On a recent album release by Nas called Life is Good, Anthony Hamilton sings “The world is an addiction / serving up a fix”. The track goes on to discuss the dangers of selling out in pursuit of irrational dreams; indeed, “you gain your life just to lose your soul”.
Sometimes I wonder if Tanzania is losing her soul. Perhaps – as time passes – it is me growing more conscious, or media becoming more pervasive to drama. But it seems like this country is chasing grandeur that is alien to her history and at odds with what she needs today.
Her history and her needs; what do these mean? For the purpose of this post, I am pointing to Tanzania’s historical pursuit to be an independent nation-state, free of international dues and reliance on help. I am also referring to her current state of affairs, mainly consisting of an inefficient system of education coupled with an unbalanced system of trade.
There are a few examples which seem to show that Tanzania is not independent at all and is ignoring her own real needs. I will highlight five here.
1. Defense and policing
Under the pretense of training, the Tanzania People’s Defense Force (TPDF) is taking lessons from foreign interests. It is great to exchange strategy and know-how (TPDF has trained African National Congress and Congolese armies in the past), but knowledge should also be customized to local needs. Yet, the TPDF hardly has its own website, and most of its news flows through AFRICOM and Wikipedia pages. Do we not have our own platforms from which the Tanzanian people can learn and engage with their own defense apparatus? As for civil policing, it is getting eery. A recent op-ed raised alarming questions about the fluctuating loyalty of our police forces. The op-ed was prompted by selective actions pursued by officers during the recent doctors strike, many actions of which people find difficult to trust.
The security and environmental policies around Geita and North Mara mines have mirrored the selective action by civil police forces. Directives appear to come from high-level authorities, far removed from the interests of ordinary citizens. There have been numerous stories about the irony of Geita’s awkwardly benevolent slogans and North Mara’s shooting of “trespassers”. Yet, to the rest of the world, what matters is the “efficient” allocation of resources such that share prices increase; and it appears Tanzania wants to satisfy this allocation. Uh, which Tanzania do we mean here? The ordinary citizens’ Tanzania, or the rest of the world’s Tanzania? Are these the same?
You might be thinking “Well, of course, a country belongs to its citizens!”. Sure, I would like to believe that. But even for Tanzania’s state of agriculture, it is not so easy to tell. In the 1970s, Tanzania provided land to refugees who escaped war and genocide in Burundi. A few years ago, this land was agreed to be used by a US-based company to advance Tanzania-based Kilimo Kwanza initiatives. The agreement was reached by multiple parties, and arrangements had been made to relocate the refugees who had settled in this land over the years. Whether this has been done in the interest of farmers, the refugees and/or Tanzania is still not clear, but this lack of clarity is glaring proof that the agreement was simply not reached in consultation with citizens. What is strange is that this year citizens of Iowa, a state in the US, meet their local authorities to discuss Tanzanian human rights (even though the reallocation of the refugees from Burundi had been planned sometime in 2011). What happened to us sitting down with our local authorities? What does this one case mean for Kilimo Kwanza as a whole?
4. Fishing, wildlife and tourism
The fix appears to be served beyond land, into the deep blue as well. Last year, Tanzania exported about $173 million worth of fish products. What was her revenue from these exports? About $3.7 million (less than 3%). A government website states that fisheries is a source of “employment, livelihood” to people and constitutes about 30% of protein intake in the population, but still we are trying to combat illegal leaks in the system (which begs the question, where is it all leaking to?). Meanwhile, back on firm land, some of Tanzania’s wildlife are being exported under the table, while she sets up large boundaries called “reserves” (some of the largest in the world) where animals are supposed to live freely so she can make a bit of change from tourism. It’s not like Tanzania does not make money from tourism – the numbers show potential – but who is benefiting?
Mwalimu Nyerere once said “our education must counteract the temptation to intellectual-arrogance”. I interpret intellectual-arrogance to mean serving up the fix; being high on an illusion that is distant from reality. Previous reports about whether Tanzania is learning are sobering. But whether or not we choose to improve the state of education within this country, the knowledge the world has about her is distorted, and we seem to encourage it. Perhaps it is time Tanzania made room for more traditional ways of learning.
Whatever we decide to do, Nas sums it all up for everyone with a fix: “We all need faith cause the world keep changing / Let go of the illusion, start some restraining”. Tanzania was never founded on an illusion; rather she was borne from a liberating reality. But whether she sells this reality in pursuit of some quick relief at the expense of her own health or whether she stays grounded with her people is up to those who make the decisions for her.
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