Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Monday, 10 May 2010

Letter from Butiama: Absentee guests of honour

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. This article was published in December 2006.

A cabinet minister was invited to an event a few years ago and on the relevant day a stand-in, representing the minister, stood up and read out what the minister would have said. For some reason, the minister could not attend. This is quite a common occurrence in Tanzania.

Sometimes the reporting of these events sounds rather awkward: "In a speech read on his behalf, the honourable so-and-so said he was angry that some individuals show total indifference to the plight of the handicapped."

Why organizers go to great lengths to invite individuals who regularly cancel at a moment's notice is beyond comprehension.

It could be true that a VIP guest speaker can add considerable prestige to an event. When the VIP keeps his promise the event becomes a memorable experience to those who attend, but when someone else stands up to deliver a speech that was forced on him by circumstances, then the whole event becomes a permanent blotch on the the organizers. An absent VIP is also a disappointment to those who attended solely to see the celebrity deliver the speech herself. Some in the audience would have probably sent a stand-in listener had they found out in advance that the intended guest would not show up.

It is absurd to report that a guest of honour, who is probably 1,000 kilometres away, should be reported to have 'said' anything to an audience he did not address.

Speeches and speech making appear to have a complexity that is not always apparent. Many important people do not write their speeches, although they may spend some time to edit the speeches written for them. And yet those who may have the time may not possess enough knowledge on the relevant topic. These VIPs will make impressive speeches about some highly technical matter, impressing their audiences by information that was actually put together by a speechwriter who knows the subject well but has little public appeal.

Where the intended guest cannot be present, technology could go some way in assuaging his absence. A prerecorded speech could solve the problem of busy public speakers who cannot be at two locations at the same time.

Sometimes, though, technology may solve one problem while creating another. An old man from a remote village in northern Tanzania met a city-based relative a few years after Mwalimu Nyerere died and said, "Some people can create good tales. They say Mwalimu has died while I saw him speaking on television yesterday and he looked quite healthy."

Important people will probably continue sending representatives to speaking engagements for a long time, just as they have done in the past. On 2 January 1973 President Nyerere sent Vice-President Aboud Jumbe to Sudan to deliver a speech on Mwalimu's behalf to a gathering of intellectuals and leaders of the Sudanese Socialist Union. It was reported that Mwalimu had to cancel the visit at the last minute.

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