Say Nothing!

It’s been a while since I have written publicly. Every time I pick up the pen to write, the warnings of my mother ring in my ears, my words freeze at attention, like a soldier. “Do not write of which you don’t know. We don’t want to lose you.”

I am not cut from the same cloth as Ngugi wa Thiong’o. I will not last in a prison cell, let alone write a novel on toilet paper. I silence my thoughts before they properly form, I do not rant, on Facebook or twitter. I do not comment on Kibiti killings, or Bashite, or the abduction of Roma, or the disappearance of Saanane, or the attempted murder of Tundu Lissu. To be quite honest, I am afraid – of propaganda, of the government, of the police, of people unknown, of the truth, of doom.  And for the first time in my life, I am afraid to go home. I don’t know what its walls contain anymore.

Growing up, the only time I heard a gunshot was on New Year’s Eve, when our affluent neighbor fired a shot in the air at the stroke of midnight, followed by faint baruti that kids made from old batteries. I still remember the first multi-party election in 95. I was in second grade. There was excitement in the air of the change multiparty democracy was going to bring. Elders talked about the possibilities of this new era, of challenging the government, of battling with ideas to develop our country. I heard them talk about how they were going to vote for Dr. Lamwai of NCCR Mageuzi as the Member of Parliament for the Ubungo Constituency, while voting for Mkapa of CCM as the president.  There was a continuous debate of ideas, and policies, and what they believed was good for the country. I couldn’t wait to turn 18 and vote. Everybody kept saying, the opposition weren’t ready for the presidency, but we have come to see them as an absolute necessity if we ever want to move our country forward.

In Civics class, we learned about democracy, and how elections are the way citizens raise their voice and make sure they are heard. We crammed those theories about majority rule and minority rights, and rule of law, and good governance. No one was above the law. There are three pillars of government – Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary. There are checks and balances. Government is for the people, by the people.  By the people – we have the power to put them there, to question their policies, to take them out of power, to keep them in check, to demand better representation. For the people. For me. For you. For the poor. For the wealthy. For me. For writers. For critics. For opposition. It is ours. By the people. Why do I fear the government? When did it cease to be ours?

Often times I remember Dr. Ulimboka. In 2012, he was attacked by “unknown people”, left for dead, for speaking on behalf of doctors, for demanding better for his peers. Someone silenced him. I wonder where he is now, and what happened to his family. Do his peers still respect him? Does his wife still love him? Has he recovered from the scars? Does anyone else still remember him? I think of the words I wrote for him then,

These are trying times…

What will happen to our country?

Seems like everyone is angry,

But I’m afraid if I spit hate-venom,

I won’t be helping the situation.

After fifty years of independence,

Do we need Gandhi’s disobedience?

Do we need to die for our freedom? Again.


They took a free man,

Pulled his nails out, teeth out,

Gagged his mouth to silence his cry-out

Drew a screw driver into his lungs

So he won’t speak out.


Peace, what happened to our beautiful peace?


So I hold back my fist,

Clench my fingers; hold on tight to my BIC.

Yes, this mighty pen,

But they slashed him, mashed him, cut him.

Their power takes souls;

Where can I find the words

to fight against their swords?


So I call on Jesus, Mohamed, something religious.

We need to remind ourselves, that what we have is precious,

That we need to be cautious.

For if we too draw our swords,

There will be no salvation,

And everything we fight for

will be in vain.

For we’ll lose our sons,

lose our nation,

They’ll take everything from us

As we embrace their guns,

And take a blood-bath.


So I hold on to my pen

And write to fight their almighty sword,

I turn my anger into hell,

I hope they burn with these words.

And peace, I pray it never goes,

For there’s never freedom in a war zone.


I still wonder about the same things today, if this mighty pen, if these words could burn those who threaten this peace, and freedom.

I think of someone like Karim Hirji – a writer/mathematician and how much he loves this country. I remember the first time I met him at his house. His hands shook as he poured tea into my cup. I wondered how words of such a small person could be so fierce that Nyerere once exiled him to some rural area to quench his fire. Yet his passion for a better country burns long after the exile was lifted. I am coward. I do not have the courage of Vitali Maembe; whose songs get him in trouble with the Police all the time, or Jenerali Ulimwengu, whose very love for his country somehow makes him an alleged foreigner.

I consider myself a semi-patriot. I love my country with everything in me, but I refuse to shed any blood for it. We do not need any more blood to spill, our soil is already red enough with the blood of our ancestors who fought for our freedom.  I just want my freedom to speak, to question, to be a Tanzanian without fear. But the warnings of my mother still ring in my ears, my words freeze at attention, like a soldier. “Do not write of which you don’t know. We don’t want to lose you.” So, I say nothing.

By Neema Komba,

Neema is a poet and writer from Tanzania. She is the 2014 winner of the Etisalat Prize for Literature in the Flash Fiction category. She is the author of See Through the Complicated, a poetry book published in 2011. Her work entitled, “The Search for Magical Mbuji”, appeared in the creative non-fiction anthology, Safe House: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction published in 2016. Her work has appeared in Adda Stories, This is Africa, and Vijana FM. She is the co-founder of La Poetista, a platform for poets and other artists to showcase their art and create a positive impact in Tanzania. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Business Administration at the University of Tampa.


  1. Patience Nyange says:

    Dear Neema Komba,
    You do not sound afraid at all. I like your writing, very easy, yet very deep. I will quote your last paragraph and use it for my own situation in Kenya. I am happy I read this.

  2. Ivo Mussa says:

    Wow wow … Neema, you are such a blessing to this world with a talent that is so bright. Keep on writing, use your pen as a voice for you and others. You reminded me to take action in my own ways I know in my own world I live in and always do the right thing even in the midst of trials and tribulations.

    Thank you for sharing and may blessing be upon you so that you may continue writing.

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