Bu­reau­crat vs cleric: Bish­ops are mes­sen­gers of God, don’t you dare shoot them, Ok?

JENERALI ULIMWENGU

The East African - - OPINION -

The cross­ing of swords be­tween bu­reau­crat and cleric seems to be in­ten­si­fy­ing in Tan­za­nia, and the state is now show­ing that it can flex more mus­cle than the men of the cloth can ever hope to pos­sess.

You may re­mem­ber that around Lent and the Easter hol­i­days, the two big­gest Chris­tian churches here is­sued com­mu­ni­ca­tions to their faith­ful re­mind­ing them, as is their wont, of their obli­ga­tions to God and man, urg­ing them to live good and whole­some Chris­tian lives and look out for their fel­low hu­man be­ings, es­pe­cially the weak among them.

That is com­mon fare, one might say, which one would ex­pect from the Catholics and the Luther­ans on such an oc­ca­sion, which, if my un­der­stand­ing of the Scrip­tures serves me well, cel­e­brates the vic­tory of Life over Death. But the cler­ics went far­ther, and ven­tured into an arena gov­ern­ment agents claim is be­yond the writ of the word of God.

Why? Ap­par­ently it is be­cause the cler­ics of both churches, in their pas­toral let­ters, de­cried the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing hu­man-rights sit­u­a­tion in Tan­za­nia; the state sup­pres­sion of po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties by the op­po­si­tion; the con­stric­tion of civic spa­ces; the muz­zling of the me­dia through bans and fines; the dis­ap­pear­ance of jour­nal­ists; the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tions of op­po­si­tion fig­ures and the per­va­sive “state of fear” un­der which Tan­za­ni­ans now live.

In my view, this was a most ac­cu­rate de­pic­tion of the state of this na­tion, but the re­sponse of the rulers has been to stonewall and go deeper into de­nial. Far from adopt­ing the os­trich’s al­leged be­hav­iour, one would have thought that those in power would have taken time to do some soulsearch­ing and ask them­selves whether these al­le­ga­tions are in­deed true. If they found them to be false they would have been re­quired to of­fer a pub­lic re­join­der and helped to dis­abuse the pop­u­lace. If they found them to con­tain a mod­icum of truth, they would have been com­pelled to of­fer an apol­ogy and to take mea­sure to re­dress the sit­u­a­tion.

But no, not this gov­ern­ment. Rather than deal with the mes­sage, gov­ern­ment agen­cies are busy shoot­ing the mes­sen­ger. It’s be­com­ing clear that ev­ery time any­body ac­cuses the state of some in­frac­tion, gov­ern­ment agen­cies trot out with a raft of queries about the ac­cuser’s short­com­ings. They will ask if that per­son or in­sti­tu­tion has paid his or its taxes; whether they are re­ally cit­i­zens of the coun­try; if they are not in­volved in il­licit drugs, or such other things that gov­ern­ment should in­ves­ti­gate as a mat­ter of course and in­volv­ing all cit­i­zens, not only those who have crit­i­cised the author­i­ties. One church has been given a few days to show it is duly reg­is­tered and also to “can­cel” its let­ter to its faith­ful. What ar­ro­gance!

In this way, they have pros­ti­tuted the func­tion of pay­ing taxes, which should be the proud duty of ev­ery citizen, not a stick with which to beat those say­ing you are hurt­ing your own peo­ple. The way these of­fi­cials are go­ing about these mat­ters, it is okay not to pay taxes or to ped­dle drugs as long as you do not crit­i­cise the gov­ern­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to the dis­ci­ple Mathew, when Je­sus was preach­ing and heal­ing in Caper­naum, the Tem­ple tax col­lec­tors came to Peter and asked him, ‘Does your teacher pay the Tem­ple taxes?’ And Peter an­swered, “Of course.” When Peter went into the house, Je­sus asked him, “Si­mon, what is your opin­ion? Who pays du­ties or taxes to the kings of this world? The cit­i­zens of this coun­try or the for­eign­ers?” Peter an­swered, ‘The for­eign­ers.’

Though Je­sus seemed to agree that only for­eign­ers should pay Tem­ple taxes, he di­rected Peter to go to the lake and drop in a line. “Pull up the first fish you hook, and in its mouth you will find a coin worth enough for my Tem­ple tax and yours. Take it and pay them our taxes.”’ (Mathew, 17:24). Je­sus knew the Pharisees were look­ing for an ex­cuse to do him in, and he was not go­ing to of­fer it too eas­ily.

I hope the churches cur­rently un­der at­tack will al­low the peo­ple they

Both churches, in their pas­toral let­ters, de­cried the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing hu­man-rights sit­u­a­tion in Tan­za­nia.” I hope the churches cur­rently un­der at­tack will al­low the peo­ple they de­fend to be their fish-with-the-coin-in-the-mouth, with which they can pay their taxes

de­fend to be their fish-with-the-coinin-the-mouth, with which they can pay their taxes, if they owe any. Then they should con­tinue say­ing, with­out fear, that the em­peror has been naked all this time. They should never re­tract their mes­sages. Jenerali Ulimwengu is chair­man of the board of the Raia Mwema news­pa­per and an ad­vo­cate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: ulimwengu@jenerali.com

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