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Saturday, May 31, 2008

The shaky ties that bind us

In April I caught a glimpse of the ‘Geneva of Africa.’ Arusha, or A- Town as it is also fondly called, was dazzling. Colorful hotels were in the making, nay, remaking. I even saw a mason carve a sculptor of a monkey onto a gate of one of the hotels!

All this face-lifting has to do with the upcoming 8th Leon H. Sullivan Summit. ‘The Summit of a Lifetime’ as its Presidential Host has dubbed it is set to attract at least 500 delegates. Curiously, most of them are coming as potential African-American investors.

I am packing as I write this article. By the time this column reaches the subeditor I will be on my way to Arusha. From what I have seen in the media it seems the city will be glittering than when I last saw it. But I won’t see much of it because I will only be passing by the city. In fact I will be going to witness firsthand the plight of Arusha residents who are forced to give way to investors.

Ironically, we are strengthening the ties that bind us to our brothers and sisters from the African Diaspora while the very ties that bind us as Africans/Tanzanians are shaking. Actually it is the shaking of our ties as African people that led to some of our chiefs and merchants of death such as Tippu Tippu to sell our people into slavery in the first place. Is history repeating itself?

Those who forget history, declares George Santayana, are condemned to repeat it. What will stop me from repeating the history of complicity to slavery if I forget that my great-great- grandmother Namphombe was taken into slavery? Her crime was only to tarry a little longer in the market till her merchandise could be sold out.

Didn’t she know that the ancient era of trading freely with traders from Persia and China was over? Was she oblivious to the fact the famed trading routes from the coast to the interior had been turned into slave routes? When I revisit these routes I wonder where Namphombe was taken to and how she struggled against captivity. It could be in other parts of Africa, Asia or the Americas. It is this historical experience of struggling against slavery, racism and imperilialism that has forged ties that bind Africans across Africa and its Diaspora.

Now as our visitors brace for a warm homecoming in Arusha wouldn’t it be better if they learn how warmly we are to our people? Won’t we all be happy to discredit the negativity about the way we treated victims of slavery? But how can we show that we are not primarily responsible for slavery if we mistreat our people as if they are slaves in their own land?

Consider these gruesome incidents documented by Mkombozi: “22 year-old James had sharp sticks inserted into his mouth to keep his screams from being heard during a beating that could have cost him his life”; “16 year-old John was assaulted so badly that he could not walk.”; “Paul and Frank, both clients of Mkombozi, were arrested at the market place where they daily make an honest living by vending. They are now in prison charged with gambling.”

All this has to do with the whitewash preparation for the summit. It is as if our welcoming adage ‘mgeni njoo mgeni apone,’ that is, ‘let the visitor come so that the host can be healed’ is a mere sarcastic rhetoric. Eve since the World Trade Organization (WTO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) affirmed that our salvation out of poverty lies in attracting foreign direct investments we can hardly think beyond foreign capital.

Just let them in. Give them hectares of land, thousand of hectares to farm jatropha. It doesn’t really matter that biofuels will fuel hunger. Why should it matter now hunger is globalized?

Grant them a golden opportunity to dig black holes in our mines. It doesn’t really matter that they merely pay 3 % royalty and evade the 30 % corporate tax by declaring loss. Why should it matter when the Tanzania Chamber of Minerals and Energy affirms that “Tanzania is currently exploiting only 4% of the gold potential” (The Citizen 26/03/08)?

But if it doesn’t matter that for “about a year now, 200 families have been living in tents at a church compound after their houses were pulled down to pave way for large scale mining” (The Citizen 18/05/08) when will it matter? When will it matter if doesn’t matter now that children are dying of malnutrition because we are not paying enough attention to food production?

I am not sure if these issues will be discussed at the summit. After all it is primarily a business conference. But business is about people. Due to its humanity, human capital is worth more than any amount of foreign capital we can amass. I believe our kith and kin from the African Diaspora will be sensitive enough to our human capital that is prone to displacement by investors.

My belief is based on their contribution to the human emancipation project in the context of Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanist African-Americans, from Alexander Crumell to William E. B. Du Bois, believed that our futures are intimately linked and hence it is their moral duty to seek the prosperity of Africa. They did so during our nationalistic struggles for independence. Afterwards their Peace Corps left the highways of America to tread the byways of our then Ujamaa villages.

How on earth can our potential African-American investors betray this rich legacy? How can our collective conscience facilitate such a betrayal by displacing our fellow citizens? In as much as the useful support of our African diasporic family is warmly welcomed, ultimately our salvation lies within our country. Let’s invest in the people as our drivers of change.

Appeared in The Citizen 30/05/08 as 'The shaky ties that bind Africans'

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