Freedom of speech, Media, Politics

Someone seeking to kill us on the job

This news story is 18 months old, but it has had no space in mainstream media. That’s how it found its way to the blogosphere, where sifted stories can be published without fear or favour. Yes, Tanzanian journalists are trying to do their job but someone is seeking to savagely silence them. This story, old as it may seem to be, remains relevant today as it was 18 months ago; and it is published here for records purpose. Read on.

Tanzania Intelligence linked to media attack scam

MONDAY, 14, April, 2008: AN officer with the Tanzania Intelligence Service (TIS) in Dar es Salaam is being held in connection with the assault on editors at a weekly tabloid Mwanahalisi on 5th January this year but the police would not reveal his real identity.

Fifteen days of independent investigations in the port city of Dar es Salaam have confirmed Ferdinand Mwenda (alias Ferdinand Msepa alias Fredy), recently joined to a list of six alleged conspirators and attackers on editors at Mwanahalisi weekly tabloid, is a TIS employee.

The police, in a case that comes up for yet another mention today (Monday 14th April 2008), have identified him as a “businessman in Dar es Salaam.” But authoritative sources within the police force have it that the young man in his thirties is a middle cadre officer with TIS.

On 5th January 2008, at around 08.30 East African time, three young men stormed the offices of Mwanahalisi newspaper. At work were the publisher of the paper, Mr. Saed Kubenea and a prominent journalist, Mr. Ndimara Tegambwage who has been providing consulting services to a two-year-old newspaper for at least seven months now.

The TIS officer, first arrested on second day after the incident and released almost immediately, only to be re-arrested weeks later, is an alleged architect of the assault in which Mr. Tegambwage sustained a deep cut by a machete on the nape well close to his right ear while Mr. Kubenea had his eyes spilled with unidentified chemical stuff which inflamed them and immediately impaired his sight.

Police, suspects vs TIS

The arrest of a TIS-officer has been a real issue within the police force. While authority at TIS would not wish to have the man’s identity revealed, other suspects are said to have been complaining about their mentor remaining free as they stayed behind bars at a Dar es Salaam remand prison.

Fear to reveal the identity of the alleged architect of the assault stems from Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete’s visit to victims at the Muhimbili National Hospital in the port city within hours of the attack. The biggest question intelligence officers have been asking themselves is, “How will the president feel if he knows the men he visited at the hospital were victims of the dirty work of one of his men?” TIS is a coercive institution enjoying big budgets for secretive operations under the president. It has often been accused of misinformation, deliberate distortion, and torture and excessive, unaccounted for expenditures funds most of it sunk into personal projects of luxurious nature.

And, it is yet to be known, who sent the TIS officer to attack a media outlet and journalists and how much was promised and, or received in advance for the execution of the task.

Unconfirmed reports have it that the planner of the attack was given cash money Tanzania shillings four (4) million as advance for seducing and recruiting would-be perpetrators to whom he introduced himself merely as Fredy a businessman.

Paramour caveat
Reports have it that “Fredy” told his recruits that he was working at Azania, a food production firm in Dar es Salaam and that he wanted them to help him “do away with Mr. Kubenea” who he alleged was a paramour to his wife. While police investigations have found there was one Fredy at Azania and took his statement, they have remained convinced it was not the one the driver of suspects identified, and therefore did not call for an identification parade. They insisted Fredy in their hands be produced in court which they did almost in defiance of TIS and at least over two months since the arrest of others.

Informants have told this investigator in Dar es Salaam that there were serious efforts to have bail for all suspects so that Fredy could meet “his men” and plan how to argue their case, their earlier statements at police stations notwithstanding. This is meant, so to speak, to clear TIS of the scam by completely dissociating Fredy with TIS and possibly clear the president of grave embarrassment. This however depends on whether the police and intelligence authorities have clinched an agreement. As of now all the alleged persons have been granted bail.

University student

It is understood that Fredy and his wife have since vacated the structure at which they were putting-up, at Tegeta, off Bagamoyo Road and are now staying with in-laws at Temeke. Further reports say the man has worked as an official of TIS in Temeke administrative district before his transfer to Kinonduni district, all in Dar es Salaam. His wife is said to be a nurse at a TIS dispensary at Kijitonyama in the city.

Other reports have it that the alleged architect of attack on an upcoming weekly is a registered student at the sociology department of the University of Dar es Salaam. However, it has not been possible to establish complicity of three other men whose names are frequently mentioned in interviews. These are Maneno, David and Mwamba whose other names and identity have not been established and the police remain silent on the suspects.

All said and done, and the police having established that there was no “love affair” involved in the attack on the media outlet, one question remains unanswered: Who must have paid Fredy for the assault?

Most observers in Dar es Salaam find the attack to be politically motivated. Mwanahalisi has, in the past 10 months, been known for its fraternity with truth and openness. It has been very hard on corruption, mismanagement and bad governance. It has openly named those caught in the web and has doggedly refused to back down. While it has not been the initiator of many down-to-earth expose, it has dug such stories beyond the ordinary, to the surprise of almost everyone and drugged them to the dead end.

That has earned the paper cumulative unfriendliness and bitter resentment, mostly from politicians whose positions and fame have been subjected to exposure and public scrutiny; and thereby eroded them irreparably. Sources suggest that that group could be central to enmity and consequent mentoring of attacks on media and its personnel.

Caught in “crossfire”

One source in Dar es Salaam wanted me to believe that Mr. Tegambwage was “probably not the target as he does not own the paper but goes there on an on-and-off-basis as consultant as he does with other media outlets.” But he quickly added, “That man is gifted; his style of writing is indeed compelling; his brilliant arguments send out messages that percolates both the bones and brains. Some people may not wish to see him plant seeds of defiance’ as he has contact with many media houses.”

Mr. Ndimara Tegambwage of Centre for Democratic and Strategic Management (IDEA) is also media consultant at a number of media outlets in the country and member of International Press Institute (IPI), a global forum of executive editors.

Distant sources suggest that the attack on Mwanahalisi was planned in a “kind of network” that went beyond the city of Dar es Salaam. Intimidatory statements made public by Mr. Kubenea at a press conference in Dar es Salaam, according to press reports, have been made by persons from all over the country, possibly orchestrated to make life difficult for the publisher of Mwanahalisi and his staff.

A good number of “big” politicians have so far been linked to the attack. Journalists in the port city say it is too early to make public names of those mentioned behind the curtain until the case starts and lawyers dig deep into statements made by Fredy and other suspects. But sources say Fredy hails from the same area as that of one politician’s wife; and were recruited at a meeting held at a bar owned by brother in law of the politician at a suburban bar in Dar es Salaam.

Unavoidable embarrassment

The recruitment of a TIS officer into a scum of this nature has a lot to tell on how the secret services of the organ under the president can be misused. And lives of the two victims of attack, and any other vocal journalists, remain in peril.

However, it requires pressure both internal and external to expose the role of TIS in the attack of a media outlet. However, the embarrassment of the president remains unavoidable. Proceedings in court can now provide the best forum at which exposure could be done without stint. Will the police be bold enough to identify the TIS official? What about the political big gun that recruited him: Will he let his agent be exposed, and at his detriment?

– Reports from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


Why should heads of state collapse in public?

AS a norm, heads of state never allow themselves to collapse or fall down in public, because it is a sign of weakness. But in the last few months, two of them – one in Europe, another in Africa – have been a rare exception.

 President Nicolas Sarkozy of France collapsed when jogging in late July this year, causing serious security concerns and embarrasment to the French public and government, which issued a statement citing fatigue linked to a large workload. This week, on the first Sunday of October 2009, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete, followed suit.

He collapsed and cut short his speech to thousands of people attending the African Inland Church (AIC) Centenary Jubilee celebrations at the CCM Kirumba Stadium in Mwanza City, on the shores of Africa’s largest lake, Victoria. Security people rushed him into a private room where he was quickly attended to, given a brief rest, then released to join panicking bishops and other dignitaries on the stage, as the crowd quietly observed one of the rarest happenings, and others silently prayed for his quick recovery.

When he was finally seated, he was quick to comment: “it’s my fault; my aides advised me to rest after a long trip and busy schedule but I ignored them. Next time I will listen to what they tell me.” But the damage was done and questions raised about his health stability and the seriousness of his assistants in managing his official and personal undertakings without risking national panic and chaos.

Although the State House Directorate of Comunications issued a quick statement citing the president’s fatigue after a long trip from the US and a heavy workload; and the President’s Personal Office promised looking into rescheduling his programme to give him a breathing space, questions about his medical fitness remained unanswered. This was Kikwete’s third collapse in public, in 12 years.

Once, as minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, he collapsed at Brussels airport on his way to Cuba. He was hospitalised for eight hours before he regained strenghth to continue with his trip.

As a presidential candidate in 2005, he collapsed on stage one day before the polling day as he gave his last speech at a public rally in Jangwani grounds, in Dar es Salaam City, in front of the media, the crowd and dignitaries including former presidents Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Benjamin Mkapa. It was a shocking event, as he fell down from the stage, and security people rushed him to a military hospital in Dar es Salaam.

When he recovered later, he spoke to the media citing campaign fatigue. He added that he had spent the whole day fasting. Much as many people felt sympathetic for him, the explanation was not strong enough to dispel public fears and queries about the soundness of his health. Again, it was not clear why his assistants would let him fast on such a busy day – although shortly before he fell down, he had been sipping water as he addressed the rally.

One understands that on all occasions, he must have been the most affected and embarrassed individual; but it is obvious neither he nor his assistants learnt any lesson. Yes, the president has had a long trip to the US, then back to Tanzania where he officiated at the 55th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in Arusha, before going to Mwanza.

But this is not enough explanation in a country where most of his people work longer hours and harder than he does; they sleep fewer hours, eat a less-balanced diet once a day, earn below one dollar a day, face the risk of diseases and hunger throughout the year; and yet they manage to stay firm and going. Given the baby-like previledges he enjoys as president, with all material and human facilities surrounding him, he should be last person to cite fatigue as an excuse for collapsing in public.

After all, why should tax payers’ money be spent on the president’s aides who do not do their job properly? And why shouldn’t someone take responsibility for this failure? But most importantly, doesn’t the president’s office think the public need to know the state of their president’s health, especially now that he has repeatedly collapsed and fallen down before their very eyes?

Thanks to public pressure, the president’s personal medical practitioner, Dr. Peter Mfisi, has ultimately given an official statement insisting the president has no serious medical problem – which he cannot reveal anyway, even if it existed – but we still need to read between the lines revelations that the president has constantly been troubled by a cervical spinal complication and an increase in levels of blood.

Interestingly, one sentence stands out in Dr. Mfisi’s statement: “we have learnt a lesson, and we pledge to be more careful…”  One hopes it is not a politically driven statement. 

But the only way for us to take the president’s people seriously, if they have truly learnt a lesson, is if they will never again embarrass the president by letting him collapse in public. Not for the fourth time.