Monday, July 19, 2004

Origins of Utapeli

From the Tanzanian paper Business Times:

Monday, March 17, 2003

Of scams: know the common signals

IN THE early Nineteen-Eighties a local musical group, Vijana Jazz - which was then led by a legendary, the late Hemed Maneti - composed quite an interesting and educative song.
The song, which was given the name Ogopa Matapeli (Beware conmen/fraudsters), cautioned listeners against falling prey to conmen who came with all sorts of tricks that were intended to defraud people of their hard-earned cash and/or property.
The number became an instant hit. In fact, nearly twenty years after it was composed, that song is still on the charts. In an era when songs are composed today only for people to forget them the next day, that was in itself an achievement.
The lasting popularity of the song partly derives from its well-organised rhythm, percussions and vocals. But, I think the main reason for its unending popularity lies in its potent message.
The danger of someone falling prey to fraudsters is as potent - and perhaps even more potent - today than it was more twenty years ago when the song was released.
Fraudsters in all shapes and guises are now at large: some posing as very successful businessmen who are looking for partners with whom to share their riches.
Others pose as stranded travellers from the mines who want to sell some their pots of gold at virtually throw-away prices so that they can continue with their journey!
Yet others prefer to be seen as highly learned representatives from well-respected foreign academic institutions who are looking for bright young recruits for their elite learning Centres.
Still others pose as credit society officers whose mission and objectives are to alleviate the people’s pervasive poverty; and that is why their loan conditions are probably the softest in Africa south of the Sahara.
Today, some of these predators even come disguised as extremely devout, God-fearing people. People who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and whose mission is ostensibly to save other people’s souls! And so on, and so forth. The list of guises is virtually endless; and the danger of Matapeli, con men, is to be encountered virtually anywhere and everywhere.
To a very large extent, the secret of the everlasting popularity of the song Ogopa Matapeli is based on its being perceived as a warning beacon to people, a beacon which constantly alerts them of the dangerous ‘animals’ that are constantly on the prowl.
The predatory Matapeli are always lurking among us, always stalking us. Consequently, one is well-advised to always be on guard, never letting go of one’s armour guard even for a minute, as the consequence of that single minute’s lapse could be dire, even disastrous.
Nobody is really safe from them. As we will soon attempt to show, practically everyone is in mortal danger of being conned. Thus, it would help if everyone realised that one was being stalked - and might be the next victim.
These are dangerous times. Just the other day, a group of people claiming to be officers of a quasi-philanthropic credit society with quite an exotic name were reportedly apprehended by the police. But, that was not before they had collected several millions of shillings from gullible customers as ‘fees for processing their loan applications’.
Similarly, only a couple of months ago, the city of Dar es Salaam was rocked by a high profile racket involving rich ladies who reportedly included the wives of Government ministers and - can you believe this? Wives of members of that most exclusive of the elite in society: the diplomatic community!
In what looked like an executive pyramid game, hundreds of millions of shillings were reportedly plucked off equally influential wives of the blessed of this country.
‘Executive’ because this particular one was so much unlike normal pyramid games in which every Tom, Dick and Harry can participate. No sir, this was a game - albeit a fraudulent game - of the rich, by the rich and for the rich!
The moral we can draw from all this is that, fraud knows no gender, rank, creed, colour or age!
Recently, the press in Tanzania was coloured by a seemingly innocuous advert which invited job-seeking East African seafarers to fill in evaluation forms and send them to an address in Canada which would facilitate their being recruited for lucrative jobs on Canadian cruise ships. Of course, this could only be possible upon payment of a ‘modest fee of only’ US$69!
According to that advert, applicants were promised a handsome payment of $2,000 (about Tsh2 million) per month! How much tempting that must have been for our sailors, bearing in mind that the minimum salary in Tanzania is only $50 per month!
Thus, perhaps not too surprisingly, applicants from all corners of the world, including Brunei, India, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia - and even from Madiba Land: South Africa - are said to have filled in application forms and sent them posthaste with, of course, the mandatory $69 application fee.
According to later reports, however, all the applicants were sent a uniform answer deeply regretting that they had failed to qualify!
It was only to be revealed much latter that the advertising company had no jobs to offer; and that it was only charging the fee for merely delivering information to the applicants.
In the event, the Canadian High Commission in Dar es Salaam made a wise decision under the circumstances, posting a notice warning job seekers against responding to such job offers.
Even more recently, the Commission is reported to have received many telephone calls and enquiries from individuals about yet another such offer. This time round, it was an offer for employment as oil drillers, service personnel and administrators with ‘very good pay.’
The offer ostensibly came from an off-shore oil and gas company allegedly based in Ontario, Canada.
Reports show that more than 200 people had already applied for the ‘jobs’ by the end of last year, paying up to $400 each as an application fee!
The Canadian High Commission in Dar es Salaam urges consumers to ‘exercise caution and common sense in replying to any solicitations which require payment in advance.’
Knowing the common signals - and ways to defend yourself - can save you time and money.
We would all be well-advised to take heed of this timely advice.