Letters from TZ

Where do we draw the line?

So. Barack Obama was sworn in on a Sunday, when courts and public offices were closed. He took the oath of office in a private ceremony at the White House, just before 12pm, because the American constitution dictates both the day and the hour. He followed the rules, something which politicians in Africa seem unable and unwilling to do.

For an African politician, there must always be room to manoeuvre. Colouring within the lines severely limits a leader’s ability to think outside the box. It curtails the creativity required to manage the expectations of the voting public.

For an African politician, rules are suggestions that can quickly become restrictive if considered too seriously. Look no further than the recent nomination process in neighbouring Kenya for confirmation that politicians in that corner of the world wouldn’t follow a rule if it paid them. And that’s saying a lot considering the unbridled greed that has been a hallmark of Kenya’s 10th Parliament.

In 2008, Hon. Kibaki was sworn in under the cover of night, despite the constitution. This year, President Obama was sworn in on a Sunday, because of the constitution. As we look forward to a new constitution here in Tanzania, it will be wise to keep those two extremes in mind. Hopefully, Tanzania can find a happy medium.

Swearing on the Bible

It’s funny however, that after swearing on two Bibles during the inauguration parade last Monday – one belonging to Abraham Lincoln and the other to Martin Luther King Junior – President Obama came out swinging for gay rights in his speech. “Our journey is not complete,” he told the American people, until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

The Bible also has rules; rules that some Christians view as suggestions that can be restrictive if considered too seriously. So the Prez went to bat for gay folk and their constitutional right to same sex marriage, but made no mention of religious freedom, and a Christian’s right to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. I’m a live and let live kind of girl myself, but it does seem to me that in America’s current political dispensation, all people are created equal, but gay people are more equal than others. Because really, if the President is for you, who can be against you? Not even God himself.

But if an African president was selecting which rules to flout, what would they choose, I wonder? What is more important to our leaders – country or citizen? Would they err on the side of the people or the State?

Consider this: According to a new Corruption Perception Index (CPI 2012) released last December by Transparency International, Uganda is the 46th most corrupt country in the world. Writing for the Daily Monitor, John Njoroge reported that the rankings came in the wake of allegations of grand corruption, both in government and in the private sector.

In August 2012, the East African Bribery Index (also conducted by Transparency International) had reported that at 40.7 per cent, Uganda had the highest level of bribery in the region. The report found that to access essential services in Uganda, you were more likely to fork out a bribe than in any other East African country.

When the CPI 2012 was published in December, the Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda was believed to have embezzled more than 50 billion shillings meant for peace recovery programmes in northern Uganda.

Amidst all that, the Ugandan Parliament had before it a piece of legislation that sought to criminilise homosexuality, at one point, even threatening to hand out the death penalty for the crime. The controversial Anti Homosexuality Bill now proposes the lesser penalty of imprisonment.

The infamous ‘Kill the Gays’ bill has gotten much more airplay than any anti-corruption initiative ever will. You may argue that the proposed legislation has served to distract Ugandans from the mischievous machinations of government. Which may as well be the truth. But you must also consider that their leaders would rather spend valuable time legislating the morality of a minority, than discussing issues that affect the quality of life of the majority. Surely, it is only when you have a fully functioning administration that you can spare time to penalise two consenting adults for what they do behind closed doors. Surely.

And yet, functioning administration and all, Obama’s gay rights crusade has called into question his priorities as the head of State. There is a broad expanse between the American extreme and the Ugandan one – hopefully, in her constitution making process, Tanzania can find the middle ground.