Over the last decade, Tanzania’s media space has opened up considerably, which explains why Freedom House describes the country’s press status as being “partly free.” From mostly government and ruling party run media houses, the country has evolved to possess one of the most vibrant and diverse media environments on the continent.

However, recent actions by the Kikwete administration are threatening to roll back years of progress on press freedoms.

It began with the passage in parliament last week of the Statistics Act that analysts say is in danger of criminalizing journalism.

The act has made it illegal for anyone to publish or communicate statistics unauthorized by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), a government body. According to the new law, Tanzanian journalists using data from government sources before they were made public or information unapproved by NBS could spend up to 12 months in jail.

On the regulatory front, this past weekend the government pulled two bills from parliamentary debate that it claims claimed will deepen press freedoms in the country. While media advocacy groups argue that the administration is rushing through the legislation without consulting enough relevant stakeholders or allowing for enough open debate on their contents, the laws would’ve gone a long way towards improving on the status quo.

The current environment is deeply unfriendly to a flourishing free press. While the constitution guarantees freedom of speech, certain laws put significant limitations on an open media. The National Security Act makes it a criminal offense to reveal information the government deems a “classified matter.” Meanwhile, the Newspaper Registration Act gives the Minister of Information the authority to ban a publication if they are of the opinion that the decision is in the “interest of peace and good order” to do so.

Recently, the government banned the Kenyan-based regional newspaper the East African for “circulating in the country without being properly registered, contrary to section 6 of the Newspaper Act number 3 of 1976.” The decision is rather odd, considering that the paper has been publishing in the country for two decades. The real reason behind the ban may have something to do with a cartoon published in the paper that a government spokesman said had “demonstrated bad taste and disrespect to the person and office of the president.”

Reacting to the news, a U.S State Department official told the paper that the incident underscores the need for Tanzania to update its media laws, something that it is still struggling to do.

Meanwhile, social media and the blogosphere, have become an important avenue of public discourse in the country. But there are fears that a new cyber crimes act could end up limiting speech and the free spread of information online.


CCM and Political Debates

A lot of the chatter among the political class recently has focused on CCM’s refusal to take part in any public debates during this general election campaign. In The Citizen on Sunday this past weekend, Evarist Kagaruki writes:

CCM’s rejection of these debates calls into question its democratic credentials. The ignominious move by the party’s Secretary General Yusuf Makamba to bar all the party’s parliamentary candidates form taking part in the debates organised by the state broadcaster TBC1 (see Mwananchi of September 9, 2010) leaves a lot to be desired. It brings to the fore the grim fact that the grand party has not shed off some its old habits…reminiscent of those infamous rigid controls of the one-party dictatorship.’

Elsewhere, The Mikocheni Reporter is even more unsparing in her analysis:

It may be that this decision is based on CCM’s belief that it will win no matter what, that the opposition poses a negligible threat, and that voters are content to elect a party that does not respect their intellect. The implicit message is that CCM don’t have to work for our vote, they just assume we’ll give it to them. What a brave notion. Alternatively, the gag order is an act of sheer desperation. Maybe the Party believes that it will be used to mop the floor clean if it engages with the opposition and with voters in policy debates. If that’s the case, I would have to encourage the Party to gird its loins. Better prove to be a fool in public than give off the pungent odor of political cowardice.

While I agree with both Mr. Kagaruki and TMR on the larger point, the nontransparent nature of this approach, I am nevertheless going to offer an alternative perspective on what is happening here. I think it is very naive to believe that political parties anywhere think of elections in democratic terms. Yes, they may wax lyrical about the principles of openness and transparency but fundamentally they all want to win. Viewed in that context, CCM’s decision has nothing to do with them being undemocratic. Rather it is an act of political calculation that they believe will guarantee them a huge victory in October. And I am going to say something that goes against every bit of the new established orthodoxy: I think it is a brilliant piece of public relations strategy.

Let me explain why I believe that.

One of the most difficult things to do during political campaigns is to, first, establish a clear and coherent narrative about your agenda and second, to go out there and consistently articulate that narrative. All sorts of things can happen to throw you off course. From pesky reporters asking uncomfortable questions you want to avoid to opponents trying to score cheap political points off you,  all this can unsettle a campaign’s imperative to control its message. And therein lies the the point: by foregoing the debates, CCM is essentially able to control what it says. Furthermore, President Kikwete is already the front-runner incumbent. Why should he elevate the stature of his opponents by engaging with them? (Ditto CCM parliamentary candidates). The power of incumbency allows him to command huge audiences at campaign rallies where he is able to talk to the electorate directly and on his own terms without the interruption and noise of his opponents.  Up until now, he has risen above their ranting and raving (and if you’ve been watching any of the TBC1 parliamentary debates, this is exactly what has been happening) while projecting the gravitas of a President  in complete control of his message. You can criticize this approach’s supposedly undemocratic connotation. But it is simplistic to suggest that it is borne out of incompetence or political cowardice. It is a strategy that is rooted in the desire to win.

(Photo: President Jakaya Kikwete speaking at a campaign rally in Kagera in August, 2010. By JakayaKikwete2010)

In the Papers: The Campaign Gets Personal

The 2010 general election campaign turned nasty on Thursday after Chadema’s presidential candidate Dr. Willibroad Slaa made the unusual decision of attacking one of his opponent’s wife. At a campaign rally in Babati, a small city in Manyara, Dr. Slaa accused President Kikwete’s wife, Salma, of corruption and the misusing of public funds:

The President’s wife is not the President. Mama Salma is going around the country [campaigning for her husband] using government vehicles; she is being received by regional [sic] and district commissioners, and this is against protocol. She is using State House money out of procedures and this is another form of grand corruption…In my trips in this region I have been told that she is moving with a 20-car entourage and each car is worth Sh200 million, fuelled by government money. This is grand corruption.’

Union versus Zanzibar sovereignty: The Guardian is leading with a story today about an apparent deadlock over operating charters for new private universities in Zanzibar due to some ‘legal contradictions’ involving the mainland and the Isles. Zanzibar’ Education and Vocational Training Minister Ali Suleiman explained to the paper his government’s reasoning behind the hold of:,

‘We know that President Kikwete handed over university charters to several universities last month but Zanzibar’s universities were not there to receive theirs because, as far as we are concerned, the President of Zanzibar is the one supposed to present certificates of university charters to Zanzibar universities…It is true the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania states that higher education in the country is a Union matter. However, operating charters for universities based in Zanzibar are supposed to be handed over by the President of Zanzibar,” he said.

Is democracy still alive? The Daily News is reporting that CUF has decided against fielding a parliamentary candidate for the Muleba seat in Kagera and thrown its support to the CCM candidate Prof. Anna Tibaijuka, the former UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN-Habitat. Responding to some critics who have attacked the move as undemocratic, CUF Director of Political Affairs Mr. Mbarala Maharagande said that his party respects people of [such] high profile like Prof. Tibaijuka, regardless of their political affiliation. He went on to say that,

‘Our chairman, Prof. Ibrahim Lipumba, who is vying for the union presidency has refused to field a candidate in this constituency as a sign of respect to Prof. Prof. Tibaijuka. [He] knows her as a serious academic and diplomat…If you will elect Prof. Lipumba as a president, he will make sure that prof. Tibaijuka is in his cabinet. Our chairman has already pledged to form a government of national unity.’

On Hiatus

Hello there. My apologies for being absent in the last few weeks. I have been traveling to places with little or no internet connection. But I promise, normal service will resume soon. Thank you for your patience.

Feelin’ the Beat: A Mixtape by Vanessa Mdee

One of the quirkiest personalities to have graced Bongo’s airwaves, Vanessa Mdee was born in Tanzania and grew up in France and the United States. This cosmopolitan sensibility has made her a singular figure in Bongo’s radiosphere. Every weekday evening, from 7 – 10pm, Ms. Mdee brings the Hip Hop panache of a New Yorker, the geeky sophistication of a Parisian and the street-smartness of an Arushan, to her prime time show on 102.6 Choice FM’s The HitList. Her self-belief and, one might say youthful hubris, inspired her, at 19, to win MTV VJ Search, drop out of law school and become one of the foremost presenters in the region for MTV, being involved in such high profile shows like ‘The Fix with Fix’, the MAMAs and Samba Fever: The Road to the Carnival in Brazil. At only 22, Ms. Mdee is armed with the confidence of a veteran. An astute student of music, she promises to transform Tanzania’s airwaves for years to come.

When did you fall in love with Hip Hop

I fell in love with Hip Hop when I first heard Michael Jackson have a guy rhyme on his song. I was…five years old and I remember, ‘Jam Jam/Here comes the man/Hot dam/The big boy stands,’ you know what I mean? It was a stupid rhyme…but I still have the video tape. My brother, who is a few years older than me, would rap to it. He’d have his hat turned back and he would rap to this, ‘Jam Jam/Here comes the man.’ And I was like, ‘what is that, you know?’ It was different. Michael Jackson had a high pitched voice, singing, and then you had this guy come on and rap. I was like, ‘damn! That sounds good.’ But, I don’t even know his name…Whoever did that rhyme, he is not necessarily the best rapper in the world, but he is my first introduction to a [Hip Hop] rhyme. So, therefore, I fell in love with Hip Hop when I first heard it. And ever since, it’s…become an acquired taste…This acquired taste has turned into my love for Kanye, my love for Jay…and their growth…It’s just that ability to put words together…to have them flow…All rappers are poets!

Her Top Five

Lauryn HillThe Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

You remember Lauryn from the Fugees? She was that girl who held her own with the guys. And you were like, ‘damn! Who is she?’ Lbougie! You know? And then she came out with her solo album. I was like, ‘this girl is talented.’ This is why. You could still hear LBougie in her music [but now] you could hear the passion, you could hear the growth…you could hear her vulnerability. And it was an all-rounded, greatly produced album. Because she wasn’t afraid to say the things that people didn’t want her to say […] She was seeing a man who was controversial, she spoke about love, she spoke about war, she spoke about the industry, she spoke about all these things that girls didn’t talk about. And you know, she wasn’t no Lil’ Kim. I love Kim and she also held her own when she was with…Junior M.A.F.I.A. But she lacked class…She felt like she had to have this whole X-rated [persona] to be cool. No! Lauryn was poetic. And, you know, every time I listen to that album. I feel her. I cry sometimes because it is so real. And it leads into my second favorite album…

Lauryn Hill – MTV Unplugged No. 2.0

This was just before she went a little kookoo. I remember my friend Sizwe, he is a VJ, asking Wyclef, ‘what’s going on?’ And ‘Clef turned to the camera and he said to everyone, ‘Please pray for Lauryn. Because she needs help. I’ve tried to reach out to her,’ and he starts speaking to the camera, he says, ‘if you are listening to this Lauryn, please pick up your phone and call me. You need help.’ He actually says she is bipolar and she needs help…I have these random rants on Twitter where I am like, ‘let’s find Lauryn!’  Because I miss her so much and she is super-talented…She is a great MC. So, yeah, MTV unplugged…Amazing!

Kanye West – College Dropout

There was that one song, ‘All Falls Down’ feat Syleena Johnson, it came out when I was in college. And the second verse goes, ‘she’s so self conscious/she has no idea what she’s doing in college…the concept of school seems so securrre,’ he speaks about everything that I was going through, you know? ‘That major that she majored in don’t make no money/But she won’t drop out, her parents will look at her funny’ I was there and I was like…’oh my God, he is talking about me!’ I was, like, ‘damn!'[…] I went out and bought the whole album and I listened to it. And you know what Kanye did for me? Kanye did what other artists weren’t doing for me at the time. Kanye was fearless, he still is. He was fearless but he is…such a creative genius. And it doesn’t take much listening, you know, he doesn’t try and put you in a place where, you are, like,  ‘Ohhh! I feel shattered’ [in a mock exhausted voice]. No! he is just talking about all these things that people are afraid to talk about and he is putting it out there. I don’t know…the emotion, he was just so hungry, he had just come out of an accident where he had almost lost his life, and he sampled music that he loved from back in the day…the production was stuupid. And Kanye had been in the game for a while but this was the breakout and he was like, ‘you know what? I am running with this.’ And this is what I think that everyone should do once…You know, opportunities, they don’t create themselves. You have to create them and Kanye created an opportunity for himself and he ran with it. Opportunity came in the form of a mishappening. He was in an accident. It almost took his life. But you know what, through the wire, he sang.

John MayerContinuum

John Mayer is a very soulful white boy. And he has some guts. And, okay, you’ve heard of the recent scandal, where he speaks about not wanting to ever associate himself with black women, which I am not too happy about. But John Mayer speaks to my heart. You know sometimes…I switch on my Ipod and, without thinking, I go straight to John Mayer’s Continuum, and click on song number…’Gravity‘ That’s just John Mayer. I want to listen to him and I can’t explain it. That’s what he does to me.

N.E.R.DIn Search Of

Super-dope album. Pharell Williams was a total geek…It sounds like one of those [records] him and his friends did when they were high. They were, like, ‘you know what? We have nothing to do. We are gonna make music. And if we strike a gold-mine, hey, we are so fucking lucky.’ And they did. And they will never make an album like that [again]. Never. Because they had no girls. They weren’t getting no pussy. So they were inspired. So they dreamt about having girls. And they dreamt about having money and cars and whatever…That’s what I love about ‘In Search Of.’ It’s such a fun album that [Pharell] decided to make with his best friends.

What are you listening to at the moment?

Janelle MonáeThe ArchAndroid You need to go out there listen to her stuff…She’s signed to Bad Boy, and you know what the fate of Bad Boy is, everyone who’s signed [to them] is either dropped or album record sales [makes a sound that resembles a plane nosediving] or Diddy just steals your shot. But the thing is, she does her own production. So she is an amazing 24 year old…who is from a small town. So I think she was forced to inspire herself…so she is light years ahead of all of us and her music is amazing.

I am also listening to Theophilus London who has an amazing mixtape that everyone should check it out. I am also listening to Wiz Khalifa who [also] has a mixtape out right now which everyone should cop. I am also listening to B.O.B, I absolutely love them! The Adventures of Bobby Ray, an amazing album. I also just got the Drake album. You know why Drake does so well? You wanna know? Drake does so well because he doesn’t wanna sound like anyone else. He wants to sound like him[self]. Everyone wants to sound like Drake now. Drake came with his own sound. And the thing about Drake is, he is not just an MC or a rapper, he is a musician. He is an artist in the sense that he can sing, he can rap…he can also hear things. He is a Musician. You know other rappers have one or the other. When you have both, you take over the world…Drake held it down because he…found his niche and he stuck to it. So this goes out to everyone: if you are an artist…or whatever it is that you do, find your niche and stick to it.

(Photo: Vanessa Mdee)