Just as Tanzania is in the midst of the election season and along the bandwagon of green-yellow, red-blue and white-purple politics, we had to have a fresh antic beyond the staged and unstaged cheers, jibes and stunts. With the current political ambiance, anything new and fresh beyond the elections had to be substantially prominent to grasp the people’s attention, time, and concern. That’s exactly why the internet went almost berserk on September 21, 2020 as following the announcement by Tanzania’s prominent lawyer and activist Fatma Karume that she has been fired by her employer, IMMMA Advocates, one of the leading law firms in Tanzania.
Karume, who once served as the President of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), is a well recognized personality within and beyond the borders of Tanzania for her bold and fierce character. Her staunch, dedicated, and committed drive, passion, and desire towards justice has earned her a massive audience on social media platforms, particularly Twitter, where she banks herself more than four hundred thousand followers, and off social media. Her daring attribute of speaking truth to power and unapologetically criticizing those at the helm of the ladder has even earned her a trail of supporters in the general public.
Within her legal profession, Fatma’s critical attitude has significantly earned her huge support and admiration amongst her peers, who voluminously elected her to the 2018/2019 Presidency of the Bar Association – Tanzania Mainland. Yet, her stern and seemingly ‘stubborn’ attitude, together with her witty and outspoken character in the social media and publicly, has also gained her critics and, even ‘enemies,’ of her own, both within the legal field and publicly at large.
On several occasions, Fatma has found herself on the receiving end of her advocacy traits. In February, 2019, her participation at the national function to mark the Law Day, as the President of TLS, was vetoed, but that did not stop her to publish her address online, which heavily criticized the country’s criminal justice system and calling for reforms. Even post her tenure with the Bar Association, Fatma did not shy away from challenging the justice system, let alone condemning the trends of the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature.
About exactly a year past, Fatma faced the hardest of the bang when the High Court of Tanzania shockingly temporarily suspended her from practicing as an advocate in Tanzania Mainland, based on the alleged “inappropriate” conduct that she displayed in a case filed by opposition ACT-Wazalendo secretary-general Ado Shaibu (her client) against President John Magufuli, challenging the appointment of Prof Adelardus Kilangi as the Attorney General of Tanzania. (As I’m writing this, news circulates on social media platforms that Fatma has been ‘permanently removed from the roll of advocates.’)
Commenting over the High Court’s decision to temporarily suspend her practice, Fatma did not hold back as she expressed her disgust with the punishment for not only being unnoticed but further queried as to her right of hearing, where she expressed that she was unheard and as of effect she confirmed her opinion on the judiciary’s independence been compromised.
Ever since her temporary suspension, Fatma has even become more vocal and critical of the fifth phase government under President John Magufuli than ever before. If it was ever thought that all the misgivings directed to her side would derail her agenda for justice, then she surely proved her doubters and bad wishers miserably wrong. Her pen, gadget and voice have become more ruthless than before; her passion has been reinvigorated; her focus against repression has been more sharpened; and her desire has been more stern and genuine.
Whereas she has been barred from the bar, Fatma, granddaughter of Zanzibar’s founding president Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume, and daughter of the semi-autonomous archipelago’s former president Amani Abeid Karume, maintained her cause for justice and betterment of Tanzanians. In doing so, however, Fatma seemed to put on hold the legal field for a rather more political platform, as she openly became more and more engaged in political activism.
Noticeably, during the curtain-raiser days of the election with the in-house nomination of presidential candidates, Fatma was vividly present on the forefront, waving, hugging, blowing kisses, singing and chanting with the members of both opposition, Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) and ACT-Wazalendo. If there was any veil that preserved her engagement with the opposition then, the past two months have surely confirmed Fatma’s subscription to the opposition.
As she now visibly confirms her allegiance with the opposition, takes to stand and calls for oust of the current regime in the coming elections, this surely and very unfortunately, with the context of our setting, ought to have some serious consequences. Again, it did not take long as she got served, by her firm, with the letter to desist from political activism.
That was not enough, in a six men and women show, of IMMMA’s leadership, they all rounded themselves, gunned themselves up with appealing clauses and went to business as they, in their classy learned attire, unanimously decided enough is enough with Fatma’s politico-fiasco.
Ironically, the firm’s statement communicated that Fatma’s political utterances made her breach her partner’s professional standards; that she had to be professional and not political; and that to be professional is to be political within the ambit of your profession. But what is the ambit of the legal profession? Isn’t the framing of Article 18 of the Constitution of United Republic of Tanzania, stating that “Every person has a freedom of opinion and expression of his (or her) ideas…,” pronouncing Fatma’s traits and doings to be within the ambit of legal profession? A similar contention held by Fatma who tweeted, wondering whether her previous employers are seemingly clueless of one’s Constitutional right to freedom of expression.
One cannot stop but wondering would it have been within the ambit of the legal profession if Fatma engaged herself with the ruling party’s politics? Would she ever have faced the boot? How would she while she would have been the bridge between the firm’s clients and the state; as both the firm and their clientele would have been en-route to promising and luxurious dealings? Unfortunately, as of now, the opposite is highly the case, as her allegiance with the opposition and against the state puts the firm and its client at stake.
In a nutshell, Fatma’s antics put capital at stake and thus the partners were cornered to either go for capital or for justice and democracy. Well, the partners chose the former and spat at the ordinary Tanzanians who looked upon Fatma and her agenda, saying that they as lawyers are too learned to advocate for justice and democracy; their work is so sophisticated and esteemed to counter regression; and that is the work and quest of the laymen and women not serving the noble profession.
Jasper ‘Kido’ Sabuni is a writer and poet based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He can be reached through his e-mail address which is email@example.com. This is a writer’s personal opinion and it doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of The Chanzo Initiative.