Like sense of smell, you don’t know you have free­dom of speech un­til its gone


The East African - - OPINION -

Re­cently the Tan­za­nian on­line com­mu­nity got to read the reg­u­la­tions that have been pro­duced to en­force the Cy­ber­crime Act of­cause where else to get this kind of news if not on­line.

Fun times are com­ing our way. Cy­ber­crime sup­pres­sion? Not so much. Free­dom of ex­pres­sion threats? Plenty. It wasn’t a surprise, but for those of us who hold on to a tena­cious be­lief in the best of our civil ser­vice, it was dis­ap­point­ing. Free­dom of ex­pres­sion is like a sense of rhythm or smell. You don’t miss it un­til you don’t have it. And when you don’t have it you get to won­der why every­body else is hav­ing fun and try­ing not to stare at you with pity as you flail around help­lessly.

Back in my day, when folks got to­gether they would talk about pol­i­tics like it meant some­thing good to have an opin­ion. The point was not to agree, be­cause where is the fun in that? The point was to dis­cuss, and have a fine time do­ing so. Bit like a sports match, re­ally, but with food on the ta­ble and mu­sic weaved into it. Kids could sit around and pre­tend not to lis­ten be­cause the adults were pre­tend­ing not to no­tice their pres­ence since they were teach­ing by ex­am­ple. Learned more swear­words, pol­i­tics and re­li­gion at the knees of my el­ders than this gen­er­a­tion ever will.

Which is un­com­fort­ably nos­tal­gic. Them same el­ders who were all like “re­spect your cul­ture and know where you come from” have turned into ev­ery­thing they warned us against in our child­hood. For shame. An oral cul­ture can­not be­come silent by man­date! Fine folks with fine cen­turies of fine speech and sud­denly here we are be­ing leg­is­lated harshly about what that means and where the ap­par­ent bound­aries are.

Hon­estly, if it made any sense to have le­gal “dif­fer­ence” be­tween forms of ex­pres­sion I would love to know how. We all ex­press — Makonde carv­ings, mu­sic lyrics, col­umns, movies, nov­els, po­etry — name it.

Where is the guide­line? Where does it be­gin, where does it end? More im­por­tantly, where does the Griot tra­di­tion fit into this — the fool, the strum­mer of heart­strings, the King’s Poet? This con­cerns me much more than par­ti­san­ship or all the other things that leg­is­la­tion is try­ing to nar­row things down to. Any King with­out a Fool risks be­ing the Fool him­self. And then what are we to tell our an­ces­tors when we meet them? That we let the sto­ries go and al­lowed non­sense to hap­pen in their stead?

Eh bwana eh, no­body needs that kind of drama in the Be­yond.

Sil­ver lin­ing

No­body told us that the 21st cen­tury would be filled with small men with small minds, but here they are lo­cally and glob­ally. At least lo­cally we still sing to them and about them to re­mind them to stay fit in spirit and not bit­ter, lest the bur­dens of state over­whelm them. Now thanks to this small leg­is­la­tion, even that has be­come cum­ber­some for Tan­za­ni­ans. This is trou­ble, and like I stated be­fore, the ex­cuse that “ev­ery­one else was ex­per­i­ment­ing with Fas­cism!” prob­a­bly won’t im­press our an­ces­tors when we get to see them past the mor­tal coil.

The sil­ver lin­ing, you ask? Per­haps this move will re-in­vig­o­rate our print and broad­cast news in­dus­tries that have been suf­fer­ing of late — it’s not like peo­ple can­not mi­grate con­tent from here to there. But as a child of an era in which the state could not cy­ber-spy or cy­ber-reg­u­late your life, I just want to take a mo­ment to note the pass­ing of an era. Okay, mo­ment done.

If it made any sense to have le­gal dif­fer­ence be­tween forms of ex­pres­sion I would love to know how.”


Post Scrip­tum: This one is in mind of Hugh Hefner who died this past week. Most of us know him as Mr Playboy with the man­sions and the bun­nies and the un­apolo­get­i­cally he­do­nis­tic life­style. Yet his was an evo­lu­tion from early heart­break that spurred him to so­cial lib­eral ac­tivism. He found and pub­lished unique voices rang­ing from fem­i­nists to sci­ence fic­tion au­thors and African Amer­i­can co­me­di­ans, push­ing the bound­ary, un­apolo­get­i­cally, of in­tel­lec­tual free­dom. Take that as you wish, but at least read his Wikipedia page be­fore you clutch your rosary and clear your browser his­tory.

No­body told us that the 21st cen­tury would be filled with small men with small minds, but here they are lo­cally and glob­ally

Elsie Eyakuze is an in­de­pen­dent con­sul­tant and blog­ger for The Mikocheni Re­port, http://mikoch enire­ E-mail:

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