Even in the world of opinion – take it from me – you are not free to utter a word that may be taken to be an affront to elders in the political kingdom. Not at least in their eyes or in the presence of their henchmen and “henchwomen.”
But elders can use the same to tell what and how they see you and still walk away with it. They have their right to apply and enjoy. You have your right, they tell you, but for keeps.
If you are still unclear about that listen to speeches by Retired President Benjamin Mkapa, especially when he is addressing audiences where leaders or members of opposition political parties are in attendance; or where he feels there are sections which do not subscribe to his idea or act.
Often and again, you will hear Mr Mkapa saying, “Hawa ni wapumbavu!”(these are fools). And he would go ahead to grieve over the inability of individuals and sections of communities to comprehend what he or his government was doing.
Many a time during his presidency, he would say those who did not see the development brought about by his government, were looking at things through “wooden spectacles.” A wipe-out metaphor!
But let us examine this “hawa ni wapumbavu”, which 17 readers of Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) products have complained about since Mr Mkapa used the same words hardly two weeks ago in Chato, the home village of President John Magufuli.
Bagashe Alphonce of Kigogo Dar es salaam says the former president is “insulting citizens and especially those who have different opinion from his.” Abass Mubiru of Singida says, “…if it was said by an ordinary citizen, he would be in the soup.”
Jeremiah Romwald of Temeke, Dar es Salaam says, “Mr Mkapa has his own opinion, like every one of us; but the way he says what he says, and in the mood and context he says it, makes it unpalatable.” Abdulrahman Kakila of Tunduma, Mbeya says, “…whenever Mr Mkapa says this, he sounds as if he is at war.”
But what is in the word pumbavu? According to the Standard Kiswahili-English dictionary, the word means stupid, foolish. The Great Kiswahili dictionary launched last month defines pumbavu as: siokuwa na uwezo wa kuelewa mambo (one without the comprehension ability); jinga, zoda and zuzu.
The last three words in the above paragraph translate into, fool, idiot, kook, booby and goon. Kook is an offensive term for somebody whose behaviour is regarded as unpleasantly eccentric; booby means somebody regarded as silly or unintelligent; and goon means thug, hoodlum, ruffian.
And all this is applied in the name of “opinion.” But who is all these? Who is one of these? And whose opinion is that one could be all this or half or quarter of this?
According to Audio English.com, opinion as discussed above is defined as a personal belief or judgment that is not founded on proof or certainty. And, as no one had dared to ask Mr Mkapa to define what he means by wapumbavu; it could remain an opinion too that he means all those made clear by dictionaries.
Come back to the profession. Journalists will tell you that they are committed to doing “great journalism,” which by definition is journalism that “brings happiness” to the people: sharing information for action and with the purpose to bring about solutions.
Then ask yourself: What happiness and pleasantness in contained in the wapumbavu messages? What exactly do you want them to share? Are you taking part in instilling terror among citizens and blocking avenues of voices?
While reporting what is said is important, analysis and interpretation of such messages is of utmost significance. Why? It awakens citizens to the realities of the day and sets them thinking and finding solutions. It also avoids conflicts as it leaves no room for “manufacture” of vituperative messages in retaliation.