A brief autobiographic note: We grew up happy but essentially poor, though you shouldn’t ask me, poor as compared to what? Well, compared to those who did not grow up poor. At any rate, most of our children are still growing up poor to this day, if that is of any help, so you get my drift.
So we grew up poor and our schools did not have such fancy things as proper football. As a result, we contrived to make our own footballs out of rags wrapped in old newspapers and pieces of cut cement bags pulled together tight with taut rubber bands, the better to provide the necessary bounce.
That done, we chose our two teams, with our self-designated team captains shouting ‘ndiki-ndikiki’ while calling out the names of their chosen players. The selection over, we often found out that we were an even number, which was a problem because if it was five players against five, you missed a referee. So the choice was either playing without a referee or having a referee from one of the teams.
We usually knew which one of the designated players could also be trusted to be a referee without too much worry about his fairness. And almost always those chosen as referees performed well, with negligible exceptions.
There is an uncanny similarity between this story of our childhood and what I am observing now. Our poverty does not reside in our not having the requisite gear to have fairness in whatever we play; our problem lies in the poverty of philosophy which has made our rulers fail to see that it is not fair to have a player for one team officiate in a match between his team and an opposing team.
In our primary school days, that anomaly was caused by necessity, and as I said above, the result was acceptable, mainly because the two teams agreed on the choice of arbiter. But now, in our elections, not only is the judge chosen against the protests of the other side, but he/she goes out to show the other side which side he will be rooting for.
The Tanzanian authorities have categorically refused to see this logic, that those who conduct elections must be seen to be fair, balanced and well-motivated, because, simply, if fairness is not the end result perceived, grievances could lead to unrest; and that is exactly how many African civil wars have started.
This election year we have witnessed a number of former arbiters in our processes, including electoral contests, come out in their party colours wanting to be candidates for a given party, and this has included a former chief justice and a former chair of the Zanzibar electoral commission, the same one who sabotaged the Zanzibar process five years ago to give Zanzibar an illegitimate government.
A Kiswahili saying tells us that if you do not know death, look at the grave, and our graves are all over the place for all of us to see, except for the very blind.
Everywhere on the continent where we see violence and disruption, even civil wars that have raged on for a number of decades, you can bet your last shilling that the trigger was the poor, shoddy and inequitable organisation of elections.
When Kenya pushed itself to the brink of the abyss in 2007-08, the cause was the same. And Kenyan politicians, blinded by the lure of power by whatever means, were drawn to this hell unseeing, unthinking, unhearing.
It would have been okay if the flagellation they released had affected them themselves and their families, but no, the most brutal forms of violence were directed towards people who had no hand in the doings of someone called Sam Kivuitu.
I am using the name of Kivuitu, though he is departed — and may his soul rest in its rightful place — because it is important to recognise and call out those amongst us who are given responsibilities of life and death over us and then go on to play the role of absent-minded gods.
We have one such absent-minded god in Tanzania this time round, and his name is Wilson Mahera. He is the director of the National Electoral Commission, which everyone except Chama Cha Mapinduzi has called biased and unable to deliver a free and fair election. Mahera is himself a former postulant for a post through the ruling party only a couple of months ago, and it is only after he lost there that he was compensated by being made the chief executive of the electoral body. It is a most amazing fact, but this and many others are true in today’s Tanzania.
Recently, Mahera has been taking issue with Tundu Lissu, the main opposition candidate, warning him against using “insults against other candidates,” without specifying which candidate had filed such complaints.
But Mahera bared his true colours last week when, apparently angry, he continued his attacks on Lissu and for good measure, reminded candidates and their parties what Tanzanians wanted: development, roads, railways, water, schools… the very mantra of the ruling party.
It was clear that Mahera could hardly have played the role of a ndiki-ndikiki referee.
Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]