Yet another Tanzanian artist has been arrested for releasing a song that allegedly insults President John Magufuli. Emmanuel Elibariki, known by his stage name Nay wa Mitego, was arrested on Sunday at a hotel in the town of Morogoro and held overnight before being released by order of newly appointed Information Minister Harrison Mwakyembe.
“We have freedom of expression in Tanzania and I have ordered the release of this artist because he has done nothing illegal. I also request BASATA to leave him alone,” Mwakyembe said at a press conference. BASATA, the national arts council, has banned the song from being played by Tanzanian media. “I like his song and I would only ask that he criticises all the social ills in our society such as tax evasion, laziness, drug trafficking and corruption,” Mwakyembe said.
Magufuli’s government seems to brook no dissent as 14 others have been arrested and charged for insulting the president on social media since he took office in October 2015. Numerous artists have also been accused of contravening the Cybercrimes Act enacted in May 2015. They include Mwana Cotide whose song ‘Dikteta Uchwara’ (Petty Dictator) has been banned.
Morogoro police commander Ulrich Matei said Elibariki was held for "releasing a song with words that malign the government".
In the song titled ‘Wapo’, released last week, Elibariki addresses someone he calls "a doctor specialising in lancing boils". The phrase "lancing boils" has been used repeatedly by Magufuli as he threatens to fire anyone who does not adhere to his orders.
"Who are you now? Don't you want to listen to advice? Don't you want criticism?" Elibariki, known for his political lyrics and whose videos garner hundreds of thousands of YouTube views, raps in the song.
In a change of tack, the president has invited Elibariki for a chat, and even said that he "loves" his song.
“I’m still thinking about what to say. I guess it will be the opportunity for me to tell him what Tanzanians on the ground want from him,” the rapper said in a response.
Another line in Elibariki's song goes: "I see you handed a club to a madman," widely seen as a reference to Dar es Salaam's regional commissioner Paul Makonda.
Last week, Magufuli fired his information minister who had criticised Makonda for storming into the offices of a local broadcaster with six armed men to demand the airing of a video. The president stood up for him despite a public outcry.
After his release, the artist spoke to local media, defending his music, which he said had no boundaries.
“Those who love to hear the truth will appreciate my music," Elibariki said. "For sure I worried about how it would be received in this political climate but I chose not to censor myself.”
This isn't the first time Elibariki has been a guest of the state. In February he was among the artists summoned and interrogated by police over drug-related charges. Asked whether he is being used by politicians, he said he was a musician, not a politician.