Wailing into the microphone and feigning an exaggerated limp, singer Tominem pleaded with corruption-weary Tanzanians in the audience to assert their rights when fighting graft.
His piece of lyrical advice: ask bribe-seekers for a receipt, and take names.
“They are amazing me, those who don’t hear this cry. This is a cry against bribery,” 24-year-old Tominem (his stage name) belted out in the East African nation’s official language, Kiswahili — this during a contest held over the weekend in Tanzania’s financial hub, Dar es Salaam.
“These thieves are cowards. If people start making noise it can be stopped,” he added in a backstage interview, post-performance.
More than 20 musicians vied to take home cash prizes at the second annual anti-graft songwriting competition, which saw a jury scour lyrics for imaginative ideas on tackling corruption.
Winning selections are expected to appear on an anti-graft soundtrack, and certain recordings may play over the airwaves of local radio stations.
“We have tried a lot of ways to fight corruption in this country — we have laws and government agencies. But it is a big problem,” said Raziah Mwawanga, a programme officer for the Tanzania Media Women’s Association, the concert promoters.
“Music is close to peoples’ hearts, which makes it easier for them to understand they can do something about it too.”
Big Mama, a crowd-pleasing traditional singer, spoke of mounting frustration over concerns that graft is stunting economic growth and development, to the detriment of the nation’s poor majority. According to the latest United Nations Human Development Report, 57.8 percent of Tanzanians live on less than a dollar a day; almost 90 percent survive on less than two dollars a day.
“It is the enemy of the people in the office, at school, on the dalla dalla (public mini buses),” she said, decked out in a tall feather headdress, strings of beads and white face paint.
“In the hospital, even, when I go for any treatment they keep postponing it until I pay a bribe.”
In recent months, European and American diplomats as well as other top officials from Western nations have warned of a possible backward slide concerning the fight against graft in Tanzania, which jointly occupies the 94th spot on Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) — alongside Madagascar, Panama and Sri Lanka. In all, 180 countries were surveyed for the 2007 index; the CPI, issued annually by the Berlin-based watchdog, gauges perceptions of corruption in the public sector.
In August, outgoing U.S. ambassador Michael Retzer challenged President Jakaya Kikwete to revisit his 2005 election pledge to stamp out high-level graft.
And last month, the British High Commissioner to Tanzania, Phillip Parham, said donors would peg future aid commitments on the results of an audit to trace millions of dollars missing from the central bank of Tanzania.
No information about the audit has been made public since the findings were handed over to government in late November.
The International Monetary Fund had asked for an investigation into this matter. Fourteen of Tanzania’s top bilateral aid donors echoed that call last month after a week long review of direct budgetary assistance that took place in Dar es Salaam.
Controversy also dogs the governing party. Three lawmakers from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) have pleaded not guilty to charges of paying cash for votes in party elections held last month, local newspapers reported. In addition, several senior members of the CCM executive stand accused of taking bribes.
However, the government of Tanzania strongly defends its record as concerns fighting graft.
“The donor community, sometimes they are very unfair. They make statements as if we are not making an effort to fight corruption when they know we are making great efforts,” Kingunge Ngombale Mwiru, minister of state for political and civic affairs in Kikwete’s office, said last week (Dec. 4) during a media briefing at State House. “On the question of corruption, we stand firmly against it.”
Tanzania’s parliament passed a new anti-corruption law in April that stipulates hefty fines for anyone found guilty of embezzling state funds, or of fraudulent procurement.
Furthermore, the government-run Prevention and Combating Corruption Bureau and a new intelligence unit in the finance department were created to investigate allegations of graft and produce evidence of these activities that could be handed over to the police.
Still, certain Tanzanians are sceptical about whether these measures have dented corruption.
In the view of Rasibu Sibu, a 48-year-old security guard standing watch at the outdoor anti-graft concert this weekend, the problem is growing worse.
“Corruption is Tanzania’s burning fire that is taking off,” said Sibu. “I am enjoying these songs because more people will know the badness of corruption and how they can stop it. To do that will take the will of everyone.” IPS