The Mange Kimambi Effect

Mange Kimambi

Last year during my presentation at Chatham House in London, I talked about what I have dubbed the “Mange Kimambi effect” and argued that the smart phone revolution in Africa has brought a new challenge to how government engages with its citizens but also how citizens engage with their government.

In brief, Mange Kimambi is a socialite turned activist who before she jumped to prominence as an activist was in her own right a well-known blogger who was known for bringing little known details and gossips about celebrities and prominent people in Tanzania and the diaspora. To make it easier when I explain to people I often say that the nearest comparison would be Perez Hilton in the US.

Mange Kimambi in ruling party CCM outfit

However in 2015, Mange Kimambi was projected onto the political scene after the ruling party CCM decided to use influencers during the campaign, among them Mange Kimambi, to publicize and ‘push’ its presidential candidate John Pombe Magufuli. This was deemed necessary as the opposition party fielded the popular Edward Lowassa who had moved from CCM to the main opposition party CHADEMA which had a huge youth following.

Mange Kimambi aptly used Instagram to post videos from the campaign trail, praising candidate Magufuli, ridiculing Lowassa and making support for Magufuli a fun game like the push up challenge after CCM presidential candidate Magufuli did a few push up presses to prove his physical fitness.

Mange Kimambi Instagram post

So forward to 2018 and Mange Kimambi, currently living in Los Angeles, is a democracy activist and the largest headache to the Magufuli administration; calling for anti-Magufuli demonstrations on April 26th (which is a public holiday celebrating the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar that formed Tanzania) in Tanzania and among the diaspora. How did this come about? Early in the President’s term, Mange started criticizing the administration for curtailing freedom of expression including the switching-off of the live broadcast of the parliament sessions which had become regular programming on the public television TBC. The initial argument was that it cost a lot of taxpayers’ money. Well, since then TBC has gone into weekly live broadcasts of the President’s activities but parliament is only shown in summary and some complain in a biased mode as opposition MPs get little or no airtime in rebuttals.

Subsequently, Mange Kimambi’s fallout with the administration deepened. Her Instagram page has become the source of hope and outlet for frustrations of Tanzanians including anonymous civil servants who leak information and internal memos to her. Also citizens from around the country send her videos and photos of poor public service delivery which she posts and comments on.

Mange Kimambi lives in Los Angeles, USA, is married to an American and has 3 children. Some of her critics claim that she is being “used” by foreign interests and/or the opposition. However there is no evidence of such. In fact Ms. Kimambi often complains of weariness as she handles her Instagram account on her own, while raising her children. Others complain about her foul language and her direct and personal attacks on the President and some members of his government, including the Regional Commissioner of Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda. However such language is very common among social media users and her 1.8 million followers don’t mind it. In fact at times they seem to relish her brash style. She has given some colorful vocabulary to the Swahili street lingo like “Jomoni”, “nacheka kihutu” etc. There is also criticism of the lack of fact checking in what Ms. Kimambi posts at times, which is a fair observation. However, overall, most of her posts, however outlandish, generally tend to pan out, sometimes months later. Some of the critics also point out that being on her own makes her vulnerable in many ways including her personal security and because little is known about how she operates, she may eventually side with “sinister forces”. All such speculation at this point is just that — speculation.

What remains evident is that the Digital Age is well and alive in Africa and we are all connected. If a woman in Los Angeles can mobilize Tanzanian citizens to demand their rights through a demonstration and to hold the Tanzanian government accountable, and the government from the highest office to the heads of police issue threats against demonstrators — it goes to show that the Mange Kimambi effect is real. We are all individually and collectively powerful as citizens.

Instead of fighting Ms. Kimambi and her likes, African governments would be served better to reflect how they can engage their citizens. It will not be by passing draconian “cybercrime” laws or shutting down the internet, but through transparency and constant engagement without spin, lies, threats and criminalizing dissent. Else influencers like Mange Kimambi, who navigate successfully the internet and social media, will be the ones to set the agenda. So let us remember that in this Age, Anyone is Everyone!

#ChangeTanzania

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Meade

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Media and Communications expert, #ChangeTanzania #GoodTrouble activist

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Maria Sarungi Tsehai

Maria Sarungi Tsehai

Media and Communications expert, #ChangeTanzania #GoodTrouble activist

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