Now it’s Tanzania’s turn to push the limits of the politics of the ridiculous

By JENERALI ULIMWENGU

A Francophone colleague, reacting to the incomprehensible behaviour of a friend of his, remarked, le ridicule ne tue pas (ridicule does not kill). It indeed does not, but how long can you ridicule the antics of our leaders before you become thoroughly depressed?

Much that is ridiculous has been on show in Tanzania recently, particularly in this charade that some people insist on calling “elections.” There is a new style these days, and it looks like the younger one is the more pronounced it becomes.

It is like this: You are an MP or councillor representing an opposition party. One bright morning you call the press and tell them that you are resigning as legislator or alderman, and abandoning your party to “rejoin” the ruling party.

Your reason for decamping? You have been thoroughly impressed by the “excellent” work done by President John Magufuli, to the extent that you now want to join him in “moving the country forward.”

Because you have resigned, your seat is vacant, and a by-election has to be held, so guess what, you are nominated by the ruling party to contest the very seat you have just vacated. You go on and on about having made your decision without any persuasion or any cash inducement. Then you join the campaign for the seat you vacated, and start hurling abuse against the leadership of the party you have run away from.

Party-hopping used to be a favourite sport in Kenya, to the extent that at times it was near impossible to tell who was leading what party, the situation made even more complex by the bewildering acronyms of some of the political formations. Now, it is the Tanzanian politicos who are perfecting the art.

The ridiculousness of such acrobatics is obvious: You can support Magufuli’s efforts by working hard as a parliamentarian or councillor representing your people, who are all Magufuli’s citizens. And what about the costs of the ensuing by-election, one Dar es Salaam quitter was asked. “Oh, democracy is costly,” was his unashamed reply.

But it is documented that some of these decampers are lured away with cash and promises of positions in government. When a young parliamentarian collected evidence of bribery and handed it to the national anti-corruption bureau, the bureau chief blurted out that his office would not be forced to work under undue pressure! Obviously, he did not know the first thing about whistle-blowing.

This is also ridiculous, but it does not kill. Nor is death going to be caused by a top ideologue of an opposition party in Dar es Salaam who got up the other day and declared that he too was joining the ruling party because, he said, he was impressed by the president’s actions.

He seemed to be suggesting that he was going to be Magufuli’s envoy “within the country and without,” which made observers wonder exactly what he had been promised.

This is the same person a video clip of whom is now being circulated in which he once denounced those who were being paid to change political alliances, likening it to the slave trade. “People are being bought just like our forebears were bought in the era of the slave trade. The slave trade is coming back,” he declared in this very articulate and eloquent video.

Whether you like him or not, whether he uses cash or not, Magufuli seems to be able to work magic by turning his former critics, including erstwhile members of academia, into praise singers.

It shows you what the levers of power can achieve when pushed to such ridiculous lengths.

But it does not augur well for the wellbeing and health of democracy if, I say if, politicians are being bought the way we buy coconuts.

It does hurt the dignity of individuals, even if they have consented to become merchandise. Such practices leave scars on the collective conscience of a polity, which will look upon politics as a game for hustlers and shysters.

If people are resigning from positions so that they can vie for the same positions anew, at such huge cost to such a poor economy, there is something gravely wrong.

To tell people that this is the way to show support for the president is to engage in what the late Prof Seithy Chachage called “collective imbecilisation,” even if it doesn’t necessarily kill.

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

First Published by the East African

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