Dar es Salaam. One year ago, on the one year mark of Magufuli’s ascent to the Presidency, I shared my thoughts on what it meant and how I interpreted what were recent happenings. I spoke of the move away from first generation human rights, restrictions in political space, and fears regarding the Media Services Act, amongst others. With hindsight however, the most telling issue that I spoke of was the consequences of a lack of criticism and self-criticism on a generation of leaders. It is worth quoting the paragraph in full again:
“I quote a Daily news editorial from 1976, which was dubbed ‘editorial of the year’ at that time: ‘There are two most dangerous results that can result from absence of criticism and self-criticism. The first is that when criticism and self-criticism have been absent for too long, leaders in particular begin to indulge in excessive self-congratulation.”
“They become big headed… secondly, the absence of criticism and self-criticism breeds arrogance, high-handedness and intolerance. Those who feel are above criticism begin to pass themselves for semi-gods’. It is perhaps no coincidence that the infamous Newspapers Act was passed in the same year’.
One year since I penned the piece, and two years since the swearing in of President John Pombe Magufuli, I am astounded and worried by the pace with which such semi-gods are erupting. From Ministers and their Deputies, Regional and District Commissioners, the heads of the arms of government, appointed and elected officials… leaders are deluding themselves that because they are implementing the vision of the executive, they are above criticism and are not answerable to any mere mortal. They soothe their conscience by considering themselves as God-chosen, working towards a higher bidding. They deride simple humanity and respect and cloak their power-mongering as a fight against entrenched interests. Two years on.
Three popular newspapers are banned from circulation, parliamentary live coverage is a distant memory and only the president is allowed to be aired live on national TV. Political party rallies are still banned, a bangled election in Zanzibar continues to keep people in power, more people abducted, including local government leaders. Private sector continues to suffer from poor fiscal and monetary policies, more businesses closed, tax collection has become an instrument of extortion, manufacturing exports declining massively and more and more people are losing jobs. Two years on.
Two years has also taught me humility. I started off the President’s term as the only opposition member of parliament to remain within the national assembly during the President’s maiden speech to parliament. I was derided by one camp as being ‘CCM B’ and applauded by another camp as ‘politically mature’. Within a few short months, I started to see worrying signs of dictatorial tendencies from our President. I became vocal on the issue. I was criticized by one camp as ‘having nothing else to do but criticize’ and acknowledged by the other as ‘coming back to my senses’.
The two years have had ups and downs (which I have applauded and criticized accordingly) but they have been in general a steady move down the slippery slope of intolerance, censorship and fear. The blackest of these moments has been the shooting of my colleague and friend Tundu Lissu. I have spoken briefly elsewhere of what it was to see him a few weeks after the shooting, the renewed sense of courage that I got from him. Lissu has yet to complete his recovery and we are already battling with more arrests, more harassment, more misinformation and propaganda.
In my opinion, there is a systematic and powerful attempt to wipe out the opposition. Each party is being dealt with in its own way. Chadema is being hit with constant violent and non-violent forms of harassment. Its national leaders are constantly in and out of police custody. More worryingly are the hundreds of its members and lower ranking leaders that have been arrested over months and are largely forgotten in police cells. CUF is being destroyed through political manipulations of its internal divisions and attempts to suffocate the powerful Zanzibar arm. ACT-Wazalendo is being damaged by the co-opting and targeted undermining of its leadership, leading to fears within current membership and potential members.
The proposed new political parties act is going to seal the deal against political parties’ freedoms to conduct their activities. The ban on political parties’ rallies will be legalized. It is very ironic that when I was writing the one year piece last November, the Media Services Act was being debated and as I write this it is the Political Parties bill being pondered. Perhaps next November it will be something to do with NGOs or even companies laws. Who knows.
And whilst all this is going on, there are those who laugh at the fate of the opposition or remove any sense of responsibility by telling themselves ‘ah, siasa bana’. This is beyond dirty politics. For some, this has become a matter of life and death. For all, this is a fight for the trajectory of our democracy. This is the moment in the history of this great nation where we have to decide whether we want a real democracy, how we want our democracy to look like, and what values we as citizens want our democracy to be hinged upon. It is no longer a matter of keeping our heads down until the tough times have passed, or of accepting whatever form of democracy our leaders decide is good enough for us.
Magufuli has become a polarising figure. He has run the nation with little regard for laws, regulations, and due process. Many Tanzanians applauded this brazenness. They may continue applauding it until it is their turn to feel the consequences and realise that there is nobody left to defend them. I feel he is struggling to rebuild or keep intact an economic system that he has attacked from the minute he entered office with the belief that attack mode and shock therapy is what was needed. He sees enemies in media, civil society, the international community, political parties, the business sector, even within his own party. He undervalues the power of dialogue and mutual respect and prefers strongman tactics. He is elevating young men into positions of power (very important for the youth) but unfortunately grooming a generation of leaders who thrive on invincibility and no accountability.
I continue to be criticized each and every day, I continue to be harassed and intimidated, but I will not stop speaking out. I will criticize where criticism is needed, I will offer solutions where I can, and I will persevere. I pose to my fellow leaders the following question- what have we become? I ask my fellow citizens- where do we want to go?
Mungu ibariki Tanzania.
Zitto Kabwe is MP for Kigoma Urban and ACT-Wazalendo Party Leader