This is the year of General Elections in Tanzania. Word has it that this is also another year of “harvest;” of “dawn of hate speech” and advent of “bad taste” journalism.
It doesn’t call for lengthy explanation to get to know what ‘harvest’ is all about. Here you have messengers of seekers of political office; those grassroots foot soldiers – going door to door and recklessly throwing out “Good morning!” even when it is already afternoon or evening - provided they get where to start to engage you with messages of candidates of their choice.
These message bearers, mostly without any background or knowledge of politics but used to popularize individuals and parties, become almost members of families of contestants; enjoy all privileges therein; some get stipends for as long as campaigns last and others erroneously long for extended election period.
Look at it this way. The messengers harvest in their small ways; but in preparation for bigger harvests by contestants who are principal harvesters through elections.
Next you have “expert-servers” of harvesters – those notorious “masters of fortune” capable of arousing your appetite to unimaginable levels; giving you hope beyond hope and promising to compel every adult woman and man, regardless of eligibility, to turn up at polling booths to “sign in” for your electoral victory.
Yet, there are “masters of the game” known for their trickery and impossible prescriptions. Think of being asked to swallow a one-month-old live cat; or to produce, before a red-eyed and fire-spitting master, a small black ant with squinted eyes!
This type of harvesters will reap enormously. One hard trick will be replaced with another till there is the softest for you to do or acquire. For this one pays handsomely.
And here again, you have another type of harvesters. These are members of unofficial, conspiratorial political groupings; masquerading as “the without which not” in determining contestants’ fate – waiting patiently like lizards at nasal passages of a live anthill. They keep waiting as unguided consultants of contestants attempt to seek their opinion.
This is well before contestants come in – the heavyweight women and men; talking big words, big promises, big awards, big money and big representation.
These too may attempt to walk routes of their messengers and other assistants for purposes of getting clear on charges for promised oral concoctions and charm to help pave their way to victory.
From harvest we move to “dawn of hate speech.”
An official of a political party may burst out attacks on another party, group or individual with the intent to demean or threaten.
It is normally hierarchical; starting in the upper echelons of parties and groups and may grow bigger at campaign level when individuals start spitting venom at each other in front of smiling belligerent contestants.
Here you get into full-scale mudslinging also called character assassination. Bring in all the interpretations you know – abusive language or insults.
Get the meaning of hate speech from the master of words: “…abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.” It means more than that.
Now, how about the advent of “bad taste” journalism before, during and after elections? Bad taste is ordinarily defined as being offensive, inappropriate, disagreeable, displeasing, distasteful, uncongenial, and unpalatable and others.
Hate speech therefore, can find refuge in, and be classified under bad taste. I can also see serious bad taste as belonging to hate speech. You can confidently say that all that is done under hate speech; or contents of hate speech are simply bad taste. And, here I am not intending to deal with hate speech as a crime under the law.
I am only intending to submit that the Tanzania Human Rights and Good Governance Commission (THRGC) has already warned against hate speech.
The Commission’s chairman, Judge (retired) Mathew Mwaimu was reported last week in The Citizen calling for “tolerance and use of legal procedures” as best ways to safeguard peace and harmony “we have experienced in Tanzania.”
There are a number of suggestions on how journalism can help to pull out of this quagmire. Read The Citizen next Monday.
Mr Ndimara Tegambwage is MCL Public Editor. Phone: 0763670229