29 January 2016

Tanzania: Live Bunge Coverage Is a Key Democratic Tool


"Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend", a saying coined by legendary Chinese leader Mao Zedong, remains evergreen and is often quoted, precisely because it is, literally speaking, pregnant with wisdom.

The moral therein is anchored on the fact that, any community, from a family unit to State leadership, hosts people whose views are divergent--some of them almost irreconcilably--but none of which should be dismissed offhand as nonsensical.

All views, ideas and opinions should be assessed, modified, accepted and applied, or rejected if they are deemed untenable, but with very convincing reasons. That approach is relevant and delightful under the nearly quarter decade-long multi-party system that Tanzania has been practising so far. During the single-party era, catch phrases like "Long live the correct thoughts of the chairman" in reference to the ideas of our founding president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, who was also the ruling party chair, held sway.

Obviously coined by sycophants, they implied that, whatever the ruling party chair said was sacrosanct and beyond questioning. The inference, too, was that the ruling party fore-most leader had a monopoly of wisdom, and decisions made in closed-door meetings were perfect. Delightfully, Mwalimu was himself subsequently instrumental in faulting the single-party system and psyching fellow leaders and wananchi to embrace multi-partyism.

The emergence of opposition parties to challenge the status quo, was meant to be a most welcome breather, one of whose significant manifestation is supposed to be a healthy clash of opinions.

Slow but encouraging

Movement towards that ideal has been slow but encouraging. In spite of hiccups like police reluctance to grant opposition parties licences to hold rallies, citing presumed security threats, the right of assembly and expression has generally been upheld.

But Parliamentary business personifies the litmus test on how well or badly the legislature is doing as servant of the electorate, especially on keeping the Executive on the right track.

On average, the performance has been good. In spite of CCM commanding a majority in the august House, the voice of the Opposition has not only been heard, but it has been vocal enough to deliver such significant outcomes as prompting immediate former President Jakaya Kikwete to shuffle his cabinet and formation of probe teams for scandals like Richmond and Tegeta escrow account.

Live coverage of House sessions enabled all and sundry to keep track on the goings-on and assessing the lawmakers' performance. By getting rid of live TV coverage by the State broadcaster TBC, and availing to viewers a tiny fraction via a short, diluted version obviously tailored to play a PR role for the Establishment, is unfair and compromises the citizens' right to information.

The cost-cutting angle doesn't wash, as State financial experts can chart modalities for meeting the cost, without critically destabilising other public services.

Given President Magufuli's subscription to transparency, we are most reluctant to link him with that decision, which projects his government as undermining the independence of Parliament and muzzling the free flow of information. This, as we all know, provides fertile ground for speculations that it aims to screen the front bench against onslaughts by the Opposition, whose mission should be as patriotic as that of their political rivals.

The live coverage ban should be rescinded, to "Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend", and thereby consolidate Tanzania's democracy.


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