Dar es Salaam. The Australian man at the centre of the worldwide storm over leaked top secret United States’ diplomatic cables posted on the Internet has stayed in Tanzania in the past.Government authorities said yesterday that they were on the alert over an International Police (Interpol) arrest warrant issued against Mr Julian Assange, as his return to the country could not be ruled out. Mr Assange is the brains behind the whistle blowing website ‘WikiLeaks’, which has lately put the US in an awkward position by publishing top-secret information.
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The unfolding saga is being watched closely in Tanzania and Kenya, but with little information about the former having come out in the documents that detail what US diplomats felt or said about their hosts during the period when they compiled the information.
World leaders who have so far been exposed by WikiLeaks, include former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, the French leader, Mr Nicholas Sarkozy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Balusconi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
With the US’s image bloodied by the revelations, Mr Assange, who is now being viewed both as a hero and villain, has a formidable potential foe, and analysts said he could be looking for a hiding place.
According to his profile on the search engine, Wikipedia, the Australian computer expert developed a liking for and briefly lived in Tanzania and Kenya, and visited a few other countries. No further information was available on when he last visited Tanzania, where he stayed and what he did during his stay. He has, however, lived most of his time in the UK.
Mr Assange claims to have influenced the Kenyan presidential election of 2007, by exposing corruption at the highest levels. Three years ago, Wikileaks disclosed a report by the international risk assessment group Kroll, alleging massive corruption on the part of relatives and associates of former President Daniel arap Moi.
The government of President Mwai Kibaki had commissioned the Kroll analysis soon after it came to power following the 2002 elections. It was completed in 2004 and published by Wikileaks in 2007.
Wikileaks founder Assange subsequently claimed that the website’s action influenced the 2007 election results. He said in a commentary published last year that none of the politicians named in the Kroll report were re-elected.
Yesterday in Dar es Salaam, the deputy minister for Home Affairs, Mr Khamis Kagasheki, said: “We are part of the international community and once an alert is issued we must comply.”
He was alluding to the possibility of Tanzania arresting Mr Assange should he decide to return to the country the moment.
“I have been in touch with our Immigration people to inquire about this matter and they are alert just in case something like that happens. We will not want to be caught off guard,” said Mr Kagasheki, who served as a diplomat for a long time before venturing into politics.
Unlike the US embassy in Nairobi, which has issued an apology to the Kenya government after some of the leaked documents, which described the country as “a swamp of corruption”, its Dar es Salaam counterpart has been silent.
However, the Dar embassy was yesterday said to be preparing to host selected journalists in a telephone conference with top US State Department officials next week to discuss the saga. Tanzania will thus be among 20 other African countries to take part in the conference call.