Let me start by saying that I feel quite privileged being alive during this part of world history. In the short period of my life, I have seen not only the advance of computer & networking technology but also the march of democracy. In this same period, the world has been witness to the creation and proliferation of the internet, which has given us things that are now ubiquitous such as Google and Facebook. Although we are not quite yet at the end of history, we have come much closer to what Fukuyama was asserting. Today, there are more countries that Freedom House considers free than partly or not free. Liberal democracy will win in the end, I believe.
Having said that, among the most privileged happenings of our time (and the focus of this post), is the drive for more government transparency embodied most bravely by Julian Assange‘s Wikileaks. In the recent week or so, the organization has released what most have called the Dar cables which include cables from the United States’ Embassy in Dar es Salaam. Many blogs have chimed in, and I would recommend reading this one and this one, both from the blog, daraja. I will piggy-back on some of what daraja has already discussed, and offer my insights as well.
First and foremost, I would recommend anyone interested in all things Tanzanian to spend their weekend (in between classes, work, business or personal or criminal obligations) reading the Dar cables. They tell us, most importantly, of the infinite and unparalleled, ignorance of some Americans (please note the emphasis on some, lest I be accused of generalizing a whole population, as some Americans tend to do with us, Africans or anyone else for that matter).
The Embassy’s ignorance ranges from misspelling President Mkapa’s name, to which they baptise him, MAKAPA, to claiming that it takes 20 hours to reach Ruvuma from Dar es Salaam. Even though the cable was written in 2005, reaching Ruvuma from Dar still did not take 20 hours then nor now (Please note that the Embassy officials writing the cable flew to Ruvuma on a Twin Otter airplane from Prescott Aviation and did not drive to Ruvuma, hence relied on secondary, clearly erroneous information). In the same cable, the author(s) continues to claim that 20 million people live in Mwanza and its surrounding Lake regions, nearly two-thirds of Tanzania’s population. This is simply not true (Please note the emphasis on not true, rather than saying completely wrong: This type of diplomacy is what our friends at Drive-In should be practising. Alas, they do not).
However, all this aside, I would like to focus on the most famous, if not infamous, of the cables. In particular, this one that talks about President Kikwete receiving, among other things, suits and a CCM campaign donation worth $ 1 million from United Arab Emirates’ businessman Ali Saeed Juma Albwardy. So, before we bring out the hangman’s noose (which former US Ambassador Michael Retzer, and author of this particular cable, seems to have rushed to do) let us evaluate the cable for its merits and de-merits for that matter.
To begin, both Albwardy and Lisa Pile have vehemently denied the claims made by the former US Ambassador in that cable. In any court of law, this would have ended here. However, let us give the Ambassador the benefit of the doubt (once again, something he failed to give the President) and consider his claims. Indeed, the Ambassador’s claims offer what many scientists (not least of which social scientists) love to play with — falsifiable statements or a hypotheses. For instance, the claim that the President had been flown to London by Albwardy can easily be confirmed or not. One might claim the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation might manipulate Kikwete’s travel records from that time in his favour, but we can all certainly agree that the United Kindom’s Border Agency will have no incentive to do the same. So let us take the initiative and solicit the records from the UK Border Agency.
If, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs did in fact travel to London, then let us proceed with the investigation into whether this was an official or personal trip. The Ambassador claims that Albwardy flew the now President to London, so that any evidence to the contrary, i.e. if the President was in fact flown by Tanzanian tax payer money and not on Albwardy’s dime, would be deeply damaging to the credibility of the entire cable. Additionally, although both the President and Albwardy have refuted the claim of the $ 1 million, I would like to commend the Ambassador for noting that this contribution would have been legal under the laws of Tanzania, at the time. Reiteratively, the story should have ceased here. However, if indeed the money was given, this as well can be easily verified by looking at CCM’s income and expenditure for that General Election. Let us do so and put this claim to rest or not.
Now, in conclusion, the Ambassador seems to have based his whole cable on hearsay, uncharacteristic of a top diplomat levying quite serious accusations against a Head of State, who happened to be his host. These Wikileaks cables, as am sure will continue to be, are fascinating in their own right. They have certainly kept me busy the past few days, helping me to sukuma (push) my week forward to this glorious weekend. In ending, I would like to say, either Lisa Pile and/or the Ambassador had one-too-many cocktails that night or these allegations are in fact true (My apologies, but I could not resist the opportunity for some slander, given that the Ambassador was the one engaged in mudslinging in the first place. I know that I sound like a brat using the “He started it!” defence, but he did). So, before we jump the gun and conclude the latter, please note that the Ambassador wrote the cable at 03:38 on Valentine’s Day. I certainly hope he did not have this in mind when he took his spouse out for dinner later that day.