The Government has finally spoken about the intriguing matter of the skin illness of Kyela MP Dr Harrison Mwakyembe. Its verdict or position on the matter left a large portion of the public in quiet disbelief, as people don’t rapidly question assertions of top officials like the Director of Criminal Investigations, but it is hard to say anyone was convinced. Foes of Dr Mwakyembe (pictured) seemed to repeat the snorting that “he is just sick, that’s all,” without being bothered to find out in some anatomy what caused the illness.
It would be one thing to say that there are intriguing indications as to the cause of the disease, without having to confirm or raise suspicion as to what may be its provenance, either contact with something or swallowing things, or an unhealthy combination of things as it may often occur in allergies. But to blandly say there ‘was no poisoning involved’ sounds like saying ‘we have no witches here.’
Two weeks ago The Guardian on Sunday carried an article on the illness afflicting the Deputy Minister for Works, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe.
In the course of delving on Dr Mwakyembe’s unfortunate state of health, the writers proceeded to ask whether Tanzania had finally joined Kenyans who are renowned, in the region, for assassinating critics or dissident political leaders.
Indeed, that question was very pertinent, especially if one takes into account the current secrecy surrounding what can rightly be described as the Mwakyembe saga with the government largely remaining silent.
The pertinence of the writers’ question lies in the fact that much as Tanzania is considered relatively peaceful and politically stable compared to our neighbours, it has had its fair share of deaths in the political environment that have raised eyebrows across two or three decades.
In fact, the only reason that helped in wiping out suspicions of foul play was the existence of peace and political tranquility in Tanzania, and underlining it was the fact that never did anyone suspect that the proper holders of power were responsible, but foes of the victims. More often than not, it was believed that magic was involved, as magic can induce sleep (as in hypnosis as an elementary form of magic) or impaired vision, to see what isn’t true, and something nasty can happen during such trances.
Apart from the death of the relatively young Abdulwahid Sykes in 1968, (aged 42 at that time) whom some radical quarters had begun to see as a potential or needed replacement of President Nyerere, there was the death many years later of Prime Minister Edward Moringe Sokoine in a motor accident in April 1984 along the Morogoro-Dodoma highway.
He was being driven to Dar es Salaam after attending a parliamentary session.
Generally, people knew it was a motor accident but started delving into how it came about, since the premier doesn’t drive along the road like any Tom, Dick or Harry, in which case the issue ended as speculation. How could anyone push the government to investigate if the driver was under hypnosis by an unseen agent who may have climbed the car, that sort of thing?
It was a head on collision between his official car, a Mercedes Benz and another car, a four wheel drive vehicle driven by a combatant of South Africa’s liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC).
The ANC man was arrested, charged and sentenced to some years in jail before he was later transferred to Zambia.
Since then nothing is known about the man, and the local media renowned for its weakness in making follow ups on its stories, made no efforts to follow up on the story!
One of the words used by the government in explaining the premier’s accident was that the ANC man’s vehicle had skidded (iliseleleka) in the course of the accident, hence leading to the fatal accident.
For months, a section of skeptic Tanzanians would use the word kuseleleka with abandon whenever they discussed the premier’s death.
In fact, nowhere was this skepticism more widespread than in the premier’s own backyard, Arusha Region, and in particular, in his constituency, Monduli.
Immediately after the accident, the government’s appointed defence and security committee headed by the country’s state apparatus met at the site of the accident and issued a report that announced the non-existence of foul play in the accident.
These were the days when both the credibility and moral authority of members of the country’s state apparatus such as the police, the Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces (TPDF) was impeccable.
Therefore, one of the first things that helped to make the majority of Tanzanians believe that there was nothing fishy in the death of their most beloved prime minister in the country’s history was the demeanour of members who constituted that committee.
The demeanour of members of that committee was finally buttressed with that of the head of state, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, whom the public believed he had nothing to gain from the death of his hand-picked premier.
When Premier Sokoine’s body was later driven to the State House for private viewing by Mwalimu, the Tanzanian leader accompanied by the First Lady, Mama Maria Nyerere, approached with measured steps, the casket bearing his befallen lieutenant.
A handler moved forward and removed, for Mwalimu, the cloth covering Sokoine’s head.
And Mwalimu, first looked at Sokoine’s face before he later slightly stooped and briefly held the head with both hands, Sokoine’s head.
There was an aura of disbelief written all over his face, he stood besides the casket in a trance.
Later, he covered his face with both hands and shook with sobs before he was quickly taken away by his body guards.
Mwalimu’s sorry state as he openly wept beside the casket bearing the body of his most trusted lieutenant on that eerie Thursday evening has to date remained indelible in my mind as if it happened yesterday!
After his burial at his home, at Monduli Juu, in Arusha Region, many rumours swept the country with some linking his death to a foreign conspiracy!
One of the yarns that did the rounds then was that since Mwalimu had already made up his mind to step down at the end of 1985, they (foreign powers) feared that he would leave the country at the hands of his most trusted premier who was capable of maintaining the socialist policy.
The argument was that the West was looking forward to Mwalimu’s departure with the hope of trooping into the country with the express purpose of exploiting the country’s rich mineral resources.
The other yarn took the form of superstition, with some people talking about seeing the premier walking with one of his hands holding a load of files, from the State House to Parliament grounds at the Karimjee Hall.
It was such stories that appeared to have later influenced Mwalimu to summon a meeting of Dar es Salaam elders at the Diamond Jubilee Hall during which he told Tanzanians to try to come to terms with the fact that their beloved leader, Sokoine, had actually died in an accident and life must go on.
During the meeting, Mwalimu spoke about Sokoine’s impeccable hands as his major leadership quality that included, among others, his attention to detail, making detailed followups.
He said what set Sokoine apart from other leaders in the country was his ability to make use of experts in his leadership.
The second death incident that raised a lot of dust was that of former CCM Secretary General and a former aide to premier Sokoine, Mr Horace Kolimba.
Mr Kolimba died of a heart attack when he was being questioned by top ruling party officials on his claims that as a party, CCM had lost focus on what it stood for.
And like in Sokoine’s death, a lot of yarn was thrown around about his death with some people claiming foul play.
But again, like Sokoine’s death, the yarn surrounding Kolimba’s death failed to shake the nation for the simple reason that apart from the country’s relative peace and tranquility, political and government leaders’ credibility and moral authority was second to none.
It is the presence of a heavy dose of the foregoing that makes the difference between Kenya and Tanzania.
Kenya’s record on assassination of its political leaders is second to none in the continent started as soon as the country got its independence in 1962 with the assassination of a Kenyan leading trade unionist of Asian descent, Mr Pio Gama Pinto.
Mr Pinto was shot and killed in 1965 as he drove his Saab car in a Nairobi suburb.
Second in the line up was the shooting down of Kenya’s Minister for Economic Affairs, Mr Tom Mboya as he emerged from a Nairobi Chemist shop on a Sunday morning.
Mboya had just flown home from attending an Organisation of African Unity meeting in Addis Ababa the previous day.
Mboya’s death was blamed on a former police inspector, Nashon Njenga Njoroge, a Kikuyu.
Other assassinations which followed were those of former minister, Argwings Kodhek early in 1970, Ronald Ngala and Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, popularly referred to as JJ, in 1975. The latter was the only high ranking Kikuyu to have attended Mboya’s funeral in 1969 at the Rusinga Islands on Lake Victoria.
It is important to note that the gunning down of Mboya happened at the height of the feud between Luos and Kikuyus, following the departure of Vice President Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga, father of current premier Raila Odinga, from the government to form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU), saying (like Kolimba) that what Kenyans fought for during independence struggle had been betrayed.
The fact that Kariuki was accepted both by Luos and Kikuyus was viewed by his enemies as a possible successor to President Jomo Kenyatta who died in his sleep at Mombasa much later in 1978.
Many of his enemies were not comfortable with JJ’s pro-people policies that included, among others, his buying and distributing of land to the landless.
They feared that if he was allowed to come to power, he would dispossess them of the land they had grabbed from the people.
The assassination curtain was closed with the murder of Kenya’s Foreign Minister and one of the most articulate economists the region has ever produced, Dr Robert Ouko, a former minister in the defunct East African Community.
In conclusion, what has made it difficult for successive Kenyan governments to disassociate themselves from such assassinations has been their failure to be seen to be dealing with the problem.
To date, not a single assassination case has been resolved, leaving question marks hanging in the air.
The same thing is likely to befall the Tanzania government if it continues to behave the way it does in relation to the Mwakyembe saga, the presence of relative peace and tranquility notwithstanding!
It is therefore pertinent for the present administration to come forward and clear the air to the public over alleged poisoning of the Deputy Minister for Works.
The argument raised by some top government officials about Dr Mwakyembe’s health problem being normal illness or that it is irrelevant as a public issue is baseless. The public needs to know if justice is being done to Dr Mwakyembe (fair investigation of his health problem) and if probity still guides political contention, or we are descending into Mafiosi methods of political control.
Unless the government has something to hide, it has responsibility to at least admit the possibility of encounter with something negative, the clarification of which is slightly a different matter. But wishing to brush the whole thing under the carpet is to take public gullibility in the issue a bit too far. Were it that a statement of admission that a problem exists was made it would greatly help in taking off the burden of suspicion as to involvement of this or that institution. When a whitewash attempt is made, suspicions tend to rise.
It would be recalled that some people already accuse them (the police) of failing in their duty to investigate an earlier alleged attempt on the life of the Kyela legislator when an improvised motor accident sent his car reeling on the kerb.
Indeed, the police made no attempt to tell the nation the identity of the driver of that truck alleged to have tried to knock off the road Dr Mwakyembe’s vehicle not far from Iringa.
One finds police conduct queer, especially if one considers the fact that road accidents involving government and political leaders are currently on the rise! For instance, is it not interesting that it is on the same road and in the same region (Iringa) that the country lost one of its most hard working politicians and a deputy minister in Ms Salome Mbatia?
Like Dr Mwakyembe’s road accident, the nation was never told what became of the Fuso truck driver involved in the head on collision with the vehicle in which Ms Mbatia was being driven!
And as if that is not enough, the same man, Dr Mwakyembe told the media that he had provided the police with information over people who were trailing him, which thus culminating in the sloppy accident.
As Dr Mwakyembe started worrying about his life, he seemed to lose balance psychologically and appeared to see enemies all over the place, even suggesting that his political foes had hired members of the Somali guerrilla group, the Al Shabaab that is linked to Al Qaida, to do their dirty work.
Being a signatory to the US-inspired anti-terrorism legislation, one would have expected that insinuations concerning Al Shaabab would have attracted attention of the police, but it did not, by all evidence.
Again, the police did nothing after Home Affairs Shamsi Vuai Nahodha came up with a statement that the former Speaker of Parliament and current East African Affairs minister Samwel Sitta to provide him with evidence that Dr Mwakyembe was poisoned. If anything, they have gone one better to clarify that such evidence doesn’t exist or isn’t available in the final analysis.
Unfortunately, what the government does not seem to realise is that such conduct on the part of the police is likely to make the people believe, sooner than later, that the government of the day has something to hide in Dr Mwakyembe’s illness, and that is bad publicity for the ruling party.
Now the question is whether the government of the day thinks that it gains anything by seeming unconcerned with Dr Mwakyembe’s health travails, even appearing to take it gladly.