Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Have you ever wished you were not Tanzanian?

You could see it in their eyes. That strong urge to prove something wrong. To show that ‘yes, we can’ be successful Tanzanians out there. And that surely Tanzania as a success story is possible.

As I listened attentively to them my mind drifted away. It went as far as Euro-America. I wondered how many times Africans or Tanzanians have to prove themselves to the world.

They were three of them. Each came to tell her story in our workshop on ‘Women as Producers of Knowledge’ at the recently ended Gender Festival. A ‘herstory’ that will re-centre women.

The first one, Mwandale Mwanyekwa, spoke of how it is possible to be a successful woman sculptor in a domain dominated by men. Then Modesta Mahiga showed how it is possible for a young woman to manage her own successful company. Finally Belinda Mlingo opened up the possibilities of successfully competing globally in the not so free market of fashion and design.

As a man I could only indirectly relate to how proud they feel to be women and Tanzanian women for that matter. But, as a ‘Tanzanian African’, I could directly relate to how they feel to be Tanzanian. What I sensed is that common persistence feeling of a bruised African pride.

This is the feeling that haunted Frantz Fanon when he lamented why we should only derive our basic purpose from the African past. It is what troubled Mwalimu Julius Nyerere when he warned us about being “permanent source of the hewers of wood and drawers of water for the educated of this world” if we don’t enter “the honourable competition for knowledge.”

Since that tragic encounter between Africa and the West which keep replaying itself in many ways, ‘the African’ has never ceased to attempt to prove himself/herself. As this encounter is rehearsed time and again, he/she is asked over and over again to question his/her pride as an African. ‘What do you have to show to the world?’ ‘What have you contributed to civilization?’

In the case of post-Ujamaa Tanzania , I think, our wounded African pride is sorely festering. Why? Because of what the late Professor Chachage referred to as our ‘collective imbecilization.’

Note, for instance, the following anecdote from Modesta Mahiga: “It saddens me therefore that when a foreigner speaks to a confident and well presented Tanzanian they immediately ask where that person is from because they couldn’t possible be Tanzanian.”

“Unfortunately”, she concludes, “we are not associated with excellence. I will never forget that during training overseas a former CEO I served under said ‘putting the words ‘Tanzanian’ and ‘Excellence’ together would be an oxymoron.’ Even when convinced that you are indeed a Tanzanian they attribute your confidence and drive to foreign exposure. I find this insulting.”

If you can’t identify with that anecdote then try recalling something similar to what Belinda Mlingo’s hears during her numerous attempts to explain to the Euro-American mindset where the heck Tanzania is: ‘Ooh Kilimanjaro’; ‘Aah Zanzibar’; ‘Yeah Nyerere; ‘Wow Serengeti’!

It is these encounters coupled with ‘our collective imbecilization’ in the areas of grand corruption (ufisadi), contradictory policies (sera ndumilakuwili) and what a runaway Tanzanian refers to as the ‘celebration of mediocrity’ that sometimes make us wish we are not Tanzanians.

As the Kiswahili saying goes ‘lisemwalo lipo kama halipo linakuja’, that is, ‘what is said is there and if not then it is coming.’ Due to certain historical circumstances, there is a lot that is said about us that is ‘really’ there. But, even if it is not there, it is coming because of our own making.

Surely we don’t have to make history work against us. After all we have claimed these as the times of the ‘African Renaissance’. We have proclaimed that today it feels good to be African.

It is about time now that we make our own history and herstory. As Mwandale Mwanyekwa alerts us, ‘ Africa has already awakened!’ Why, then, should Tanzania (ns) remain in slumber?

© Chambi Chachage - The Citizen (15/09/09)


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