Tanzania’s Press and Its Discontents

The Tanzania Media Fund (TMF) has inaugarated its 2010 Fellowship program this month. The program aims to give young journalists an opportunity to go up country in rural Tanzania and report on stories of their own choice. This year’s fellows are Erick Kabendera, who will be based in Kigoma, Finnigan wa Siyembe (Lindi), Orton Kiishweko (Shinyanga), Salome Gregory (Morogoro).  Part of their assignments includes blogging. Here is the Lead Mentor, Jenerali Ulimwengu, explaining the concept behind it:

Finnigan (in Lindi), Salome (in Morogoro), Erick (in Kigoma) and Orton (in Shinyanga) will utilize this space to share with you their experiences as they carry out their investigations, affording you a peep into aspects of rural Tanzania.

Though each one of them has chosen a particular topic for which a grant has been made by TMF, they will not be constrained to write exclusively on those topics; rather, it is hoped that they will allow themselves the leisure of looking at rural lives and livelihoods in general, observing and recording what they come across in their work.

There have been some engaging pieces already, posted on the blog. One of the more interesting ones is this blistering attack from Erick directed against President Kikwete. To wit:

[A] survey shows that about 51 percent of children in Tanzania are mentally retarded because of malnutrition, a condition research has proved can reduce [the] ability to think and learn.

But I have since began wondering if there is a possibility that the Man in the high office is suffering from a similar condition. He could have acquired it in his childhood, and there is enough evidence to support this seemingly bizarre suggestion.

Last year, we were told he underwent brain examination at the Muhimbili National Hospital before he was sent abroad for further scrutiny. In fact, it was him who unburdened his heart before unwary reporters upon his return from abroad at the JK International Airport, saying that “I have had my brain tested and it is fine.”For heaven’s sake, why would you have your brain tested if there are no symptoms suggesting that your brain isn’t working correctly?

Wow indeed! Erick’s blog post and the tone of it, reminded me of a question I have been asking myself for a while: why is the Tanzanian press, particularly the print media, so reactionary. Now, I have yet to come up with a definitive answer but I do have a theory. For a long time in this country, newspapermen were very rarely allowed to write openly about issues of the day. All sorts of terrible things would happen: newspaper shutdowns, arrests, or in the case of Jenerali for example, have your citizenship questioned. In the the last few years, however, and thanks in large part to the President’s tolerance, the media have had unprecedented freedoms to write or say what they please. But, you keep an animal caged for that long, the day you release him, he is bound to lash at you. And when you read some newspapers in this country, that’s what they seem to be doing: lashing at the people in power. Unfortunately for us readers, this approach drowns out any enlightened debate. Like when you call a president mentally ill, I mean where does the conversation go after a statement like that?


3 thoughts on “Tanzania’s Press and Its Discontents

  1. Erick is a great younger writer/journalist as his past work in THE CITIZEN,THE INDEPENDENT has proved.Iam meant to believe he used that phrase about the leader, figuratively,in his aim to influence policy implementers to act tough on the current obscene levels of malnutrition countrywide.

    • Dear Orton,

      I agree with you about Mr. Kabendera’s credentials which no one was questioning. What I am trying to suggest is this: when you use inflammatory language to make your point, figurative or otherwise, often it can distract readers from the larger point you are trying to make. I am afraid this is where I feel Mr. Kabendera has erred.

      Thank you and I hope you keep visiting.



  2. Shurufu,
    I love and appreciate the tinge of ‘bigger picture’ objectivity in your comment’s tone.Please continue keeping us on our toes.It’s healthy for our growth.But it also indicates to us ,the position of provocative writing,to stimulate debate.

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