Something is seriously wrong with the government of Tanzania, in the way it regards and treats journalism. It is becoming increasingly bitter with critical journalists; and this time around, as we prepare for the 2010 general election, I have become a victim of the government’s threats.
A few days ago, I received secret information about the government’s sinister moves against me and other journalists who criticise the president. By the way, the president is vying for the second term in office this year. Five days after the warning, my office received a ‘confidential’ letter from the office of registar of newspapers. It was summoning the managing editor to report to the registrar’s office to discuss the government’s concerns about my article: “nani atajivunia rais mwoga, asiyejiamini?” which translates to “who could be proud of a timid, inconfident president?”. The article had been published in Tanzania Daima newspaper, on August 8, 2010 under my column Maswali Magumu (Tough Questions), addressing the president’s resistance to take part in a planned public debate for presidential candidates.
In the letter, the managing editor was stricly advised to ‘take me with him’ to the registrar’s office. There we were, on Monday August 16, 2010, at 2.00 pm. Unfortunately for them, my most immediate article published the previous day was even more disturbing to the government. Its headline went “JK bado hafikirii kushindwa?” meaning “Is JK still not considering defeat?” JK is an acronym for Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania’s president. The article was meant to encourage election losers to accept defeat gracefully; and it quoted JK saying, in 2005, that he wasn’t in the race for defeat.
So, these two articles became a subject of discussion in the registrar’s office. Around the table were the registrar, Clement Mshana, assistant registrar Raphael Hokororo, an officer with the Tanzania Information Office (MAELEZO), Jovina; my managing editor, Absalom Kibanda and myself.
What transpired in the course of this ‘discussion’ confirmed the secret information I had obtained from my sources about the government’s malicious moves to deal with listed critical newspapers and journalists before elections. It was clear, the registrar was acting on instructions from Ikulu (state house). But one statement struck me. One of these government officers, who thought I was too harsh and becoming a hero for criticising the president, told me: “Remember, all the heroes are dead…”
Need he say more?