There is a growing trend among some officials within the government, its supporters, and even some independent analysts which I must say I find very saddening and unutterably strange.
This is the practice of defending some of the administration’s actions basing on what other countries – especially from the West – are doing or have a history of doing in the past. In other words, it is the culture of justifying our wrongs as a country by pointing to the fact that we are not unique in committing them.
Whether it is the issue pertaining to the respect of human rights or the carrying out of projects with serious environmental and climatic implications, it has become a common practice to ridicule the critics of the administration by pointing out that other countries – “those which pretend to be the champions of human rights and democracy” – are perhaps notoriously famous in doing the same.
This way of justifying wrongdoing is closely related to Stephen Walt’s ‘everybody-does-it-and-our-opponents-do-it-even-more-than-we-do’ technique employed by politicians and their supporters in finding some way to excuse their behaviour and defend their decisions.
As a journalist, I have more than once encountered these excuses in the course of my work. You would ask for a minister’s reaction following a statement by the European Union accusing Tanzania of human rights violations and the response would be like, “okay, but the harassment of Yellow Vest protesters by the French government is not human rights violations, uh?”
Instead of, for example, appointing a new chairperson and commissioners at the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG), which has since November 2017 remained without ones after those who were serving it retired, the administration’s representative would tell a United Nations organ that Tanzania is an “independent and sovereign state”, implying that no one has got the right whatsoever of telling it what to do in respect to human rights and democracy.
The recurrence of this ‘everybody does it’ excuse is so common that is not even hard to find one.
A recent statement made by the Archbishop of Glory of Christ Tanzania Church (GCTC) Josephat Gwajima soon after his meeting with President John Magufuli at the State House on June 3 is the closest case in point.
Mr Gwajima told ‘journalists’ after the meeting that he congratulates Mr Magufuli for his efforts of building the national economy, especially the latter’s efforts on the Stigler’s Gorge hydroelectric project. Mr Gwajima said the project will enable the country to produce more electricity than the country has ever been able to and thus was plausible.
And in a quick rejoinder, he added that he was aware of the criticisms of the project by what he called “Western powers” who say that the project will have disastrous environmental consequences. But according to him, these criticisms were “mere politics.”
“For example,” he continued, justifying why the government should go on with the project regardless, “the US didn’t sign the Kyoto Protocol as it thought that by reducing its industries it would harm its economy.”
Now I won’t delve into pointing out the factual errors in Mr Gwajima’s statement, (by saying that the US didn’t sign while in fact the world-superpower sign but didn’t ratify the treaty), others have done that already.
Suffice it to ask that is someone else’s blunder a license for the other not to take good care of one’s environment and national heritage?
Instead of justifying the project basing on the mistakes by other countries, wouldn’t it be more convincing that Mr Gwajima back his support for the project with the facts on the ground?
What Mr Gwajima and others like him don’t know is that by retreating from the Kyoto Protocol, the US received perhaps a harsher criticism from the same environmental groups that urge Tanzania to be careful with its project today.
And to set the records clear, I am not aware of any country the world over that has ever been immune to criticisms from human rights and environmental activists if it’s engaging in actions that put humanity in jeopardy.
I understand the point that our Gwajimas are trying to draw our attention to and that is the double-standards employed by developed nations when it comes to issues of democracy and human rights.
They also assume that by employing this ‘everybody does it’ tactic they serve to warn those they think are being used by Western powers.
But they are wrong in assuming that everyone who shares a different opinion than theirs peddles the West propaganda and that there is no one with genuine concern worth considering.
As for the West double-standard, it is important we understand that a country without a clear and recognizable stance on particular moral principles becomes disentitled to call out another country for degrading those values.
During the leadership of the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, for example, the government of Tanzania cut diplomatic ties with Israel and Morocco after being convinced that the values that the former holds dear – the principles of human equality and dignity – were battered by the latter by illegally occupying Palestine and the Sahrawi Republic respectively.
These principles gave Mwalimu the moral authority to condemn any country that he was convinced engaged in actions that violate them.
And the conditions that led to the severance of the ties with the two countries remain intact todate.
I would suggest that the government and those willing to defend some of its actions – no matter how controversial they are – should do so solely based on the merits of the actions themselves and not pointing out that some other countries are doing the same. It is not wrong to support an idea or action but in doing so a person needs to defend her support with reasons that appeal to people’s intelligence.
“A corollary of this approach is to assert that the passage of time will vindicate the policies that are now being questioned, because any ‘bad things’ they did will eventually lead to lots of wonderful benefits down the road,” writes Walt in an essay referred to above. “Just stick around until 2025 … or maybe 2050.”
No, the administration should stop using that line of reasoning. It does it more harm than good.
Khalifa Said is a journalist with Mwananchi Communications Limited.