One cannot write about Black Lives Matter and its significance to humanity without expecting some backlash.
I got a missive recently that was redolent of white privilege, outrage, condescension and ignorance that I plan on framing, having earned such high praise. If you’re not making someone furious, you are not hitting some hard truths.
The incident made me think of my elder who recently read a few statements on the Internet about Jenerali Ulimwengu written by trolls and widely spread. She concluded that social media is a seething pit of evil curses and has decided never to venture there again. I understand. Despite the Indian Ocean being so mild, I cannot swim in it or any other because the few times I tried there have been riptides, near-drownings and a poisonous sea-snake involved. Introductions are everything.
These days outspoken Tanzanians with social media outlets can get hounded by demented statements clearly crafted as a form of psychological terrorism. Public discourse is being infiltrated. Conversations get derailed by an emphasis on being “right,” rather than correct, words are turned into weapons, cruelty reigns, all our prejudices and privilege, fear and ugliness encouraged. I love a good argument as much as you do, and science has totally proved that swearing is therapeutic, a skill and a sign of intelligence.
Without interaction and communication, the human experience is possibly not ‘human’ at all. Conversation, in whatever form it takes, is a must.
As such, what happens to us when we lose the civility in our public conversation? Observing the rise of uncivil, weaponised discourse in Tanzania online these past few years made me realise why it is so discouraged here: it defiles the person offering it as much as polluting the environment in which it exists.
Back in the blogging days I had one condition for leaving the comments section open: No Ugly Insults Allowed, Only Elegant Ones Please. Receiving emails from supportive readers keeps me going, receiving emails from angry readers keeps me challenged and offers rare opportunities to engage in some hopefully elegant insulting. Cathartic, and an intellectual exercise, but also useful.
I am hoping for Tanzania in particular and for East Africa in general, that we will shake ourselves out of this strange stupor and remember our manners.
We have always been civil people, even at our very worst, and the argument could be made that going back to that will be cathartic and constructive.
We’re going into elections, we’re going to have a lot to disagree about and I am hoping we will remember that gathering under the tree in the centre of the village is and always be part of our practice of democracy. If you wouldn’t break wind there or defecate a statement, why do it online?
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]