Tanzania’s foremost astrologer, numerologist and, allegedly, spy, passed away today in Dar es Salaam’s Mt. Mkombozi Hospital. With a busy practice in Dar’s Mwembechai area, just behind the Oilcom petrol station, he was also in demand across the region and indeed the continent.
Swahili Street deals too much with Tanzania’s politics – there’s a lot more to life than that – and so it has not been possible to avoid touching on the occult, which is never far away in Tanzania’s public discourse or private contemplation. Inevitably, this meant engaging with the Sheikh and his predictions, respectfully I hope.
Sheikh Yahya Hussein was taken seriously by Tanzania’s mainstream media. His predictions always made the news pages, more often than not the front page. And as often as not, he was wrong. In March of last year he predicted that the 2010 election wouldn’t take place and that Amani Abeid Karume would seek a third term in Zanzibar, romping home with a clear majority.
Rumours of his closeness to State House were not exactly dampened when President Kikwete paid for his medical treatment in India in 2009, nor when the Sheikh promised “an army of djinns“ for Kikwete’s protection during the following year’s election campaign.
More mundanely, allegations of secret service activity on behalf of Julius Nyerere emerged in Ludovik Mwijage’s memoir of dissidence in the 1980s, The Dark Side of Nyerere’s Legacy. It is worth reading for his economical descriptions of a younger Sheikh Yahya, plying his trade in Swaziland.
Maybe his boldest prediction was that last year’s 2010 election would result in a coalition government, with a Prime Minister coming from the oppostion. In this, we were of one mind, and we were both wrong.
Yet despite his track record, reaction would be sought to each prediction- and the reaction came in spades, from leading politicians, political party functionaries and political scientists.
As much as the media took the Sheikh seriously, he was always seeking to use media in new ways. Mwijage mentions his almost daily advertisements in the Nairobi press, and indeed Zanzibar, where Mwijage saw yet more advertisements for his nemesis during detention following his extraordinary rendition back to Tanzania.*
In recent years, his weekly TV show on Channel 10 was at times amateurish but he never stopped trying to innovate with set design, costume and format. The worldly attractions of a pretty co-presenter were not lost on him. His love of garish jackets also hinted at the showman within. And while he never made it to twitter or facebook, he had an irregularly maintained website, that was packed with fascinating detail of the spirit world.
For now, enjoy footage of Sheikh Yahya’s TV show, Nyota Zenu,where he was joined for this episode by his webmaster, Abdulrahman Abbas, promoting the then relaunch of the website. Yet Abbas’ focus on how the site highlighted the Sheikh’s past glories in Swaziland and Nairobi maybe hinted at his decreasing relevance in the 21st Century.
But he kept on keepin’ on, a true Dar original.
*surely ‘extraordinary’ should be reserved for occasions when such exercises are facilitated by a mystic?