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Swahili Blogosphere: Blogging against Freedom of Information Bill, African unity, and How many other dictators are out there?

The extraordinary summit of the Southern African Development Community leaders in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania is over, but the debate over the Zimbabwe's government's crackdown on opposition still lingers on. As usual, when Zimbabwe's political crisis dominates news headlines so do the opposing views of the situation.

What do Swahili bloggers and their readers have to say about Zimbabwe?, Photoblogger Muhidin Issa Michuzi posts photos of the Southern Africa leaders as they arrive in Dar Es Salaam for the summit. Mugabe's photo leads to a heated debate about Mugabe's tactics of suppressing the oppostion, his portrayal in the media and Zimbabwe's land redistribution program.

One reader condemns Mugabe's dictatorial tactics:

Hata mie nakuunga mkono kuwa Mugabe anachemsha kwa kumdunda Morgan Tsvangarai na wapinzani wengine. Inaonekana anaendesha ubabe na kutoa “news” kwa mataifa ya magharibi.
Swala la Mashamba-ni haki kuyagawana kwa walio wengi sio kuwaachia walowezi wachache. Tatizo linakuja kama unachukua mashamba na kugawia watu ambao hujawatayarisha kuyatumia kikamilifu. Tunaambiwa kuwa sasa hivi Zimbabwe kuna njaa sana kutokana na hili zoezi-sijui kama ni kweli au ni propaganda za BBC na vyombo vya habari vya magharibi.
Mie siungi mkono viongozi kukaa sana madarakani-nchi yeyote duniani. Naipongeza Tanzania kwa kuweka katiba inayolinda kipindi ambacho mtu anaweza kuwa raisi (miaka kumi inatosha!). Huyu Mugabe amekaa mno bwana-halafu amezeeka. Mbona mwenzie Mandela alikaa kidogo akaachia ngazi?? Ukomavu wa kisiasa lazima uandamane na kung'atuka kutoka madarakani katika muda muafaka.

I concur that Mugabe (Zimbabwe's police) has done wrong by beating up Morgan Tsvangarai and other opposition activists. Concerning the land redistribution program – it is the right thing to redistribute the land to the majority. But the problem is those who were given the land are not ready for production. We are told that there is food shortage in Zimbabwe due to land redistribution.
And lastly, I do not support the idea of leaders staying in power for a long time. I congratulate Tanzania for upholding the constitution with a maximum of only two terms (ten years limit) for presidency. Mugabe has stayed in power for too long, after all he is too old. Why do you think Mandela stayed in power for a short period of time? Political maturity must go hand in hand with stepping down at the right time.

Other readers question the mainstream media overwhelming focus on Zimbabwe compared to other African crises:

Juzi bagamoyo watanzania wamenyang'anywa mashamba yao na serikali, na mpaka polisi wa ghasia FFU wakaletwa kuzuia ghasia, jee BBC na CNN wameonyesha?

Recently, the government confiscated people's farms and riot police were deployed to stop any possible riots in Bagamoyo Tanzania. Did the BBC or CNN cover the incident?

Still on Zimbabwe Maggid Mjengwa posts an article, “Magwiji wa Demokrasia au chui” (Leaders of democracy or leopards in sheep's clothing?), by a Tanzanian political analyst, Nizar Visram, while Jeff Msangi questions the definition of a dictator and wonders if Robert Mugabe is the only one:

Hivi Mugabe ni dikteta? Mbona kachaguliwa kwa kupitia sanduku la kura? Mambo yanayoendelea nchini Zimbabwe hayapendezi hata kidogo.Lakini swali kubwa ni je yanatendeka Zimbabwe peke yake? Chaguzi zinazosemekana kutokuwa huru zinatokea Zimbabwe peke yake? Kwani hatukumbuki jinsi George Bush alivyoingia madarakani? Makamu wa raisi wa Bill Clinton, Al Gore siku hizi akijitambulisha anasema “I am Al Gore,I used to be the next president of the United States”, unadhani anatania? … Ni nchi ngapi duniani zinazokandamiza upinzani kwa kutumia nguvu za dola za kila aina? Hivi ni nchi ngapi duniani zinazokandamiza uhuru wa kujielezea?

Is Mugabe really a dictator? Didn't he become a president through the ballot box? What is happening in Zimbabwe is completely horrible, but the big question is: Is it only happening in Zimbabwe? Do rigged and unfair elections only take place in Zimbabwe? How was George Bush elected? These days, when Bill Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, introduces himself, he says, “I am Al Gore, I used to be the next president of the United States.” Do you think he is joking? How many countries suppress the opposition by the use of force? How many countries suppress freedom of opinion?

A comment in his blog suggests that Zimbabwe's government is not a dictatorship and argues that political crisis in Zanzibar is even worse:

Mugabe ana mapungufu fulani katika jinsi anavyotatua matatizo ya sasa nchini Zimbabwe,hata hivyo hayuko karibu kabisa na udikteta.tatizo lilopo duniani ni kwamba katika ngazi ya kimataifa kuna anarchy na mataifa fulani yanatumia mwanya huu kujinyakulia mamlaka ya kuamua mambo katika ngazi ya kimataifa.hapo ndio uwaita wale wanaofanya maamuzi kinyume na matakwa majina mbalimbali ya ajabu ajabu ili tu kuvuta hisia za watu waungane nao katika kuwashinikiza juu masuala mbalimbali.ninashangazwa sana jinsi viongozi wa upinzani zimbabwe wanavyolichukulia swala zima!mataifa ya magharibi hayapiganii haki bali maslahi yao, ingekuwa wanapigania haki wangeweza kuona kuwa tatizo la kisiasa zanzibar ni kubwa zaidi ya ghasia za zimbabwe, nani amewahi kuzungumzia zanzibar kwenye vikao vya kimataifa? wanaishia kutoa tamko tu kuwa hawakuridhishwa na jinsi uchaguzi ulivyofanyika!

There are undemocratic tendencies in Mugabe's approach in solving Zimbabwe's current problems. But Mugabe's regime is not anywhere close to a dictatorship, the problem is that there is some kind of anarchy in international politics whereby some countries have bestowed upon themselves the authority to decide everything including giving weird names to all those who act contrary to their dictates. All this name-calling is aimed at appealing to people's emotions so as galvanise support for their cause. Western powers are not fighting for justice but only for their interests. If they were fighting for justice then they should have realised that Zanzibar's political situation was much bigger than Zimbabwe's. Have you ever heard them talking about Zanzibar political crisis?

Reflection on African unity on the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome

As the European Union commemorates its 50th anniversary, Simon Kitururu reflects on African unity. He encourages Africans not to give up on that dream:

Wakati wa Ulaya(EU) wanasherehekea miaka 50 tokea Triti ya Rome kupigwa sahihi, mimi nashindwa kujizui kuwakumbuka akina Kwame Nkurumah ambao nao tokea mbali waliwaza na kujaribu kuunganisha bara la Afrika. Waulaya imepita miaka hamsini angalibado wanajenga himaya yao. Tukikumbuka hawa ndio waliokuwa na ambao wamechangia sana kutugawa Waafrika mpaka leo hii bado wanajenga muungano wao. Hivyo naamini kabisa inawezekana kuwa Afrika pamoja nayote yatukabiliyo ni jambo zuri tu tumefanikiwa angalau kulitunza wazo la muungano wetu. Mimi naamini sisi tunahitaji sana kuungana hata kama si kwa staili ya hawa wa Ulaya. Tunahitaji kuungana ili kusaidiana kuokoa vizazi vyetu vya watu weusi vijavyo kunyanyasika hapa duniani.

While European Union celebrates the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, I cannot help but remember people like Kwame Nkrumah who had the vision of uniting Africa. After 50 years Europeans are still building their union. We should remember some European powers played a role in dividing Africa, but those very same powers are working at uniting Europe to this day. It is a noble thing that we have kept the dream of a united Africa alive regardless of all the barriers we have encountered. We need African unity even if not in the European Union Model. We need to unite.

Freedom of Information Bill: Muzzling the press?

The proposed Freedom of Information Bill 2007 in Tanzania has received constant criticism from media stakeholders. The bill, among other things, classifies all cabinet papers and information as secret state documents. Ramadhan Msangi raises the question, which is in every media stakeholder's mind: Will the Tanzania parliament pass the draft Freedom of Information bill as it is or will it take into consideration the alternative draft bill prepared by the media stakeholders?

According to Msangi, who has consistently scrutinised the government's draft bill since early January, the bill, if endorsed as it is, will undermine press freedom and deny the public the right to get information. He pinpoints some of the provisions hostile to the freedom of information:

‘Muswada unampa Waziri mamlaka ya kuchagua sura au vifungu ambavyo anataka vitumike kwa wakati fulani; Kipengele cha usiri katika muswada huu kinavunja kanuni za utawala bora kuruhusu serikali na taasisi zake kutotoa habari bila vikwazo, mfano shughuli za baraza la mawaziri na michakato ya utungaji sera; Muswada unampa Waziri mamlaka ya kuzuia habari kwa kisingizio cha kuathiri maslahi ya umma, ulinzi na usalama wa taifa bila kuweka bayana mambo hayo; Unazuia habari muhimu za maendeleo ya jamii, sanjari Na zile za utawala mbovu na ulaji wa fedha za wananchi kinyume na makusudo ya wanaotozwa kodi; Utaratibu unaotamkwa hapa haumsaidii, kumhakikishia Na kumlinda mwananchi wa kawaida katika kupata taarifa; Muswada huu haumjali mwananchi wa kawaida kama mdau na sehemu muhimu ya habari; Muswada huu unakataza kuandikwa kwa habari zozote zenye kuhusiana na biashara za kimataifa.’

The proposed bill authorises the minister to choose and use certain provisions as suits the government at different times; the secrecy clause goes against principles of good governance. For example, policy formulation processes, cabinet papers and information are classified as secret documents; the bill gives the minister the power to block information for “the public interest” without specifying what ‘public interests’ means; it will block critical information on social development; it denies the public the right to freedom of information; it does not pay due attention to ordinary citizens as important media stakeholders; and above all it forbids the press to write information about Tanzania's international trade.

This is all from Swahili blogosphere. Kwaheri.

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