Tanzania: From fighting against racial and ethnic politics, to fully embracing it


JF-Expert Member
Feb 12, 2007
While reading and listening to various discussions going on in Tanzania about the ongoing corona virus, on and off line, I couldn't help but notice the racial undertones in the voices of not just our leaders but even regular citizens.

It is no secret that over the last few years, our current government has not been in the best of terms with western governments. Hot topics and reasons have ranged from issues of democracy and rule of law, environmental issues, child education and pregnancy and even gay rights.

Soon after independence, Mwalimu Nyerere and Tanzania, then Tanganyika, uttered to the world some beautiful words that spoke of the guiding principle of the newly formed nation. We said:

We the people of Tanganyika would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro which would shine beyond our borders, giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate, and dignity where there was before only humiliation”.

I think what we missed in those words were the words 'and within' next to beyond. Overall, these words are still powerful and inspiring today as they were back then.

When I am in the mood, I would question those that talk of 'wazungu' to clarify to me the meaning behind their statements. If I am lucky to get an answer, I will hear of an equally ambiguous term being used, 'mabeberu'! But, I am still curious to know if someone can help me, who is 'mzungu' really? Is it a term that represent a class, a race, a nationality or an attitude? If a black American or French citizen representing his country comes to work in Tanzania, will he be considered a 'mzungu'?

But for the purpose of getting a better understanding of our contemporary politics, let me assume that 'mzungu' simply means a caucasian person who deep down has an ill-motive towards Africans. I am using this assumption because, generally speaking you will hear this term being used often when matters of African interests are being discussed. But what's interesting is noticing how we behave when we are in front of those same 'wazungu' while addressing them? Well, saying we are diplomatic is simply an understatement. For one, I have seen us calling them 'wanaume', loosely translated as 'men of honor' or 'powerful men'. I have never heard a local politician using the words 'mabeberu' or even 'wazungu' in front of a western guest!

It is important to ask, what made our politicians embrace this political syntax that the world moved away from decades ago and why does this kind of politics still get massive support from the locals? It has proven to be an effective tool to mobilize the locals and fight against political opponents.

For one, our education system still teach us to be fearful of western governments, and by extension their people, corporations and policies. From primary schools, all the way to the university level, this attitude and 'understanding' is indoctrinated in the minds of the people. To make your life easier, when you see a question in the examination that ask your opinion about African relations to the western world, you better talk negatively of those 'mabeberu' if you intend to get even decent grades.

This is why when a politician stand up and entice the 'Wanyonge' and talk against 'mabeberu' and 'wazungu' and all those that support them, he is banking on something that he knows is already implanted deep in the subconscious minds of his audience. That's why you can hear this language being spoken by people who you think they will have some sense in them. Fighting against that is no easy task.

While speaking against gay rights in parliament, the former Minister of Internal Affairs Kangi Lugola, equated Tanzania to the 'Temple of the Holy Spirit'. The same land that has experienced unresolved gruesome murders of politicians and political opponents, kidnappings, grand corruption, drug trafficking and other unholy things is associated with the Holy Trinity. In my little understanding of religion, I think the good book says that mocking the Holy Spirit is one of the unforgivable sins!

Some are calling corona virus and the associated disease COVID-19, as a white man's disease. Some even imply that it came as a punishment to them because of this or that. I mean, what do you think it means when we insist, until recently at least, that 'all victims brought it from abroad'? Or, that the local who who tested positive, came in contact with the foreigner! Do we need to be reminded that this virus is originally foreign and does it mean that a local Tanzanian can not transmit it to another local Tanzanian even if a Tanzanian can magically get it only abroad? Now, we even hear some extending these allegations of God's punishment through corona to their local political rivals.

Sometimes I feel like our current crop of politicians are trying to build the very first world civilization that is based on ignorance and not one based on knowledge and enlightenment.

Overall, I say this kind of politics is the betrayal to all that this country has fought for. We have failed to give Tanzanians answers on why we still have many social problems with no sign of a solution insight and instead we resort to propaganda. What's sad is that we have used so much of our resources over many years to change world politics and it is a shame that after we won the victory, we have succumbed our nation and our good people to the very same disease.

Toa taarifa ya maudhui yasiyofaa!

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