Tanzania's Parliament Turns Into a Boxing Ring

 Joseph (Sugu) Mbilinyi resisting

Honorable Joseph (Sugu) Mbilinyi resisting attempts by security officers to remove him from Parliament last week. Photo Courtesy of Jamii Forums.

Over the last few years, Tanzania's parliament has become fodder for fantastic theatrics. Random eruptions of arguments followed by mass walkouts, usually by the opposition, has turned parliamentary sessions into must-watch television.

In April 2011, for example, Ezekiel Wenje, a member of parliament (MP) from the leading opposition party Chadema, drew the ire of the Speaker Anna Makinda with his comment that certain government positions are selected via the ‘dark market’. Ruling party MPs from Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) protested and demanded that Wenje retract his statement. He refused, upon which a shouting match broke out.

As Tanzanian blogger Subi wrote at the time, heard within this exchange was the phrase, “tufunge mlango tupigane” (“let's close the doors and fight”).

In the end it never came to that, as Wenje took back his statement, and things proceeded with relative calm. But there were a few other close calls. In February 2013, live coverage of a session had to be suspended because things became too heated. And then there was the incident five months ago, when a Chadema MP was thrown out of the chamber for interrupting a colleague of his from CCM, during a debate on the budget.

That same week, Bunge, as Tanzania's parliament is colloquially known, witnessed something that will forever live in infamy. Honorable Peter Serukamba, a CCM MP, cursed out his colleagues after they booed him as he stood up to speak. Via Bongo5.com,

Serukamba's ‘f**k you’ moment prompted one commenter, a voter from his constituency, identifying himself as Dr Mvano Khalidi, to apologize on Facebook for his MP's conduct:

Poleni sana waheshimiwa wabunge kwa kutukanwa ila tunaomba rathi kwa niaba ya wana kigoma wote kwa kosa alilolifanya mbunge wetu kutoka kigoma ulimi ulitereza jumani hayakuwa makusudio yake kusema vile mimi kuma mzalendo wa mkoa wangu.

My apologies honorable members of parliament for the insult thrown at you, we ask your forgiveness on behalf of everyone from Kigoma, for the error committed by our MP from Kigoma his tongue slipped and he did not intended to say what he said, I am a patriot for my region.

On Thursday, 5 September, 2013, matters got even farther out of hand. An opposition MP Joseph Mbilinyi of Chadema found himself embroiled in a physical altercation with parliamentary security officers that surprised and shocked in equal measure.

The whole thing began after Mbilinyi, a pioneer hip hop artist turned politician, and his colleagues from his party refused to abide by an order to leave the House issued by Deputy Speaker Job Ndugai.

Things came to a head after Freeman Mbowe, the leader of the opposition in parliament, refused to sit down after being asked to do so by Ndugai. From newspaper The Citizen:

Mr Ndugai ordered that the Chadema supremo be kicked out for disregarding his orders to sit down. Mr Mbowe was protesting the move by the Deputy Speaker to bar him from moving a motion to block continuation of the debate on the Bill for Amendment of the Constitutional Review Act 2013.

Chaos soon ensued on the floor as other opposition MPs rushed to form a human shield around Mr Mbowe to prevent the security men from throwing him out.

On the popular platform Jamii Forums, photos showing Mbilinyi resisting attempts by officers to remove him from the House floor generated considerable debate about the nature of politics in Tanzania. One commenter by the name of “Stoudemire” posed this question:

Namna hii kweli tuwape vijana nchi kweli? Waacheni wazee wasinzie bungeni tu inatosha!

With this attitude, should we give the country to young people? [Mbilinyi is one of the youngest MP] Our elders are good enough even if they doze off in Parliament!

Another contributor by the name of Tata suggested that the whole incident pointed to the inability by Deputy Speaker Ndugai to control the session. Tata also implied that the behaviour by MP Mbilinyi may have been because he was under the influence:

Amenifurahisha huyu Naibu Spika kwa kudai ni aibu ya kiongozi wa upinzani kuongoza wapinzani kutoka nje wakati kimsingi hii ni aibu yake kwa kushindwa ku-manage kikao…la hii move ya mwisho ya huyu mheshimiwa Sugu imeniacha hoi kwa kicheko. Inaonekana jamaa ama alikuwa amepata “chang'aa” au alikuwa amevuta haya masigara yanayopendwa na vijana.

The Deputy Speaker makes me laugh when he suggests that it is shameful for the leader of the opposition to instruct other opposition members to leave the chamber, when in fact it is a shame for him to be unable to control the session. But this move by Honorable Sugu [Mbilinyi] has left me dead with laughter. It seems like he was drunk on something or may have smoked these cigarettes preferred by the youth.

On Twitter, Sajjad Fazel (@SajjadF) argued that the incident may have undermined Chadema's credibility:

What Hon. Joseph Mbilinyi has done gives a really negative image of Chadema and Tanzanians as a whole.

Over on the blogosphere, a video clip from the television channel ITV made the rounds, immortalizing the incident for eternity. Via GongaMx:

In her 2011 post, Subi had warned:

Huenda…Bunge la Tanzania lingeingia kwenye orodha ya viroja vya Wabunge wa Mabunge (kama haya, bofya hapa utizame vidoe Youtube) ya nchi mbalimbali Duniani  kupandwa jazba kiasi cha kujikuta (pasina kufahamu) wanageuza kumbi za Bunge kuwa viwanja vya ‘ndondi’

If it continues, Tanzania's parliament will reach a stage where it will make it into a list of those parliaments (like these ones in this link on YouTube) in some parts of the world where passions rise so high as to turn Parliament into a boxing ring.

With this latest incident, Subi has proven to be an accurate oracle.

UPDATE: In this story of the goings on in Tanzania's parliament, an incident that took place in 2008 is worth including. Here is the Mikocheni Report blogger Elsie Eyakuze's recounting of it:

The former Attorney General, former Minister of Infrastructure, currently beleaguered owner of a few billion ‘vijisenti’ [little cents]. Mr. Andrew Chenge was caught on CCTV a few nights ago doing something very fishy inside Parliament. Mheshimiwa [the right honorable] was filmed entering the building after hours in the company of a Parliament staff member, and sprinkling an unknown substance on every all the MPs’ seats. He spent an especially long time hovering around the Speaker's chair. I am guessing it was not linen freshening spray.

At the time, Chenge was under investigation by the British government's Serious Fraud Office for corruption involving the British arms manufacturer BAE.

Four years later, after Tanzania's Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau ‘failed’ to discover evidence of wrongdoing, the Director of Public Prosecution dropped the charges.

That day in parliament, however, it was unclear what, exactly, Chenge was doing. But for Ms. Eyakuze it seemed that the former Attorney General had resorted to the dark arts to get himself out of trouble:

Your goat, Mr. Chenge, is roasted. Your chickens have come home and they are roosting. You are reaping what you sowed, et cetera. What you have left in the public eye at this point is a tiny little modicum of dignity, that stuff that we so willingly accord to old men with money and pot-bellies. I suggest you hold on to it with both hands. Sneaking around ju-juing your fellow MPs isn't the way to do it.

Chenge is still in parliament and currently serves as the Chairman of the powerful Parliamentary Budget Committee.


  • RSP

    At least they are honest with their emotions– in America the politics demand that everyone says not what they feel but what will /sound good on AIR/ on line

  • gpaul2110

    I thought parliament is supposed to be a house of dignity and pride where politicians trade verbal blows with upper cuts and left hooks in debating points of agreements and disagreements in their way of shaping the government issues and not practically physically. Little did I realise that some members could take it this far and being actually physical about it. Where is the pride for these grown ups. Being under the influence is totally out of the question when it comes to parliament where important decisions are made and deliberated by all parties.

    Michael Jones in one of his articles wrote about the West African aristocrat Leopold Donchield Zu Loene II and his arguments and vision for Africa and West Africa considering the system called constitutional monarchy. As he puts it, constitutional monarchy is a system that has a role of making sure that the monarch supports any democratically elected government and its aim is bring back the sense of dignity, symbolism, unity, peace, political tolerance, economic development to the nation. Maybe it is about time that such ideas are debated throughout the African continent as there are more benefits than disadvantages with constitutional monarchy when looking at it with open mind. It has been working successfully in other developed nations like Britain, Qatar and Monaco etc, it can also work in Africa.

  • […] the years, the raucous debate in Bunge, as parliament is known in Tanzania, has led to the uncovering of high profile scandals, […]

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