Why I’m defending Dubai port deal protesters’ right to protest

Saturday August 19 2023
darport deal

A ship docked at the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


Oh dear, we’re in a spot of trouble. Tanzania has a long history of silencing vocal opposition using means fair and foul.

From colonial times through those of the nearly sainted Mwalimu himself to date, it has taken various forms, and I grudgingly acknowledge it as a part of the modern nation-state.

Much as I love my country, a rosy view of its contemporary history is not useful in this line of work, nor is it truthful. However, I am of the generation of writers who started their career at the same time as the Kikwete administration. Regardless of opinions on the quality of his stewardship of Tanzania, those were media heydays.

Read: Tanzania’s radical shift under Samia

Media heydays happen when freedom of speech is respected, and when civil rights are upheld more than they were before. I believed that providence was finally smiling upon us because, with the gifts of political open spaces and freedom of information, we had the tools necessary to build our polity.

One does not leave such important work to politicians; my generation certainly didn’t. Like well-watered gardens, we flourished in politics, media, the arts, business and so on. We are still here — what is left of us — now raising the next generation of leaders and upholding economic growth.


All throughout this, our grotty old system has regularly come up with massive controversies and corruption cases. I lived through the IPTL scandal, the resignation of prime minister Edward Lowassa over Richmond.

As a teenager, I attended the same church as one Nolan, then famed for his dubious intent to farm shrimp in pristine Tanzanian protected waters. We not-youth-anymore have always been around and aware of the relationship between power and corruption — it is one of the oldest tropes in human history. It is what some of our parents did; it is what some of us do.

With the advent of our first woman president and the possibility of being treated for Covid-19 and writing more freely, I hoped for some years of relaxation. Sadly, no. Here we are again: Elements of my government are trying to get away with a messed up and possibly unconstitutional deal featuring the port of Dar es Salaam.

Read: Dubai deal exposes inefficiences at Dar port

It puts me in the mind of a long-ago seminar with an economist who used social science wisdom to address corruption in Chittagong, Bangladesh, a port city of about five million residents with a history that shares some commonalities with Dar. It was a nice case study.

Corruption at the highest level is exciting, and also draining. Sometimes the excitement turns to horror and grief. This is why I am concerned that with DP World, we are in trouble. People are getting arrested for speaking out, and though I am not always in perfect agreement with how they choose to express their discontent, I must, by all means, defend their right to protest.

You can imagine my reluctance to delve into the fray of fresh drama: I am just beginning to enjoy Dar again after... well, you know. Unfortunately, elements of my government are tipping the mango cart, again, so duty calls. Let’s talk collective and institutional memories next week. There is much to say.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]