A gun was pulled on Nape Nnauye today, in broad daylight in a car park full of journalists in Dar es Salaam, reportedly by a security officer. They were apparently trying to prevent him from speaking to reporters, trying to arrest him, or perhaps both.
Just this morning, Nape had been the Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sport, until President Magufuli added his name to a long and growing list of public officials fired by the President and his senior colleagues.
In the official letter announcing the “reshuffle” (see right), no reason was given. Indeed, Nape is not even mentioned in the letter, which merely announced the appointment of a new Minister. But no explanation was needed, this story has had Tanzania’s media and public gripped for several weeks.
Nevertheless, it’s worth going back a little, to recount how we reached this point. You could not make it up.
Since coming to office in late 2015, President Magufuli has made a point of being a no-nonsense leader who takes abuse of office very seriously. A lot of officials have been fired, some without much evidence of wrongdoing and often given little chance to defend themselves. This has proved popular with many people, on the grounds that a clean-out was needed.
A few weeks ago, the Regional Commissioner (RC) for Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda, himself a populist but divisive figure, took a leaf out of his boss’s book and launched a high profile campaign against drug users and dealers. Again, this campaign was not characterised by adherence to due process and the rule of law: he publicly announced lists of names, including some very high profile figures from the worlds of business and celebrity, demanding that they surrender themselves to the police. Many have been arrested and charged. Again, the campaign is popular with many people.
One of those on Makonda’s lists was “Bishop” Gwajima, a wealthy Pentecostal preacher with a flamboyant style. A close associate of 2015 opposition presidential candidate, Edward Lowassa, Gwajima quite literally did not go quietly: he brought along his church choir to sing outside the police station during his interview. He has also spoken out defiantly against Makonda’s campaign.
Late last week, rumours began circulating on social media that a local TV and radio station, Clouds, had a video in which a young lady accused Bishop Gwajima of being the father of her child, conceived in a room on church premises, explaining that he was too powerful and she had had no way of refusing him.
On Friday night, Paul Makonda burst into Clouds studios, accompanied by armed police, to demand that they broadcast the video. Clouds employees claim they were threatened with imprisonment if they refused.
At this point, the media switched tack. While some had previously supported Makonda’s anti-drug campaign and others had opposed his approach, this attack on one of their own brought them together in defence of media freedoms and against Makonda.
As Minister for Information, Nape Nnauye, who had already spoken publicly against Makonda’s lack of respect for due process, now got more closely involved. He jumped to Clouds’ defence, forming a probe committee to look into what happened.
Meanwhile, one conspicuous figure did not make this switch. At an unrelated event on Tuesday, and in the presence of World Bank President Jim Kim, President Magufuli gave his backing to Makonda: “ignore such gossips and get along with your tasks,” he advised the RC. “I was elected president of this country and no one should lecture me on whom to appoint or sack.”
No longer at Ease! pic.twitter.com/1lYD6EAUDL
— Nape Moses Nnauye (@Nnauye_Nape) March 20, 2017
Most assumed he was calling for clemency for Makonda, but perhaps he knew the writing was on the wall, and the “mistakes” he was referring to were his own? For less than 24 hours later, the “reshuffle” was announced, and Minister Nape Nnauye was Minister no more.
He arranged a press conference for 2pm, but was blocked from doing this in the hotel he had booked – it remains unclear on whose orders. And then, moments after his vehicle arrived in the car park outside and Nnauye stepped out, he was accosted by an unknown man in plain clothes, who pulled the gun on him.
After a short scuffle, witnessed and recorded (and later posted online) by some of the many journalists on the spot, the situation was calmed down by some cool-headed interventions. Nape was eventually able to speak to the assembled journalists, standing through the sun-roof of his vehicle:
“Now when a few stupid people think they can disrupt things like this, the security forces should take a look at what they are doing.”
“I come here and stand up, someone has a gun, tells me get back in the car. Who gave you that authority? You are paid by our taxes, by our sweat, and then you come with your stupidity and tell me to get back in the car. How?”
“As I said before, there is a price to be paid when standing up for people’s rights, and I am ready to pay that price.”
“I don’t see why the security forces are panicking, I don’t see why people are panicking. Nape is small compared to this country, our country is huge compared to Nape. Let’s not get stressed about Nape, let’s get stressed about where our Tanzania is going. That is bigger than anything else.” *
Which I think brings us up to date, at least at the time of writing.
Now, it is worth thinking a little about what all this means.
First, let us not forget that Nape Nnauye, as Minister of Information, was responsible for bringing in the Media Services Act last year. Among other things, the new law requires individual journalists to be licensed in a process controlled by government, and requires the media to “publish or broadcast news as the government may direct.” Before this, back while campaigning in the 2015 election, as CCM party secretary for publicity and ideology, he was reported to have said CCM would win by any means, including through a “bao la mkono” (goal scored by handball) if necessary. With a record like this, Nape is a surprising hero for press freedom.
Second, Nape’s committee cited the Media Services Act in their report criticising Makonda’s actions at Clouds. But another reading of the Act would appear to give Makonda the authority to direct the TV station to broadcast the video. Was he not calling on Clouds to fulfil its responsibility, as required by law, to broadcast news as directed by the government, in this case by him as Regional Commissioner? To be clear, I am absolutely not defending Makonda’s actions. Rather, I am pointing out how his actions highlight a major problem with this law.
Third, many are now wondering why President Magufuli’s treatment of Paul Makonda appears to be so different from his approach to other public servants. Makonda has been accused (by Bishop Gwajima among others) of lacking proper academic certificates – many others have been fired for similar – and his lack of respect for the rule of law has drawn widespread criticism, yet it appears that he still has the full support of the president. Hellen Kijo-Bisimba, the Director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre said today: “we need to do a very through investigation to find out what is so special about this one person that means he must be protected at any cost, … this is very dangerous for the country.” **
Fourth, we have to recognise that a very significant line was crossed today. Dar es Salaam literally translates as “Haven of Peace”, and Tanzania has long been rightfully proud of its reputation as a Kisiwa cha Amani (an island of peace) in a troubled region. Such reputations are hard to earn and easy to lose. They are put severely at risk if security forces draw weapons on unarmed public figures who are not threatening anybody. Even more so if they do this in public spaces surrounded by people.
And finally, what are the implications for the current CCM government? Before the gun was drawn, you could argue that in firing Nape, President Magufuli had consolidated his position, demonstrating to other Ministers (and others) that they won’t last long if they make public statements that differ from the President’s position. Others would counter that this approach can only work in the short term. If there are ministers whose sympathies lie with Nape, as there surely must be, they may now be less likely to say so in public. But their confidence in the President may have dropped a little this week, or perhaps even a lot after the drawing of a weapon. Showing a thin skin is not a sign of strength.
President Magufuli’s populist approach is partly grounded in the recognition that he never had his “own team” at senior levels within his own party. He won their allegiance through a combination of calling for party unity and demonstrating that he has wide public support. But even before today, the business community and investors were already concerned, lawyers were in almost open revolt, and media and rights activists were complaining loudly. In such a situation, the President will not find it easy to maintain the full confidence of his cabinet and MPs.
As of this morning, the President was surely still confident that the public are with him. But the court of public opinion can be fickle. And he would do well to remember that those who live by the populist sword are the most vulnerable to swings in public opinion.
Original Swahili of key quotes above:
* Nape Nnauye:
“Sasa wanapokuja wapuuzi wachache, na wadhani wanaweza wakakoroga hivi mambo, nataka vyombo vya ulinzi na usalama vya nchi hii viangalie wanachokifanya.”
“Upuuzi wanakuja hapa – nimekuja nimesimama mtu anakuja na bastola rudi kwenye gari. Nani amekupa mamlaka hayo? Unalipwa kwa kodi ya kwetu wavunja jasho hapa. Halafu anakuja mpuuzi anatoa bastola rudi kwenye gari, how?”
“Kuna gharama ya kulipa kwenye kusimamia haki za watu, na mimi niko tayari kulipa gharama hiyo.”
“Sioni sababu kwa nini vyombo vinapanic. Sioni sababu kwa nini watu wanapanic. Nape mdogo kuliko nchi. Tanzania yetu kubwa kuliko Nape. Tusihangaike na Nape, tuhangaike na Tanzania yetu inakokwenda. Hilo ndilo kubwa kuliko yote.”
** Hellen Kijo Bisimba:
“Itabidi tufanye uchunguzi mkubwa sana kwamba huyu mtu ana nini ambacho inabidi alindwe kwa hali yoyote ile, maana yake hata kama watu watakufa naona mradi mtu apate ulinzi, hii ni hatari kwa nchi.”