By JENERALI ULIMWENGU The East African Posted Monday, January 10 2011 There is a disturbing wantonness in the way our forces of law and order are wont to use force without order and with scant regard for law. There are far too many occasions when the police act with such brute force that one is left wondering what it is they are trying to prevent, save, protect or help. Last Wednesday, for instance, when the main opposition party in Tanzania, Chadema, decided to take to the streets of Arusha to demonstrate over a number of issues, the police had been put on notice well in advance. In fact, some reports even suggested that, contrary to their habitual no-demonstration stance, the cops had given their nod to this particular demonstration on this particular day. That subsequently the police decided, via an announcement by the Inspector General of Police, to issue an order banning it a day or so before the planned demo is incomprehensible. Surely, a group that has been told that their planned action is okay will have taken the trouble to organise, to mobilise and to strategise, and all this involves time, money and emotions. So, understandably, Chadema went ahead with their demo, some of their leaders were arrested, a few of them were clobbered, some seriously, and a reported two people died. Whatever caused these deaths, they constitute a tragedy for the nation and a blot on the record of our police force. Our collective memory span seems to be very short. Exactly 10 years ago this month, in 2001, we were all bemoaning the tragedy that had befallen us when dozens of people were killed in Pemba and Unguja and hundreds of Tanzanians were forced to flee into exile, the first time this country, always the provider of refuge, generated refugees of her own, most of whom found asylum in Kenya. The brutality of our police force in that ignoble incident has never been fully exorcised, and the impunity of those involved remains intact. Its not surprising, therefore, when we see policemen ready to re-enact the events of 2001 with total abandon. They know they can shoot to kill and the story ends there. And, now that Seif Sharif Hamad, the leader whose exhortations led to the 2001 demos, is in government, we may never again hear of any call for a full explanation of what really happened. Such is the sad and sordid nature of our politics of the personal stomach. Let it be stated again. The right to demonstrate is a fundamental right. As with all other rights, it has to be exercised peacefully, without endangering the public peace; this is how many demonstrations, including those that have been disrupted by the police, have always started out. If during any demonstration some elements among the demonstrators engage in law-breaking activities, they should be easy to identify and pluck out through the police co-operating with demo marshals. If a big enough number of demonstrators turn out to be violent, then the police have the duty to disrupt the demonstration and disperse the participants. This is no different from a party that turns nasty with revellers hurling beer bottles at each other. But it does not allow the police to stop a wedding party because they think it will turn violent. The magical power to foretell what is going to happen belongs to special people and the IGP was not a sangoma, last time I looked. Police cannot have the prerogative of banning a demonstration on the pretext that it is bound to break the peace, even if before it kicks off. To accept that precept would be tantamount to surrendering our liberty to an organisation that has political masters who may have an interest in keeping huge chunks of the population silent. The police are a civic defence force whose main duty is to protect citizens and their property. It should not be allowed to be misused by politicians who are running away from their own shadows simply because they know they have failed to deliver, and they have, quite honestly, lost it. Jenerali Ulimwengu, chairman of the board of Raia Mwema newspaper, is a political commentator and civil society activist based in Dar es Salaam.