by Ben Taylor
At the start of February, the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner, Paul Makonda, embarked on a high-profile anti-drugs campaign. Makonda has long been a controversial figure. He held prominent roles in the CCM Youth Wing and was accused of disrupting a public meeting in 2014 at which Justice Warioba was due to speak about the constitutional review process. He has something in common with Magufuli, being active and highly visible, keeping people on their toes, and willing on occasion to disregard the niceties of due process.
Makonda released a list of 97 names of people he claimed were involved in illegal drug use and trade, and demanded that they report to the police. The list included the official leader of the opposition in parliament, Freeman Mbowe, wealthy Pentecostal pastor, Bishop Josephat Gwajima, celebrities such as the film actress and socialite, Wema Sepetu, musician and DJ, Vanessa Mdee, and hip-hop artist, Khalid Mohammed (“T.I.D.”). It also included Yusuf Manji, one of Tanzania’s wealthiest and most influential businessmen, the CEO of Quality Group and Chairman of Young Africans Football Club, and several police officers and prominent business leaders. Makonda also named several sites around Dar as hotspots for illicit drug trade, including the Slipway resort and the Dar Yacht Club.
In response, twelve police officers were suspended pending investigations, and the nation was treated to a daily saga of arrests and court appearances, covered by both the serious media and celebrity-obsessed tabloids. Sepetu switched her allegiance from CCM to Chadema. Bishop Gwajima brought a church choir to sing outside the police station while he was interviewed inside. Mbowe was granted a temporary injunction by the High Court barring the police from arresting him, though they were still allowed to investigate and question him. Manji threatened to sue Makonda for defamation, and found himself in further difficulties when the investigations on drugs discovered a number of Indian nationals working for Quality Group without proper permits. He spent several days in custody of the Immigration Department, including some time in hospital.
Makonda’s approach drew strong criticism, led by opposition politicians but also drawing sympathy and support from some within the ruling party. Bishop Gwajima fought back, bringing up long-standing allegations that Makonda has fake academic certificates and that Paul Makonda is not even his real name. Similar accusations have cost many public servants their jobs under President Magufuli.
Nape Nnauye, Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, said his ministry supported the efforts by Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner to “clean up” the region, but insisted that the authorities should employ wisdom in dealing with suspects. “This matter has sparked public debate especially on how the artistes have been handled. … I believe there are other ways which are more practical in dealing with this complex matter.”
Several politicians and media commentators called on the President to rein Makonda in. But though he did respond to some of the concerns – for example by appointing a long-serving police officer to fill the vacant post of Commissioner General for the Drug Control Commission – he gave his backing to Makonda, saying the war on drugs was so important that it should not matter whose relation somebody might be: “even if you find my wife is involved, arrest her.”
In mid-March the tussle between Makonda, Gwajima and then Nnauye turned sour. A rumour began circulating that Clouds, a TV and radio station, had come into possession of a video (of unknown provenance) in which a woman accused Bishop Gwajima of being the father of her child, and of abusing his position to extract sexual favours. Makonda paid a late-night visit to Clouds, accompanied by armed security officers, demanding that they broadcast the video. The visit was captured on the station’s CCTV cameras, and shared widely on social media. An outcry followed: the media saw this as a brazen attack on media freedom and was forthright in its criticism. The Tanzania Editors’ Forum and Union of Tanzanian Press Clubs named Makonda “enemy of the media number one”, and agreed to implement a media blackout.
As Minister for Information, Nape Nnauye set up a small team to investigate what had taken place, while President Magufuli jumped to Makonda’s defence. Nnauye’s committee reported back, with strident criticism of Makonda’s actions. Nnauye thanked them for their work, but in an apparently reconciliatory call for clemency spoke about how “we must recognise that everyone makes mistakes.” However, the following morning, Nnauye was sacked from the cabinet. The official statement announcing this decision did not mention him by name, simply stating that a new Minister, Harrison Mwakyembe, had been appointed.
Nnauye arranged a press conference for 2pm that afternoon. But as he stepped out of his vehicle in the car park of St Peter’s Catholic Church in Oyster Bay, he was surrounded by a large number of journalists and others. An unknown man – later reported by some newspapers to be an intelligence officer – stepped up and tried to force him back into his vehicle. When Nnauye resisted, the man drew a pistol and waved it around, but fortunately calm heads intervened and the situation was resolved without anyone getting hurt.
Nnauye was understandably upset. “I come here and stand up, someone has a gun, tells me get back in the car. Who gave you that authority? You are paid by our taxes, by our sweat, and then you come with your stupidity and tell me to get back in the car. How? … As I said before, there is a price to be paid when standing up for people’s rights, and I am ready to pay that price.” He added, “I don’t see why the security forces are panicking, I don’t see why people are panicking. Nape is small compared to this country, our country is huge compared to Nape. Let’s not get stressed about Nape, let’s get stressed about where our Tanzania is going. That is bigger than anything else.”
The following day, while formally appointing the new Minister and other new officials, President Magufuli referred to the incident, and in particular to how the media had reported it: “Just look at today’s newspapers: all the pictures, the headlines are about someone who made one mistake, as if the act has been done by the government or with government support. … I tell media owners: be careful, watch it! If you think you have that kind of freedom … not to that extent.” He pointed out that the media had played a key role in inciting the Rwandan genocide.
At the time of writing, Home Affairs Minister, Mwigulu Nchemba, has promised to look into the events in St Peter’s car park, and the new Minister of Information has promised to listen to all sides in the Clouds-Makonda case. Makonda remains in post and continues to pursue his campaign against drug users and dealers, though with a lower profile and perhaps more cautious approach.