We prac­tise ‘Tan­za­nia First’ best when we un­mask Tundu Lissu’s un­known as­sailants

ELSIE EYAKUZE

The East African - - OPINION -

If the in­ten­tion was to ter­rify Tan­za­ni­ans into a sub­dued si­lence, there might have been a mis­cal­cu­la­tion. To say that the po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere has changed in the af­ter­math of the as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on Tundu Lissu would be an un­der­state­ment. As he fights to re­cover from this cow­ardly at­tack, each morn­ing Tan­za­ni­ans have been wak­ing up and of­fer­ing prayers for him on our so­cial me­dia. This ges­ture of sol­i­dar­ity and love has no creed nor po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion, no gen­der nor class. Con­ver­sa­tions that we were hav­ing in a much more sub­dued man­ner have now be­come less sub­dued.

It has been a few years of us con­fronting each other over what we think pa­tri­o­tism en­tails and what style of gov­er­nance we want as a con­se­quence. Pro­gres­sive vs con­ser­va­tive, demo­cratic re­pub­li­can­ism vs au­thor­i­tar­ian re­pub­li­can­ism, lais­sez­faire ver­sus eco­nomic di­rigisme — this is the en­counter we are hav­ing. We’re down to the wire on the ba­sics: To have an op­po­si­tion or to sup­press it? Does pa­tri­o­tism mean be­ing blindly obe­di­ent to the pow­ers that be — servile, re­ally — or does it mean em­brac­ing crit­i­cal think­ing and checks and bal­ances? What are the le­gal bound­aries of free speech re­ally do­ing for us?

A large part of the lux­ury to have this in­ter­nal di­a­logue is due to peo­ple who as­sid­u­ously and pro­fes­sion­ally do their jobs in the civic spa­ces that we have. Be it a pro­fes­sional mil­i­tary, guerilla teach­ers who teach preg­nant school­girls and young moth­ers ba­sic life-skills be­cause ed­u­ca­tion is a right in Tan­za­nia, jour­nal­ists who refuse to be co-opted, civil ser­vants who still go to work even when salaries haven’t shown up for months. Flawed in­di­vid­u­als I am sure, but the kind of ev­ery­day he­roes coun­tries de­pend upon. Tundu Lissu was part of this set of peo­ple who do the work that needs do­ing and to the best of their abil­ity be­cause of prin­ci­ple.

And so in this space it has been rea­son­able to feel safe, to en­joy some breath­ing room and ex­ploit the full range of our di­verse think­ing. This doesn’t mean we have ig­nored the dan­ger­ous rise of vi­o­lence and thug­gery and crime in our so­ci­ety and its in­dis­crim­i­nate use. A cou­ple of weeks ago Jenerali Ulimwengu’s col­umn shone a small torch on our dark un­der­belly, ex­press­ing the con­cerns that we are grap­pling with right now. When Tundu Lissu was at­tacked in such a thug­gish man­ner, it hurt in a deep and ten­der place where we keep our be­lief in the na­ture of our coun­try. This trans­gres­sion may have given we the peo­ple the courage we have been look­ing for.

So it has been a long few days. We wake and pray for Tundu Lissu’s re­cov­ery, send mes­sages of com­fort to his fam­ily. We scour the state­ments of pun­dits and of­fi­cials alike for any hints of a break­through in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. We use bit­ing hu­mour to tell the author­i­ties that it will not be ac­cept­able for Lissu’s as­sailants to con­tinue to be “un­known” in­def­i­nitely. Sev­eral the­o­ries have al­ready been of­fered as to who might com­mit such an act and why, rang­ing from the tin-foil hat va­ri­ety to the chill­ingly plau­si­ble. The pub­lic chat­ter is in­ces­sant, with un­prece­dented tone of de­fi­ance giv­ing it im­pe­tus.

Though gov­ern­ment spokes­peo­ple have made po­lite noises of dis­may, nary a day goes by with­out some threat of dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against out­spo­ken MPS, or rais­ing of the Cy­ber­crime Act, li­bel laws, et cetera. This is an un­for­tu­nate mis­read­ing of the sit­u­a­tion. It is es­pe­cially il­lad­vised in a regime whose claim to moral le­git­i­macy rests on a dra­co­nian in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Tan­za­nia First sen­ti­ment. Well, then, put Tan­za­nia first! The ones who have em­bar­rassed the state are not we the peo­ple; it is th­ese “un­known” as­sailants that we are all wait­ing ever so im­pa­tiently to know. It is our se­cu­rity forces who can spot a car with ex­pired in­sur­ance from a mile away but ap­par­ently can­not pro­tect an elected leg­is­la­tor in­side the na­tion’s cap­i­tal city! Oh no sirs, we are not the em­bar­rass­ment in this sit­u­a­tion.

We the peo­ple are sim­ply be­ing our­selves — de­lib­er­ately pa­cific, dis­cussing what is at stake, keep­ing track of which law of­fices are be­ing bro­ken into, car­ing some­what less about which min­ing com­pany is in the gov­ern­ment’s crosshairs this week than we do about how much time it takes to ap­pre­hend “un­known” gun­men. The chat­ter, our em­brace of our free­dom to talk — pre­cisely what Tundu Lissu stood for — isn’t go­ing anywhere. If the in­ten­tion was to ter­rify Tan­za­ni­ans into a sub­dued si­lence, well. There might have been a mis­cal­cu­la­tion.

This trans­gres­sion may have given we the peo­ple the courage we have been look­ing for.” This doesn’t mean we have ig­nored the dan­ger­ous rise of vi­o­lence and thug­gery and crime in our so­ci­ety and its in­dis­crim­i­nate use.

Elsie Eyakuze is an in­de­pen­dent con­sul­tant and blog­ger for The Mikocheni Re­port, http://mikoch enire­port.blogspot.com. E-mail: elsieeyakuze@gmail.com

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