A very dark cloud forms over Tanzania. The country is increasingly unsafe … for Tanzanians. Kidnappings, extra-judicial interrogations and intimidations against opponents of the regime increase day by day.
Last week a popular Tanzanian rapper, Roma Mkatoliki, was kidnapped. Social media went bonkers. Fellow rappers produced a video that by this morning almost 100,000 people had watched on YouTube. The government of Tanzanian can ignore this no longer.
The main Tanzania media was not quick to report news about the kidnapping, or for any of the other kidnappings for that matter. News is mostly disseminated by social media, radio stations and secondary media outlets.
Even news of the widely popular rapper’s kidnapping lingered until the social media outcry erupted in Parliament, and then only in very qualified ways that tended to highlight government denials of involvement. Only private social media has reported the most important fact: all those kidnapped are vocal opponents of the current regime.
Roma Mkatoliki is the stage name for Ibrahim Mussa. Simply translated Roma Mkatoliki means Roman Catholic, and the contrast the Muslim artist has made with his given name reflects the often contentious and political nature of Tanzanian Bongo Flava music, an uniquely Tanzanian rap-cum-hip-hop style that puts no limits on subject matter.
After released from his kidnapping last week Roma held a news conference that was not widely attended by the main Tanzania media. Only the Voice of America – Swahili edition carried part of it live. (Significantly, no English addition of VOA has any news whatever about Mkotaliki.) Click here to listen to the conference which the rapper published himself to his Facebook. You don’t have to understand Swahili to grasp the horror this kid was put through, nor to develop your admiration for his courage.
Mkatoliki said he was abducted, a headcap placed over him as he was whisked away in a speedy car. Not far from where he was actually abducted the car stopped and he was pulled out of the vehicle. He was then beaten before being questioned about his loyalty to the Tanzanian government. Pointed references were made to iconic details about his family.
Mkatoliki is the first public figure who might conceivably draw enough international attention to get this horrible news out. He is hardly the first to be kidnapped.
A vocal opposition member of Parliament from Kigoma, Zitto Kabwe, has repeatedly tried to bring up the matter of kidnappings in Parliament. When he prevails against the Speaker trying to shut him up, then the established news outlets in Tanzania feel safe enough to report the details:
“I can testify that (the abductors) … were from the presidential security unit,” Kabwe told Parliament recently. At that point a government Minister stood up and had Kabwe ruled out of order, reminding him that discussing national security issues in public was treason. That prompted a member of the ruling party, Hussein Bashe:
“I am a CCM MP!” Bashe retorted, reminding the minister that he, too, had been arrested and humiliated even though he’s a member of the ruling party. “And [I] will tell the truth forever! You can suspend me from the party if you wish!”
Note that President John Magufuli moved Parliament last year to the remote interior of the country, where communications and travel is difficult from any of the country’s main cities.
If there’s a silver lining to rapper Roma Mkatoliki’s kidnapping, it’s that more people and more politicians are coming clean about the situation.
Several days after the rapper’s uncovered news conference went viral on social media, a number of MPs began giving press interviews about their own or close associate’s kidnappings. The Parliamentary session last Thursday turned into mayhem as politicians and government leaders screamed at one another. Silence descended when the politicians were reminded that the government had sent an important Minister to Mkatoliki’s press conference.
I wonder why.
I have to admit that Magufuli’s heavy hand until now didn’t bother me as much as it should have. Tanzanian politics has been so intensely corrupt for so long, that virtually every aspect of Tanzanian life is governed by bribes. This has been the case for so long that your everyday citizen doesn’t even think of it as a moral issue.
Magufuli came in with a great broom and started to sweep away without any regard for existing laws or policies. He moved the politicians and many officials far away from him into the interior then started micromanaging everything. What we could see, including uncovering and publicizing wanton corruption, was encouraging.
Of course this is how many dictators start. It’s the entire justification for “states of emergencies” whether in Jerusalem, Egypt or France. The executive claims that the threats are so severe, only unusual executive actions can mount a viable defense.
But I guess was wrong. Transgressing human rights with these patently insidious kidnappings seems to me a straightforward test of the libertarian fibers of Tanzanian society. If they prove as weak as they have so far, Magufuli Vader will soon throw his broom into the nearest black hole.