Is the ‘demon seed’ about to germinate in Tanzania too?

Mr Onyango-Obbo
Mid last-week, East Africa heard from Tanzania the kind of story it rarely reads from that country.

Dr Stephen Ulimboka, the man who had been leading the striking doctors’ side in negotiations with the government, was set upon by five armed men in Dar es Salaam, kidnapped, beaten, and left for dead 30 kilometres outside the city.

By the time the story reached other East African countries and made its way through social media, it had grown quite colourful, with accounts about how his attackers had tied him on top of a tree for dramatic effect...

The mainstream media in Tanzania has been cautious about apportioning blame, but there is no shortage of posts on the Internet alleging the Tanzanian government did it. There is no evidence for that, but many bloggers and citizens of Twitter and Facebook are not the types to let that get in the way.

The Tanzanian paper, The Citizen had a promising story entitled, “Puzzle: Who wanted to kill Dr Ulimboka?,” but it didn’t name names. However, it quoted one of the doctors’ leaders as blaming the government for the attack.

In the past, nearly all other countries in the wider East African region — Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, the Sudans, Uganda — have witnessed these kinds of things through difficult phases of their history. Tanzania hasn’t, in part because it the only country in the region to have escaped military coups, civil wars, temporary regime collapse, or widespread election violence.

The Ulimboka incident, like past brief episodes of election violence in the Zanzibar islands and the recent attack on Christian churches there by Islamic radicals, suggests that Tanzania too has the East African “demon” seed. The question is when will it break fully free and wreak havoc?

East Africa, like the rest of Africa, has gone through definite phases: Independence euphoria; post-Independence pessimism marked by one-party dictatorships, military rule, and revolutionary wars; the post-Cold War revival of the late 1980s and 1990s, marked by economic and political liberalisation; the 20th Century Tail-end Relapse, the 10 years from about 1995-2005 when the 80s and 90s reforms looked like they had failed, nations were sinking under foreign debt and multiparty leaders were stealing elections like the old one-party dictators and many fell back into despair; then today we have the New Buoyancy, fuelled by discoveries of oil and gas, marked by a new struggle over the affections of Africa by the Chinese and the West, and the rise of hubris.

At any of these stages, though, countries can have a “rogue detour.” A besieged leader, ruling party, or kitchen Cabinet, afraid power is slipping, and distrustful of the security organs, will set up a shadowy paramilitary group or arm pro-ruling-party goons to beat down those who threaten its rule.

Countries survive one-party dictatorships, military tyranny, and recover from civil wars. However, no leader or ruling party has held on to power in East Africa for very long after their regime has taken the rogue detour. Dar es Salaam would do well to heed the ill omens.

Source: The EastAfrican,, reported by Charles Onyango-Obbo, who is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: Twitter: @cobbo3
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