Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Tanzania in National Geographic's Racist Coverage

This week we have been treated to this controversial confession: 'National Geographic' Reckons With Its Past: 'For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist'. Some critics have welcome it while others remain critical. I hereby post an essay I wrote 15 years ago.


Chambi Chachage (2003)

“In its polemical stance, then, African discourse presents itself as a thorough-going deconstruction of the Western image of the Native, the Black, the African” (Irele, 2001, p. 69)


     “And I ponder what will happen here in Tanzania…” (White, 1975, p. 474)

At on the onset I am constrained to categorically state that this essay is based on the following three premises that account for my subjective standpoint as a reader and a writer: the terms ‘Africa’ and ‘African’ are very problematic notions/constructs/ideas which need to be deconstructed and reconstructed for the benefits of the so-called ‘African people’; the Western image of the African, which owes much to the universalizing discourses of colonialism, civilization and imperialism, is still alive and well in its virulent metamorphoses and subtle forms; in as much as Africa and Africans are heterogonous, the social, economical and political construction/creation of Africa has created, not only a ‘real’ homogenous place called Africa, but also some ‘real’ common consequences to the majority of Africans (Mudimbe, 1994, Zeleza, 1997; Irele, 2001). These premises impose a moral responsibility that constrains me to subscribe to what Irele (2001) refers to as the polemic stance of African discourse, by engaging myself in a thoroughgoing deconstruction of the Western image of the African.

In this essay, then, I attempt on the basis of the above-mentioned polemic stance to offer a close reading of how one of the African country by the name of Tanzania and its people have been represented by the National Geographic Magazine. I acknowledge the fact deduced from that the writers of the magazine sometimes mention Tanzania in passing when they are writing about other African countries and other related issues but for the purpose of this essay I would particularly focus on one article that was the only article that was wholly devoted to Tanzania as a country and therefore formed a part of the ‘selling’ cover story/stories of the magazine. 

However, I would attempt to compare this article, which was written by White (1975), with other cover stories/article on other African countries that were published during the first half of the 1970s. Moreover, I would also attempt to consult other subsequent articles on phenomena and events that were experienced in Tanzania. A copy of National Geographic of April 1975 will accompany this essay as an attachment. Unless otherwise specified, all the italicized and underlined texts that appear in all the quotes below are my own and they are employed for the purpose of substantiating my analyses and arguments.


“Alas the Serengeti ecosystem isn’t easy to fathom, any more than the socio-economic dynamics of Tanzania. I must move on.” (White, 1975, p. 490)

The year is 1975 and what Legum (1999) calls the Romantic period in Africa has or is rather giving way to what he terms as the period of Disillusionment. The Cold War between the so-called Western and the Eastern bloc is still at its best and Africa is one of its favourite staging grounds: on the southern part of Africa the Apartheid regime is till causing a lot of havoc to the liberation struggles in the African countries of Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique; the Soviet bloc and the Chinese are busy supplying weapons to aid these liberation struggles and the last of the Western colonialists i.e. the Portuguese are on the verge of granting Angola and Mozambique their independence; Tanzania and their leader, Julius K. Nyerere (1978), are busy leading this 'Crusade of Liberation'

This is the year Peter T. White (1975), a staff of the National Geographic Magazine, decided to travel to Tanzania and write a travelogue that was heavily laden with carefully selected images as photographed earlier by his compatriot, Emory Kristof. Why 1975? What so special in Tanzania in 1975? Why not 1964 (the year Tanzania was born after the unification of Tanganyika and Zanzibar)? Why not 1967 (the year the Arusha Declaration was proclaimed so as to usher the famous policy of Ujamaa na Kujitegemea i.e. Socialist Familyhood and Self-reliance)? Who did White (1975) target as his main audience and what did he intend them to see, and for what purpose? Upon which discourses and myths did he build his travelogue? With these questions in mind its time now start tackling White’s (1975) texts and its accompanying photographs. 
The first thing one encounter is the title of the travelogue being juxtaposed with other titles in the front cover. Actually the title, “TANZANIA MARCHES TO ITS OWN DRUM” is sandwiched between “UTAH’S SHINING OASIS AND “THE LOYALISTS: AMERICANS WITH A DIFFERENCE.” One of the things that this title as well as the way it was located presupposes, is that there is another kind of drum i.e. a drum which is not Tanzania’s ‘own’ drum. It also presupposes that Tanzania was either not marching at all or if it was marching, then it was not marching “to its own drum.” Drawing from Achebe (1989), I hypothesize that the title of White’s (1975) travelogue, just like the way Joseph Conrad’s River Congo acted as an antithesis to the River Thames, is meant to act as an antithesis of above titles which are based on myths engendered in the song “America the Beautiful.” 

This hypothesis is supported by the fact that throughout the texts things Tanzanian are comparatively analysed with respect to America: “Consider first a few notable aspects of Tanzania (Tan-za-NEE-a), whose 14 million inhabitants and 363, 000 square miles roughly approximate the population and size of Texas plus New Mexico” (White, 1975, p. 474); “ Zanzibar…. produces more than two-thirds of the world’s cloves. That means some 35 million dollars annually…. If the U.S. sold a crop on a similar scale, it would bring 17 billion dollars” (White, 1975, p. 501); “Nearby, men in Arab-style white robes discuss the price of dagaa [this word is italicized in the original and it defined as “local freshwater sardines”]…The price is high across the lake, in Zaire. A policeman tells me the smuggling is brisk; back come secondhand American clothes. In the market I see shirts neatly laid out on the ground. Sear. Brooks Brothers. Nothing in my size” (White, 1975, p. 504); “Lake Tanganyika has a tremendous underexploited stock of sardines, a man from Idaho [U.S.A] tells me. He should know – he’s an aquatic biologist working for the U.N., and he just surveyed the lake with an echo sounder” (White, 1975, p. 504).

The above universalizing language of western modernity reminds me of the genealogy of the myth of the “Dark Continent” which was produced by the imperialist ideology that was based on the self-validating and legitimizing idea that “ there was only one civilization, one path of progress, one true religion” (Brantlinger, 1988, p. 17). Though White (1975) attempts to be charitable in his representation of Tanzania and Tanzanians, a close reading reveals that this myth that rendered Africans as backward and in need of progress is so pervasive in his travelogue. In the very beginning of the article the reader is introduced to someone and something ‘impressive’ that is happening “UNDER THE EQUATORIAL SUN” in East Africa, in the Dodoma region of the United Republic of Tanzania: “a little girl with a big gourd on her head walks into a dry riverbed”(White, 1975, p. 474). White’s ‘gaze’ scrutinize her as “she digs a hole in the soft sand, armdeep.” The gaze fixes her as she “waits, until enough muddy water has seeped into the hole to fill her gourd” and then the gaze follows her along as “she walks back a quarter of a mile to a row of grape seedlings, to pour a bit of water on each.” 

We are not told long this gaze was but the conclusion we are given is that she “has done this all morning, and will do it again in late afternoon. I am impressed – such hard work, to nurse along a few seedling after the expected rains did not come” (White, 1975, p. 474). This gaze implies that there was enough time to talk and ask her name but her name is not given. Her reaction to the gaze is not described either. She was just a “little girl” after all who “impressed” White, the traveler with “such hard work” to the extent that she qualified to be used to set the stage for the representation of the predicament of Tanzania and Tanzanians with respect to labour and progress.

What we see above is a gaze per excellence for indeed “‘the gaze' is more than a long, fixed look of wonder and (possibly) admiration upon a body/subject. It is rather 'a fundamental structure in the ways in which the subject relates to the cultural order ... the way in which subjectivity itself is formed through [its] mechanisms ... [It is] something that impacts on, shapes, and contorts the body/subject'”(Kamenier, 1998). Moreover, a close examination of this charitable gaze and some other subsequent ones reveal that White is practicing a very subtle form ‘othering.’ Just like Pratt’s (1986) John Burrow, White ensures that the people he wants to other are homogenized into a collective ‘they.’ 

The only difference is that White is clever and subtle enough to include the term “they” in absentia: the “little girl” in a country where “they,” the people are said to work and farm together according to” the spirit of Ujamaa,” is described as if she is working alone the whole morning and will work alone “again in late afternoon”! So, this is how ‘they’ live and treat their ‘little’ ones: “a ‘little’   girl with a ‘big’ gourd on her [little] head; “Goose-stepping Young Pioneers salute African Leaders…” captions the opening photograph on page 475, with a “little” boy leading some other “little” boys as “Tanzania marches to its own drum”; “ A young dockworker levels a truckload of maize” accompanies a photograph of what appear to be a “little” boy doing a man’s job on page 481; “I visit a camp in Mafinga in south-central Tanzania for graduation day. Youth in khaki show off their agricultural achievement…. Quite a few in the ranks are girls…. I think of my basic training in World War II and hope these kids won’t ever see real combat. When you’re that green the casualties are fearful” (White, 1975, p. 483). “Babies are breast-fed, but when the second child comes along the first goes to grandmother, and she’ll give the kids only bananas, or “stiff porridge” of maize meal, or whatever she got when she was a kid…” “The freshwater sardine, nearly 65 percent protein when dried, could add a much-needed nutrient to Tanzania’s starch-laden diet”(White, 1975, p. 504, 506) “What to do when the vast majority lives scattered in the countryside and grows barely enough food to survive…. The unorthodox Tanzanian answer fascinates the world’s experts on underdevelopment – and may have much to say to other lands where a quarter of the children die before reaching five, where nearly half of those who survive will never go to school” (White, 1975, p. 478).

White (1975) tells us that most of the Dodoma's grapes, which of course might include the grapes that the above-gazed little girls was watering, will go to “a so-called “parastatals” enterprise, managed by an Italian expert” (White, 1975, p. 474). Why does he refer to it as a “so-called” “parastatal ” enterprise? Why is he detaching himself from this “parastatal” while rendering it as the ‘other’s’ enterprise? I argue that he does so because he was writing from a western capitalist/ universalist standpoint and the establishment of parastatal enterprises [i.e. public corporations  was “generally presented as socialist policies because of the elements of nationalization in setting them up” (Legum, 1999, p. 44). The wines that come out of these parastatals are sampled and the conclusion is, “Who’d want such acrid stuff? Parastatals planners expected to export lots of wine for precious foreign currencies. Now they admit something went wrong somewhere-unsold bottles are piling. They are looking for another expert” (White, 1975, p. 474). 

White seems to be telling his Western reader that he is worried about the non-western “social experiment” in Tanzania and its global consequences: “And I ponder what will happen here in Tanzania, where so much enthusiastic planning is done these days, and so much hard work, but somehow quite a few things turn sour. The upshot may be of considerable importance, not only to Tanzanians and their descendants but also to millions around the globe” (White, 1975, p. 474). How can this be of considerable importance to the Western audience? Why is it so worrying to the universalizing west when an African country chooses its own particular development path?


“Weapons, the foreign minister says, have been coming from the Soviet bloc and China. But Tanzania, he insists, is not committed to any superpower, East or West” (White, 1975, p. 505)

The message to the western audience is clear: Tanzania and Tanzanians are underexploited and ‘they themselves’ do not want to progress. If only they can follow our universal western path of progress and modernity then they will get billions of “precious” U.S. dollars. With an imperial nostalgic tone reminiscence of Pratt’s (1992) Anticonquest travel writers, White laments this lack of a capitalist spirit of exploiting labour and resources in Tanzania, while he cherishes every moment he sees traces of Western modernity:

 “ Our flight offers a verdant prospect indeed: first a green plateau, green mountains splashed on it, magnificent emptiness…. Dense forest now, a seemingly endless expanse – good soil, it’s said, to grow rice enough for millions, but nothing man-made can be seen except, a thin straight line. It’s the Great Uhuru Railway, a minuscule string of concrete ties and steel. It was strung here to help open up this land for Ujamaa” (White, 1975, p. 484).

“The din is deafening at the Friendship Textile Mill, no wonder. Nearly a thousand looms are banging away in a hall the size of two [American] football fields. It’s Tanzania’s biggest factory – 4, 700 employee. It could manage with half that many, but it does not want to. People need jobs and labor isn’t expensive, machinery is. The Chinese set it all up…The Friendship mill runs around the clock but probably won’t reach its goal this year, says the production chief. Too many power failures” (White, 1975, p. 486).

“Most of the larger coffee farms have been nationalized, and one of the last expatriate coffee farmers [White does not refer to them as ‘white settlers,’ which was a common name in the nationalist discourse] is packing to go back to England. I admire the pretty cottage, the clipped lawn. He says I should have seen how beautiful it was before – he doesn’t care about it now. His wife shows me her photo album, how it was when they came 26 years ago, all wild (White, 1975, p. 490).

“ I drift to the dhow harbor. Where’s all that Coca-Cola going? Forty-five miles away, to Zanzibar. Thirty-two thousand cases a year, says a shipping official. The empty bottles come sailing back” (White, 1975, p. 491).

“I disembark in Bukoba, in the land of the Haya, and am struck by vision of ecclesiastical modernity…. And lo, the bishops of Bukoba are promoting a dam! I’ve seen churches and missionaries all over Tanzania providing schooling and medicine, but nothing like this. It’s the Ngono River multipurpose project, promising swamp drainage and electricity. To help pay for equipment and materials, the bishops collect funds in Europe”(White, 1975, pp. 503-504).

The biomass is incredible!” An average of 800 pounds an acre, mostly ever-shifting schools of dagaa. Dry them in the sun, and you might have 65 percent protein. Masses of protein! This may someday be an answer to Tanzanian toddlers’ malnutrition, and their resultant susceptibility to disease. All a lot of them get starch. Babies are breast-fed, but when the second child comes along the first goes to grandmother, and she’ll give the kids only bananas, or “stiff porridge” of maize meal, or whatever she got when she was a kid….”(White, 1975, p. 504).

“ At night along Morogoro Road I join thousands happily watching a movie on an outdoor screen. It’s an ancient American Western, interrupted by commercials for hair tonic made in Kenya. You might call it a flickering of free enterprise” (White, 1975, p. 505).

The above statements are substantiated by carefully selected images: though we are told that by 1973 there were 5, 628 no single photograph of a successful/unsuccessful Ujamaa village is given yet one find a third part of the combination of pages 498 and 499 splashed with a very magnificent photograph of well-cultivated farms and nicely arranged houses entitled, “Harlequin fields – some of the last a farmland tilled by Europeans – quilt the foot of a cinder cone near Mount Kilimanjaro.” This photograph is provided after the reader is bombarded with pathetic images and descriptions such as that on page 481- 482 where one finds a  “young dockworker” leveling “a truckload of maize (corn) pumped from a ship’s hold” – an image’s description that is preceded by the statement, “Self-sufficiency remains Tanzania’s chief dictum, but reality often intervenes. A searing drought crippled the 1974 harvest, and the government imported 170 millions dollars’ worth of staple foodstuff to stave off famine.” On page 506 and 507 one finds a pathetic photographs of lowland villager’s houses and farms flooded by the “swollen Rufiji” – a timely antithesis to the above-mentioned highland European farms. 

Moreover, on page 490-491 one finds a pathetic photograph of thin and starving cattle with the description, “Dust of drought hangs over gaunt cattle at an emergency auction by the government near Arusha.” This photograph is immediately followed by six colorful pages full of wild animals and where one finds White’s self-detaching statement: “The animals are so vast that some believe herds could be carefully cropped to provide 24 million pounds of meat each year for hungry Tanzanians” (White, 1975, p. 492).

But there is more of it. White (1975), like most of his fellow capitalist westerners in the 70s, is worried that Tanzania is going red”’, that is, it is allying itself with China and therefore it is becoming a socialist and not a capitalist country. The Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere, has warned the major powers,  We shall not allow our friends to decide who our enemies shall be” (White, 1975, p. 482). In other words, they are claiming to be self-reliant and non-aligned but look what is really happening down here in Tanzania!

“A dozen ships are waiting to get in – Norwegian, U.S., Japanese. There is no waiting, though, for ships of the People’s Republic of China. They turn around fast…. The World Bank and the Western powers refused to underwrite the railway [Tanzania-Zambia Railway/the Great Uhuru (Freedom) Railway)]. The Chinese eager for friends in Africa, offered not only engineers and materials but all those thousands of workers [“15, 000 Chinese”] and an interest-free loan [“400 million dollars”]. Repayment is not to start until 1983…. Meanwhile Chinese ships bring mountains of consumer goods – pencils, canned food, flashlights, bicycles, sewing machines. These Chinese goods are sold in Tanzanian shops; the proceeds go to pay the railroad workers. So every time I drink Greatwall grape squash or use Bee and Flower soap, I too help build the Great Uhuru Railway” (White, 1975, p. 479).

“I look up the Tanzanian Foreign Minister, John Malecela. He makes no bones about it [i.e. regarding the Liberation struggles in Mozambique]: To eradicate racialism and colonialism from southern Africa, and establish majority rule there, bloodshed has been necessary, peaceful efforts having failed. It’s our duty to helpWeapons, the foreign minister, say, have been coming from the Soviet bloc and China. But Tanzania, he insists, is not committed to any superpower, East or West. We have not been swallowed up by the Chinese. We are nonaligned” (White, 1975, pp. 504-505).
“Next morning, here they come, the green shirts of the Youth League, or Green Guard, and hundreds of blue-orange shirts imprinted with party slogan. They come at a slow run, 40 abreast, clapping, shouting, with big banners: INDIAN OCEAN IS NOT FOR U.S. MILITARY BASES! U.S. IMPERIALISTS GET OUT OF AFRICA, ASIA AND LATIN AMERICA! They squeeze into narrowing streets and spill out into the American Consulate. Next to me a little middle-aged lady leads the shouting. Should the Americans be removed from the Indian Ocean? Ndiyo, Ndiyo! Yes, Yes! Kwao, Kwao! Go Home! Go Home! A forest of fists flairs in the air. I am pushed against the consulate building, and a police commander points his swagger stick at me: ‘Don’t lean against the wall, you’ll make it dirty! We haven’t come to quarrel, only to express our feelings’. At last a green shirt with an electric bullhorn tells everybody to go back to work. It’s over” (White, 1975, p. 503 Italics in the original).

The capitalist message to the western audience  is clear: Tanzania is a country full of resources that could be capitalized and exploited by the West, therefore the west should not loose such an important Cold War battle there.


“Forty years ago Ernest Hemingway saw game-rich stretches of what is now Tanzania a virgin country, an unhunted pocket in the million miles of bloody Africa” (White, 1975, p. 492)

It is clear that in 1975 the representations of Tanzania and Tanzanians in the National Geographic Magazine was tainted with the legacy of the Myth of the Dark Continent. Indeed, fifteen years before, Louis and Mary Leakey, with the aid of National Geographic Society grants, captured the attention of the world when they claimed to have found the fossil of the earliest human being in Tanganyika/Tanzania. Their claim based on the theory of evolution was well bought by the West and the National Geographic Magazine published their findings as a cover article in their magazine. This, in the “Western Imagination” was a confirmation that Africa in general, and Tanzania in particular is the so-called “cradle of man” - place where humans originated from the hominids.  

This legitimizing story was to be perpetuated further in July 1983 when another article entitled “Tanzania’s Stone Age Art” and written by Mary Leakey came out as one of the cover stories. As a staff of the National Geographic, it is highly likely that White (1975) subscribed to this story for indeed page 488 and 489 of his travelogue are splashed with photographs of what he refers to as “some of the most intriguing fossils ever found” i.e. the fossils that the Louis family discovered. His charitable style of writing, which subtly attempts to self-detach him from the racist discourse of the “Western Imagination,” begs the question: who was Peter T. White? Was he just a neutral traveler who was just reporting what he saw in the land of Tanzanians? Was he a writer brought up and nursed on the shoulders and bosoms of the likes of Henry Morton Stanley and David Livingstone? Was he a weary or un-weary son of the likes of Ernest Hemingway and president Theodore Roosevelt who saw Africa as a vast game-lodge? Look at how he detaches himself from the Myths of the Dark Continent while strongly articulating some their inherent ideas:

“More than five million magnificent beasts abound in its [Tanzania] National parks and game reserves, on which it spends a considerably high proportion of its national budget than the United States spends on national parks. Western conservationists love it” (White, 1975, p. 478).

Most visitors to Tanzania come to see the great animals up north, and I can hardly wait to get there, to lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater. Sure enough, the lions, elephants, hippos, giraffes, and lesser quadrupeds are visible as advertised; the tourists in their minibuses and Land-Rovers are delighted. To come so close to an uncaged elephant and not need to worry! If his ears stiffen threateningly, the driver will step on the gas and pull out” (White, 1975, p. 488).

“In comfortable lodges there’s animated conversation. ‘How’s your curried antelope?’ ‘Great, like veal.’ I hear talk of Impalas, zebras, buffaloes, of wildbeest (or gnu); about the big cats, and how marvelous it is to see so many wild creatures live so calmly together. ‘Such innocence, says a lady from Connecticut, Garden of Eden, a paradise (White, 1975, p. 488).

“And Ngorongoro Crater! This 1-by-13- mile saucer with a 2,000-foot-high rim and all the wildlife in it has been called the eighth wonder of the world. But look, encircling four dozing lioness stand six vehicles – 27 cameras are clicking away. A lioness yawns. And suddenly it’s not so much like a paradise but more like a zoo (White, 1975, p. 488).

“Forty years ago Ernest Hemingway saw game-rich stretches of what is now Tanzania as virgin country, an unhunted pocket in the million miles of bloody Africa.  Where he stalked rhino and kudu, his son, Patrick, teaches conservation to aspiring game wardens at the College of African Wildlife Management near Moshi” (White, 1975, p. 492).

“I fly to Lake Tanganyika, and at the little town of Ujiji I see a monument where 104 years ago [Henry Morton] Stanley found [David] Livingstone. In the Western imagination this was then the heart of darkest Africa” (White, 1975, p. 504).

From the above statements, which are only concerned with the landscape of Tanzania and its animals at the expense of the presence of Tanzanians, one can clearly see a number of myths, practices and discourses articulating with each other and with the myth of the Dark Continent long after Tanzania and many other African countries had gained their independence: “the garden myth, the myth of the return to Eden and innocence” (Coetzee, 1988, p. 2); game-lodges and colonialism – “Doesn’t the game lodge represent the ultimate ‘leisuring’ of colonial history…. the game lodge impedes the emergence of an image of Africa and its diverse culture as transforming historical phenomena” (Ndebele, 1998); civilization and conquest – with a modern car like a British Land-Rover one can fearlessly “participate in the continuing enjoyment of the fruits of conquest” (Ndebele, 1998).

I glance at my sample of other National Geographic magazine of the early 1970s and the message is the same as I see Allan C. Fisher, Jr.’s (1975) “Rhodesia, A House Divided” lushly illustrated with the Victoria falls, the great Zimbabwe ruins, the beautiful waterbucks of the Zambezi and “canal lush fields “ of white settler and many more; John J. Putman’s (1973) “Yesterday’s Congo, Today Zaire” with photographs of precious diamonds, a huge elephant from Virunga national park, pygmy hunters, the forests of the river Congo and many more. There is no much change in the later 1990s and in the new millennium either: Carol Beckwith’s (1996) “Royal Gold of the Asante Empire” with Africans heavily decked with “Africa Gold”; Paul Theoroux’s (1997) “Down the Zambezi” with fighting elephants, the beautiful untamed Victoria falls and the Zambezi’s “unspoiled reaches”. Indeed the writers of National Geographic Magazine, like the 18th an 19th century travel writers, have been major producers of “Africa” to the western audiences.

“But I can’t keep my mind on animal problems. Will Ujamaa survive? I am haunted by a conversation with a distinguished Tanzanian: He thinks a crunch is coming...” (White, 1975, p. 505)

In a time when Nyerere (1978) and Tanzania was wary of the U.S.A.’s economic support of the racial oppressive regimes of Southern Africa and when Tanzanians were trying to foster unity and a belief in Ujamaa, White (1975), with his subtle self-detaching charitable writing style, decided to use an unnamed “ distinguished Tanzanian” to voice his dissident and skeptical voice: “The conflict, he [the distinguished Tanzanian] concluded, is between young revolutionary willing to use force to further African socialism, and older bureaucrats opposed to Ujamaa. Some might even welcome an army revolt to sobotage the programs in the name of national salvation. Where it [Ujamaa] will end, no one knows. But the outcome will be of great moment to Tanzania, to Africa, to the world” (White, 1975, p. 505). 

Even though I am a champion of academic freedom and freedom of speech, the context of 1975 imply that this was a very dangerous statement given the fact that the Cold War meant that Tanzania was wary of the western intelligence such as C.I.A’s manoeuvres in the affairs of African countries. White must have been aware: “The region commissioner tells me this is not for foreign consumption; I’d better stick to writing about coffee” (White, 1975, p. 490); “I stumble into a symposium [at the University of Dar-es-Salaam] on Ujamaa villages as seen through the eyes of Lenin: Will Ujamaa villages breed capitalists? A gigantic bookstore display paperbacks, a bulletin board announces Daniel Ellsberg coming to talk about the Pentagon papers” (White, 1975, p. 486).

Did Ujamaa survive?  Let us hear from the horse’s mouth: “The Arusha Declaration and our democratic single-party system, together with our national language, Kiswahili, and a highly politicized and disciplined army, transformed more than 126 different tribes into a cohesive and stable nation. However, despite this achievement, they say we failed in Tanzania, that we floundered. But did we? We must say no. We can’t deny everything we accomplished. There are some of my friends who we did not allow to get rich; now they are getting rich and they say ‘See, we are getting rich now, so you are wrong’. But what kind of answer is that? The floundering of socialism has been global. This is what needs an explanation, not just the Tanzanian part of it. George Bernard Shaw, who was an atheist, said, ‘You cannot say Christianity has failed because it has never been tried. ‘ It is the same with socialism: you cannot say it has failed because it has never been tried” (Nyerere, 1999).

Some of the precepts of Ujamaa might have survived in Tanzania but now in 2003, it is a common knowledge that Ujamaa as a policy has not survived. This is end that White said will be a great moment to the world – a moment which has been described as the triumph of capitalism and global capitalism. Was White an innocent prophet of doom? Indeed, he was a messenger of the so-called light of western modernity and civilization in Tanzania – the light that has dawn in this so-called age of globalization and free market. If it is true that Ujamaa in Tanzania did not survive because of some internal and external pressure, then, I have to admit that little do I know about the external impact of White’s travelogue on aiding the end of Ujamaa. As I re-read again the following critical sentiments of his, I am constrained to suspect that he was not just a prophet of doom, but also a self-fulfilling history maker in the making of an end of Ujamaa: “But more and more I get wind of less happy matters I cannot possible ignore, especially since official voices and publications deal so bluntly with these issues bedevilling Tanzania today”; “ Or consider the unhappiness of many a Ujamaa settler.” “Is the great social experiment coming apart?” “Will Ujamaa survive?” (White, 1975, p. 505).

Surely, White knew that Ujamaa won’t survive and he himself was in the mission of ensuring it does not survive, no wonder he even detached himself from his own conclusion when he wrote, “ I remember a children’s program on color TV in Zanzibar. A boy and a girl do homework but mother keeps tearing pages from the girl’s notebook, for wrapping fish. Father sends the boy on an errand and takes the lamp away. The boy comes back. He lights the candle. The message is, Don’t give up” (White, 1975, p. 509)


        “The message is, Don’t give up” (White, 1975, p. 509) 

Would I go, as far as Achebe (1989) went when he claimed that Joseph Conrad was a racist, by claiming that Peter T. White was a thoroughgoing racist? His diplomatic style of taking a non-moral neutral stance and detaching himself from the language of anti-racism and anti-struggle as the following quote indicates, indeed makes one a racist by acquiescence: Moreover, Zambia joins Tanzania in seeking to eradicate ‘racist oppression’ in southern Africa; thus the railroad has political as well as economic significance. It’s been a shot in the arm of patriotic liberation movements – for insurgency, depending on which side you’re on” (White, 1975, p. 479). His subtle paternalistic othering of the Chinese and their products raises serious questions on Orientalism. His wooing sympathetic description of Tanzanians and especially Tanzanian children, coupled with his zoological metaphorical description of their land and animals is ‘ontological disturbing

The strength of his subtle racism lies in his ability to historicize and portray the events, manners and customs of Tanzanians while simultaneously creating “a normalizing discourse, whose work is to codify differences, to fix the Other in a timeless present where all ‘his action and reactions are repetitions of ‘his normal habits” (Pratt, 1986, p. 139). White is more than engaged in what Achebe (1989) refers to as the inducing hypnotic stupor in his readers through bombardment of emotive words and other forms of trickery. Like Joseph Conrad, White “chose his subject well – one which was guaranteed not to put him in conflict with the psychological predisposition of his [western] readers or raise the need for him to contend with their resistance. He chose the role of the purveyor of comforting myths” (Achebe, 1989, p. 5).

The above close reading of White’s (1975) charitable yet subtle Euro-American centered travelogue on an African country therefore constrains me to also conclude that indeed for “reasons which can certainly use close psychological inquiry the West seems to suffer deep anxieties about the precariousness of its civilization and to have a need for constant reassurance by comparison with Africa. If Europe, advancing in civilization, could cast a backward glance periodically at Africa trapped in primordial barbarity it could say with faith and feeling: There go I but for the grace of God. Africa is to Europe as the picture is to Dorian Gray – a carrier on to whom the master unloads his physical and moral deformities so that he may go ahead, erect and immaculate” (Achebe, 1989, p. 17). To the weary champions of African discourse, these persisting negativizing Western images of the African imply that the deconstructionist work is not yet over. “The message is, Don’t give up.”


Achebe, C. (1989). An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In C. Achebe, Hope and Impediments: Selected Essays (pp. 1-20). New York, USA: Doubleday

Brantlinger, P. (1988). The Genealogy of the Myth of the Dark Continent. In P. Brantlinger, Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914 (pp. 173-197). London, UK: Ithaka.

Coetzee, J. M. (1988). White Writing: On the Culture of Letter in South Africa. Sandton, RSA: Radix

Irele, F. A. (2001). The African Imagination: Literature In Africa and the Black Diaspora. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Kamenier, B (1998). “Bodies, Pedagogies and the Buddha. ”In

Legum, C. (1999). Africa since Independence. Bloomington, USA: Indiana University Press.

Mudimbe, V. (1994). The Idea of Africa. Bloomington, USA: Indiana University Press.

Ndebele, N. (1998). Game lodges and leisure colonialists. In H. Judin, I. Vladislavic (Eds.). Blank_Architecture, apartheid and after. Cape Town, SA: David Philips.

Nyerere, J. K. (1978). Crusade for Liberation. Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania: Oxford University Press.

Nyerere (1999). The Heart of Africa: Interview with Julius Nyerere on Anti-Colonialism (\archives\30\049.html).

Pratt, M. L. (1986). Scratches on the Face of the Country; Or, What Mr. Barrow Saw in the Land of the Bushmen. In H. L. Gates (Ed.), “Race,” Writing, and Difference (pp. 138-162). Chicago, USA: Chicago University Press.

Pratt, M. L. (1992). Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London, UK: Routledge

White, P. T., (1975). Tanzania Marches on its own Drum. National Geographic Magazine, 147, 474-509

The National Geographic Official Website.

Zeleza, P. T. (1997). Manufacturing African Studies and Crises. Dakar, Senegal: CODESRIA.


National Geographic. Vol. 147. No. 4 April 1975

Thursday, March 8, 2018

From the Archives: What about Unsung Heroines?

What about Unsung Heroines?

Chambi Chachage (2007)

Have you ever heard or read something that you are already very familiar with? If yes, did you agree with what was said about it? Did you feel the narrator or writer represented it accurately? Or did you sense that s/he overlooked some of its important aspects?

Now imagine someone who claims to know Tanzania very well and yet talk about its landscape without even mentioning Mount Kilimanjaro or Lake Tanganyika. Imagine someone who is an authority on Tanzanian history and yet write about its heroes and heroines without even noting down the names of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere or Bibi Titi Mohammed. How will these acts of omission make you feel?
Strange as it is, we often talk and write about heroes of our society as if there are no heroines. Even our recent commemoration of the Heroes Day on 25 July 2007 was more of a men’s show. One can even go as far as saying that it was an exhibition of masculinity vis-√†-vis femininity. A couple of dignitaries, all of them men one would correctly presume, laid weapons at the foot of the Heroes Tower. It was a wreath, sword, shield, bow and arrow to be precise. If what I was taught in school is true, that it is men who fought in wars while women remained at home, then this homage had little to do with heroines.

The tendency to sing praises to heroes at the expense of heroines may be deeper than we think. It has been part and parcel of our collective imaginaire. The gender consciousness movement sees this tendency as nothing more than a product of patriarchy. In layman/woman terms, patriarchy is a dominant way of thinking and living that systemically privilege boys and men at the expense of girls and women. When our councilors meet and a respected newspaper report that ‘city fathers meet,’ that is patriarchy. And when no one, not even self-proclaimed feminists, questions that newspaper then that is patriarchy working at its best. Patriarchy tends to make us overlook the building blocks of gender oppression.

It is not surprising then that most of us have a gender blindspot. Unfortunately, even our intellectuals, the so-called keepers of our collective memory, have been plagued with blindness. For instance, ten year ago Paul Zeleza’s survey of Gender Biases inAfrican Historiography revealed that most African history textbooks underestimate the role that women have played in all aspect of our history. Out of the seven studies on nationalism and decolonization surveyed, four do not mention women at all. Tanzania is no exception. No wonder no history textbook in our schools taught us about Mwami Theresia Ntare's controversial ascendancy to the throne of the Kingdom of Buha let alone his role in the struggle for independence and national building in the 1960s.
In this context, then, there is a need to rethink our gender dynamics in our ongoing construction of our collective memory i.e. in our celebration of the Heroes Day and in retelling stories of our heroes and so on. This need cannot be overemphasized given that, as a nation, it is this very memory that tells us who we are, where we are and where we ought to be. It also gives us a glimpse of how we can get to where we ought to go. Now imagine how difficult it is to get there if virtually half of our population tends to be written off. Thus, it is a historical necessity to rethink our history. Susan Geiger, Magdalena Ngaiza and Bertha Koda, among few others, have paved the way.

In her book TANU Women, Geiger deconstructs and reconstructs the mainstream or ‘malestream’ history of the nationalistic struggle. She shows how their role in financing and mobilizing the struggle, significant as it was then, was not given its due credit in the annals of our history. On their part, Ngaiza and Koda edited a book, Unsung Heroines, which collated life histories of some ‘forgotten’ Tanzania women. In both cases, one gets to hear the other side of the story (‘herstory’) of our society.

It is encouraging to note that five young researchers are about to enter the field to carry on the torch. As a part of the popular feminist history research project, they will document life histories of women who contributed in the struggle for independence. I can hardly wait to hear their ‘herstories’ presented at the Gender Festival in 11-14 September 2007. The struggles of these heroines can help us rethink the Heroes Day. More significantly, they can inspire us to rethink our collective identity.

Karibu kwenye ulingo wa kutafakari kuhusu tunapotoka,tulipo,tuendako na namna ambavyo tutafika huko tuendako/Welcome to a platform for reflecting on where we are coming from, where we are, where we are going and how we will get there

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