By Alex Roberts
Sometimes Magafuli can strike back at strange times; in the strangest of ways. Stories about him will spill across your Facebook feed, seemingly only outlined to bruise your conscience by making you slap your own head so hard.
The recent story of Idris Sultan is one such instance. The popular comedian that the utter ‘audacity’ to dare to impersonate the President of Tanzania; almost as if comedians do that as part of their job.
For Sultan to unleash such wrath; he merely had to make a joke; and not a very funny one at that. Yes, it was a bit gauche, but Sultan switched his and Magafuli’s face, placing Sultan’s face as though it were that of Magafoolish himself.
Big fucking whoop right?
Of course Magafuli and his loyalists took this transgression entirely too seriously; and had Sultan arrested.
Now the comedian is facing the very real possibility of more than six years in jail and/or several million TSh in fines if he’s found guilty. This is cause for concern; both in terms of the issue of draconian punishments for mere mediocre jokes, as well the larger implications that such measures have for the creative industry of Tanzania at large.
It is the latter issue, that at least from a sector perspective, is cause for greater concern. Despite possible disagreements with the subject matter, even not finding certain jokes or material ‘funny’ (subjective though that measure may be), it can’t be argued that comedy is a very real outlet of creativity, a serious business for funny people. It also serves as a crucial counterweight to heavy handed policy and politics that are seemingly thrown about at will by leaders such as Magafuli.
If Sultan is sentenced, it can easily be argued that there is no longer a place to take the proverbial piss out of incredibly deserving Tanzanian politicians; in effect killing the right to criticize politics through satire, and keeping an entire comedy industry perpetually on their toes.
This was a very calculated move on the part of Magafuli, one should make no mistake. He definitely got the joke, perhaps he even laughed (although he’d never admit it publicly), but it is truly more of a matter of the joking itself, it is an exercise in control; not in the law it claims to be.
The charges leveled against Sultan are absolutely not a laughing matter.