Why shut down media then expect it to legitimise government?

Friday August 21 2020

A journalist during a demonstration on stringent media laws in Kenya on December 3, 2013. As it is, Tanzanian media has been putting up with the pythonic suffocation of the state for years, and though it has been slow it has been thorough and systematic. FILE PHOTO | NMG


In my last column I expressed enthusiasm for the forthcoming Tanzania elections, especially considering what the ruling party is doing to itself. Then, thanks to the restrictions of this newspaper, by the time readers got to read the article my government had thrown legislation and regulations yet again on the media.

They have been assuring us all that we shall have a “free and fair election” while making sure that we can’t talk to each other about it publicly in any meaningful way.

As the saying goes in Kiswahili, nilichoka ghafla. The apathy I have been holding at bay about our current political environment has now got the best of me. As it is, Tanzanian media has been putting up with the pythonic suffocation of the state for years, and though it has been slow it has been thorough and systematic.

To be honest, part of me wants to meet the Machiavellian masterminds behind this endeavour to undermine pillars of our democracy. The sudden pick up in pace however is just rude.

How dare they use double-speak on us as though we are children who cannot parse a political lie from a political fib.

It’s not even like any of the methods being used are new: Does anyone remember when Cameroon’s English-speaking people had their social media switched off by the state? And, Belarus which switched off social media as well during elections? All of these are methods that come after local media has been thoroughly terrorised into compliance as it has in Tanzania through the expedient of being able to shut down critical papers at will, jail journalists and disappear others. Where is Azory Gwanda?


The irony is that the press that is being shut down, and its audience and popular voice along with it, is the very same machinery that is needed to legitimise a state and spread its propaganda. It is a relationship. You can imagine my puzzlement at the hubris shown by governments that seek to mwambafy themselves by attacking the same allies they need to make themselves look well.

For those who have a low opinion of media, understand this: humans developed communication and it is literally a fundamental part of building the society. The formal media as it manifests now in its many variations is simply a natural outgrowth of this. Without it, we’re not quite living to our human potential and modern life would be impossible. As an intrinsic part of us, communication via all media cannot and never has been effectively silenced. It can, however, become corrupted into a form that is hostile to the powers that be — as happens in abusive relationships.

People shall sing and send smoke signals if needs be. Not all artists can be bought. Freedom shall find allies as not all the international community can be cowed into silence. The drums will always beat, as long as hearts are there to beat alongside them. As Africans, we know this. We should not forget.