Advice to African leaders: Never give up power, for surely you will die of pneumoniaBy JENERALI ULIMWENGU | Monday, May 28 2012 at 12:13
I followed with more than a little interest the story of a civil society organisation in Uganda that was protesting over that country’s judicial system targeting opposition politicians for spurious corruption charges that often end up being thrown out of court.
It was a déjà vu situation — not the protest but the object of the protest. In our blighted politico-juridical systems, state organs are the private tools of those in power, who use them to punish their opponents and reward their minions.
In case he has any doubts, the Uganda Director of Public Prosecutions should rest assured that he has company in Tanzania, where his counterparts at the judiciary and others in the police force, immigration department, revenue authorities, anti-corruption bodies and elsewhere will occasionally trump up charges against people their political masters consider politically undesirable while looking at flagrant acts of corruption with eyes wide shut.
Not long ago, an erstwhile parastatal mogul, who was a ruling party stalwart during the halcyon days of single-party rule, jumped ship and joined the opposition only to find himself a favourite object of serious legal and forensic studies. Someone had discovered that the man — for many years a very public figure — had committed a litany of offences, including fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, robbing a bank, conspiracy to rob a bank. In other words, they threw the book at him.
His wife served as a senior official in a sovereign ministry. Suddenly she found herself locked out of management meetings because she now represented a security risk — one supposes pillow talk can be a vehicle for divulging classified info.
Being no fool, the man looked at the situation long and hard, and found wisdom. He went to the ruling party offices, renounced his membership of the opposition, regretted his wayward behaviour, swore eternal loyalty to the party that had made him what he had been before he had tried to bite the hand that had fed him for so long… move over, Saint Paul, you’ve got company on the Road to Damascus.
Whereupon the judicial system became blind again. One after the other, all the charges that had our man staring 30 years in the face were dropped and he was allowed to walk. The system had never seen a cleaner man. His wife was allowed back into management meetings for now she obviously was no longer incontinent with state secrets. In Panglossian fashion, all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
Another opposition politician whose favourite activity was to breathe fire as he pilloried the ruling party and the president, announced he was coming back to the fold. A huge party was organised to receive him back, Prodigal Son style, the country’s president gave him a huge bear hug and the following week nominated him to parliament. Whoever said turncoats don’t get it?
One reason undemocratic rulers will not vacate their seats willingly is that they know the monstrosities they have committed against those who opposed them and they shudder to think of themselves in the opposition, with the shoe on the other foot.
One Central African head of state awarded his childhood friend, now an architect, a tender to design a maximum prison for political prisoners. The prison had to have a special feature, though: The windows had to let in air currents at an angle that exposed the prisoners’ beds to the currents. The aim? The prisoners would die of pneumonia.
Two months after he had commissioned the prison, the president was overthrown by his army commander, who sent him to the prison he had commissioned. He died three months later, of… yes, you guessed right.
Jenerali Ulimwengu, chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper, is a political comentator and civil society activist based in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: email@example.com
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