The hateful text messages widely circulated throughout the country from mobile numbers registered in Finland were part of an election smear campaign carried out by a local IT specialist currently operating on the fifth floor of Barclays House, The Guardian on Sunday has learnt.
The revelation comes as Finnish and Tanzanian officials launched an investigation to nab the culprits behind the propaganda, which has targeted opposition candidates ahead of the October 31 general elections.
Earlier this week, while addressing the nation on the 11th anniversary of the death of Julius Nyerere, President Jakaya Kikwete described those spreading the hate messages as dangerous to the nation's peace and unity. President Kikwete said circulating defamatory messages was not the way to canvass for votes, as it could create more problems.
“I think this is becoming a serious problem... leadership cannot be gauged by obscenities or bad language against your rivals. This shows that Tanzanians have started to segregate one another,” Kikwete said on Thursday this week.
Text messages sent from Finnish telephone numbers, targeting Chadema presidential candidate Willibrod Slaa, have been circulating since last week. The police, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority and mobile phone providers are investigating the source of the messages to establish who is behind them.
But, according to details gathered by The Guardian on Sunday, including emails sent between October 5 and 10, this year, the IT specialist is one, Rashid Shamte, who has a very strong connection with senior IT specialists at two leading mobile companies.
Two weeks ago, Shamte received edited versions of the ten hateful messages plus the 'ten commandments' at his email address firstname.lastname@example.org. In one of the email seen by this newspaper, the author says, “Brother, we have finished your assignment with my boy who seemed to be good in doing this job…I will call you shortly so that we see how to empower him financially.” “As you may be aware this is a tough job that needs time and creativity” reads another one of the emails sent to email@example.com on October 10, this year.
But, not all messages designed, authored and sent to Shamte’s emails were hateful or incriminating. Majority of these emails were just strategies aimed at responding to various policy issues raised by Dr Slaa and Professor Lipumba.
The hateful text messages have predominately targeted Chadema presidential candidate Dr. Willibrod Slaa but have also been directed at Professor Ibrahim Lipumba.
The first crop of ten messages accused Dr. Slaa of being a dangerous man who shouldn't be trusted with the task of leading a nation like Tanzania. Some of these messages were circulated to millions of mobile phone subscribers two weeks ago, forcing Chadema to file an official complaint with law enforcers.
“When you wake up on the morning of October 31, remember to recite this prayer: Oh Father who art in heaven and earth, don’t divide your people the way Chadema does; give us rights as the way those who come from Kilimanjaro give themselves; don’t deny us opportunities because we are not the in-laws of Mzee Mtei, give us light to live longer, and don’t take us hurriedly the way you took our hero Chacha Wangwe” reads one of these text messages
The text messages also depict Dr Slaa as a leader bent on winning the presidency at all costs, even if it would mean spilling blood. The texts were sent from two numbers, +358-8108226 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +358-8108226 end_of_the_skype_highlighting and +358-8976578 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +358-8976578 end_of_the_skype_highlighting, both bearing the Finnish country code. One of the messages accuses Chadema of being a tribal party dominated by Chagga people who receive their orders from former Central Bank governor Edwin Mtei. Mtei is among the founders of Chadema party, which was officially registered in July 1992.
The second round of text messages contained the so-called 'Ten Commandments', in which nine out of these are directed at Dr Slaa, and one is dedicated to Professor Lipumba of Civic United Front.
Although none of these messages attacked the ruling party or its candidates, there is still no credible evidence directly connecting CCM with the author of these damaging messages. According to details obtained by this newspaper, the 'Ten Commandments' were meant to be circulated the day before the election.
In one of the commandments, the author says, “Don’t follow Dr Slaa; he is a womanizer who commits adultery with married women and then dumps them.” Based on the emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, Shamte seems to have been the distributor of the texts, using his IT expertise and connections with telecoms specialists to distribute the texts to millions of mobile phone users in Tanzania.
These emails also show that he has a very strong connection with one firm currently contracted by the ruling party to deal with its online communications through blogs and websites. The firm also has its office at Barclays House fifth floor, Ohio street, according to details gathered by The Guardian on Sunday.
All of Shamte's emails bear the signature of a Blackberry, showing that he usually uses his mobile phones to communicate with his partners in this smear campaign.
The Guardian on Sunday has reliably established that Shamte has also acted as a media analyst, giving his assessment of how the media has covered the top three presidential candidates since the campaign started.
Contacted yesterday through his mobile number, Shamte would not discuss the issue, and when asked to confirm that email address email@example.com was his, he responded by asking how our reporter got his mobile number.
“If you can please tell me who gave you my telephone number,” requested Shamte yesterday evening when contacted through his cellular phone number.
The Guardian on Sunday’s reporter responded: “As we are always in search of credible information, we take every trouble to get to our sources of information, and today you stand as one of our credible sources,” asking him to confirm whether the email address actually belonged to him.
But instead, he chose to hang off.
The police have yet to apprehend any suspects connected to these defamatory and incriminating text messages, while the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority has also failed to identify the owner of the mobile number.
However what puzzles many people is how the author of these messages managed to access the database of various mobile phone operators in order to reach millions of people countrywide directly.
Under normal circumstances, no mobile handset can store that volume of contacts, but the mysterious author managed to jam over 5 million users within 48 hours, causing panic and outrage among opposition supporters.
Although none of the messages advised for the masses to take any action against the opposition, the rhetoric used was reminiscent of the genocidal propaganda spread in the run-up to the 1994 massacre in Rwanda.
At that time, there was another popular 'Ten Commandments' that was circulated by Hutu extremists in the few days before the genocide, when radio and newspapers were used to incite hate against the Tutsi minority. What followed was the murder of about 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutus in a genocide that shocked the world.
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