal the danger.

Now, in the circumstances with which we are familiar in Tanzania, where is the executive, where is Cromwell’s parliamentary army, where is the public protector, and where is the young shepherd on the hill witnessing an impending swarm invasion?

We possess an over-bloated executive, weighed down by overfeeding on the largesse of the state and lulled by insensitivity; every thing they do not see does not exist. They are lost in the vainglory of lavish government spending on luxury motor vehicles, expensive international travel…

Cromwell’s parliamentary army is nowhere because parliament itself has been hardly done by. The public protectors or the shepherds on the hill? Laws have been passed to outlaw these (media, statistics, online content, etc.) and those who still cannot keep quiet, the jails are not full.

Subterranean rumblings continue, and if you listen carefully you can hear.