Thursday, April 6, 2017

April 2017: A Note on Blogiversary the Ninth

Still alive! April 2017 marks the 9th Blogiversary of The Mikocheni Report and a good time to assure you that the project is not abandoned. Here's a fat wall of text to make up for so long a silence. 

These past few months have been a period of hibernation and reflection for a number of reasons:

1. Writing fatigue happens. Social media with its incessant appetite for fresh content is not the best milieu in which to admit this, but I think that blogs are close enough to traditional writing products such as essay collections that this aspect of writing need not be concealed. I took a break to try to recharge. Learned from the TZ blogs I admire and visit in the blogosphere that taking time off is fine. 

2. We have a new President. In the spirit of giving the Fifth Administration a fair amount of time before forming opinions, I have been in observation mode. However my distress is evident in the columns I put out for The East African. I started writing for public consumption in the very hey-day of Kikwete's media-forward regime. Let's just say that the past decade has in no way prepared me for a repressive government that is afraid of freedom of speech. 

Was it all roses and champagne under Kikwete? Of course not. Very many journalists and prominent outspoken people were threatened, some physically assaulted, newsrooms were raided and repression did not disappear. However my sense was the the heavy hand of state that we felt then was a manifestation of a characteristic of our Deep State. Our Deep State has never been fond of too much civilian liberty, I can't imagine what impatience it  experienced with Mr. Kikwete who was altogether too jovial a believer in people's right to say what they think and feel. My interpretation was that the difference of opinion between the President and the conservative elements of his party and government in this regard worked in our favor. This came at a cost. Ten years conservatives have been waiting to pick up their tools of state repression again and beat us into line. 

Trouble with freedom is that once people have had a taste, we are loathe to give it up easily when commanded to do so. The signal that President Magufuli is sending is a very strong one: media has been to told to watch itself, that we are not as free as we think we are. There are numerous utterances that he has made even before that last one that articulated his opinion and attitude towards free speech. It has been an unwelcome shock, and part of the reason for a good hibernation. How does one recalibrate when the environment in which you work suddenly contracts? 

Under Kikwete it was fun to joke with people who asked me how I could get away with "strong" opinions- my standard response was to ask them to contribute to my bail fund. These days that joke has taken on an edge. Those of us who have fully exploited our freedom to express and been obnoxious about insisting on said freedoms as our right are now challenged to put our courage where our mouths and pens are. There have been casualties. People have adopted various strategies: some have become careful in their pronouncements. Some have chosen straight-up sycophancy out of either self-preservation (disgusting, but smart) or a real (and troubling) inability to resist rolling over when figures of authority say so. 

Some of us are going to keep doing what we do, perhaps with some adjustments here and there. Only two years into what could be a decade of Mr. Magufuli in office, I still maintain that it is too early to be certain. We seem to be negotiating the boundaries of free expression on a day-to-day or event-to-event basis. Yes, it was exciting to be part of the crowd that thrived under President Kikwete's easy fondness for media and entertainment. It is also exciting to be part of the crowd challenged by President Magufuli's regime and the conservatives who are taking advantage of the situation to go much further, I suspect, than the incumbent himself would necessarily allow. It is still not a one-man show in Tanzania, not just yet. 

Anyways, enough about politics. I could make the usual promises about revamping and refurbishing and better visuals and more frequent postings... but we all know how that goes, right? Instead let me end by thanking you for reading, and a special thank you to those who occasionally hit the 'reply' button. A lutta continua. 


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