WHEN Tanzania’s President John Magufuli suddenly fired the director-general of the country’s intelligence and security service on Thursday this week, many were surprised but very few, if any, anticipated what was to follow.
Impeccable sources within the intelligence and the State House have confided to SAUTI KUBWA that the former Director-General of the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Services (TISS), Modestus Kipilimba, was temporarily detained at one of the “safe houses” in Dar es Salaam, before his conditional release.
Kipilimba may appear in court to answer a number of criminal charges including abuse of office, money laundering, embezzlement of public funds, economic sabotage, bribery and other forms of corruption. Some sources told SAUTI KUBWA that any further action against him may ultimately depend on the outcome of preliminary investigations and subsequent analysis. It is likely that some serious charges against him involve or implicate other authorities above him, a loophole they may use to release him on conditions.
Kipilimba is the first TISS boss to face such an embarrassment in the country’s history. But Magufuli’s action is not unique in the region. He is borrowing a leaf from Omar al Bashir, Sudan’s ousted president, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, on record for having fired, incarcerated, and even assassinated some of their intelligence bosses on various grounds.
It is understood that he was very unpopular among the staff of his own intelligence system because most of his subordinates considered him corrupt and unqualified for the job although he had earned the president’s trust. It is known in some circles that Kipilimba was recently implicated in secretly lending a helping hand to some of Magufuli’s political foes. This charge may definitely not surface in court.
“We are even surprised at how he managed to survive in this post that long because his weaknesses were known and reported to the president within six weeks of his appointment. But the president must have been comfortable with him because he was obedient enough to the president’s orders,” says one anonymous source.
Kipilimba served as TISS for three years. He has been replaced by Diwani Athumani, a police officer who has previously worked as Director of Criminal Investigations, Regional Administrative Secretary and Director General for the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB).
Three years ago, when President Magufuli took office, he impulsively fired Athuman from the office of DCI on corruption grounds. When his advisors told him about the risks of rendering jobless such a senior officer, he appointed him to a junior post in Kagera region, making him the region’s administrative secretary. When the president differed with the then PCCB boss, Valentino Mlowola, on the professional way of running the bureau, he fired him and promoted Athuman to the office.
His sudden rise to the post of TISS boss surprises many, and few do expect him to do better than Kipilimba because, like Kipilimba, he, too, has proven himself as an “extremely obedient servant” to the president.
“During his tenure with PCCB, Athuman has proven to the president that he can be as obedient and pleasing as possible to him. And given his background as a police officer, he is expected to observe more obedience than advice to the president. Kipilimba failed in so many ways and for so many reasons, but one of them was his excessive obedience to the president. One of the things that Magufuli hates most is being advised against his point of view, being corrected or being delayed,” says another impeccable source.
By firing Kipilimba, President Magufuli is attempting to distance himself from several criminal allegations that have gripped the nation’s top leadership in the past four years, during which tens of government critics have been tortured and killed by sponsored thugs and rogue elements within TISS.
This is one of the charges that Kipilimba might face, but analysts wonder if such charges can be brought against him because, in the course of defending himself, he might end up implicating the president whom he had so far obeyed so religiously.
Kipilimba’s deputy, John Nyaulingo, was recently involved in a road accident that ended up having his legs cut off. He has not been seen in public for the past three weeks, with some sources claiming he passed away and was secretly buried. His post has been taken over by someone else. But some sources have told SAUTI KUBWA that, “Nyaulingo is not dead. He is just unable to perform his duties because he is crippled.”
Kipilimba’s sacking was not unexpected. In mid-June 2019, President Magufuli convened a meeting with all top officers within TISS. He rebuked Kipilimba in the presence of his subordinates.
Three weeks ago, the president conducted a secret survey among TISS staff. Most of them pointed an accusing finger at Kipilimba, blaming him for destabilising TISS, haphazardly recruiting incompetent and untrained personnel, some of whom are his relatives and colleagues from his church.
From the time Kipilimba was appointed TISS boss in August 2016, the opposition has been accusing him of corrupt practices particularly in connection with his former designation as the acting director-general for the National Identification Agency (NIDA). Magufuli turned a deaf ear to such allegations until this week when, coupled with other accusations, it proved too much for him to bear.
Analysts link this action with the 2020 general election as Magufuli seeks a second term. His first term has proven hostile and catastrophic both to the people and to himself, and he recently received secret reports from Kipilimba that he is continuously becoming unpopular to the extent that he may not win the next election. His brutal politics have turned a formerly peaceful Tanzania into the state of terror. But Magufuli did not agree with his advisors on these findings.
In the eyes of many, even Athuman is not an ideal choice for the post. As a police officer without the necessary intelligence skills, with no institutional memory, and lacking proper and strong contacts within the system, Athuman is likely to commit similar errors to those of his immediate predecessor. He is likely to employ fear and obedience as his main tools in leading TISS.
Others say Athuman is equally disposable and he knows it, having been previously fired and demoted by the same president. The president later tested and trusted his obedience during his brief stint at PCCB where he is said to have fired and punished all people that he was instructed to fire.
Should anything happen after next year’s general election, the police and army posts may likely need fresh appointments. The police chief, Simon Sirro, is nearing retirement, while the army chief Venance Mabeyo is working on a special contract. Athuman would be the president’s most likely appointment for the post of Inspector General of Police (IGP) as any president would have to start afresh with other appointments.