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Tanzania has become a nation of complainers

Discussion in 'Jukwaa la Siasa' started by nngu007, Jan 24, 2012.

  1. nngu007

    nngu007 JF-Expert Member

    Jan 24, 2012
    Joined: Aug 2, 2010
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    Strolling about Dar es Salaam in the days around mainland Tanzania's 50th birthday, I was struck by the virtual absence of an essential aspect of the festive occasion: Apart from its usual venues, the national flag fluttered nowhere else.

    From the inner recesses of Kariakoo to the Upanga seafront, from Muhimbili Hospital to the Clock Tower, no house, office, vehicle or road structure displayed this vital symbol of our nation. Even the authorities had overlooked bedecking the city streets with flags.

    Correspondingly, no one in the streets looked jubilant.

    A Yanga or Simba victory generates a more jovial street buzz. Of the friends, colleagues and strangers I conversed with, none expressed celebratory sentiments.

    While our health and education services are in dire straits, governmental departments and public institutions had spent hundreds of millions of shillings on commemorative events.

    Newspapers and radio broadcasts were saturated with articles, photos and advertisements on the golden anniversary of Independence. But the scene on the ground provided a sharp contrast.

    No enterprising person had bothered to profit from this unique occasion. Street vendors had no paper flags or memorabilia marking the event. People went about like any day off from work.

    Apart from the dignitary-heavy ceremonies at the National Stadium, life went on as usual.

    Mwalimu Nyerere had our national flag placed at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. After 50 years, we are not inclined to fly it in our front yard.

    Where has our sense of national pride dissipated? Whence came the prevalent negativity, credulity, hypocrisy and mental servility that mark our national psyche today?
    Have we become a nation of complainers? Take, for example, the response to the results of the annual primary school examination announced in the middle of December 2011.

    With some 984,000 candidates sitting, the overall pass rate was 58 per cent, a ve percentage point increase from the past year.

    And, over the same period, the pass rates in Mathematics, Science and English went up by 15, 5 and 10 percentage points,
    respectively. From one year to the next, these were significant changes.

    Yet, it was a mixed picture. The pass rates for Mathematics and English remained below 50 per cent. For some subjects, the pass rates declined.

    Nonetheless, the results signified the possibility of a positive trend. In a year inundated with unpleasant news, it was a cause for celebration.

    There was, however, a dark cloud lurking amid the uplifting news. About 10,000 pupils were suspected of violating the examination rules in one way or another.

    For all but 100 of them, the evidence was indirect, based on close similarity of incorrect answers.

    Only about 100 pupils were caught red-handed in acts like having hidden answers, or getting assistance from someone else.

    Teachers and head teachers were involved in the scandal.
    That ugly portion of the news became the instant talk of the town.

    The number of pupils engaging in dubious conduct, in the hundreds in the past, had shot up into the thousands. If our children engage in unethical conduct at so early an age, where is our nation headed? How can their teachers, their role models, be so shameless and corrupt? Casting aside the positive developments, these were the main questions the media and people raised.

    But was that the probable underlying scenario? If nothing else, this year saw a better effort by the authorities to protect the examinations. Years of public outcry had produced concrete steps to catch wrongdoers. More likely, it was not that the proportion of pupils taking short cuts to success had increased dramatically but the proportion nabbed in the act that had risen sharply.

    About one in a hundred pupils were under suspicion, and that too was under contention.
    The rest, the 99 per cent, had presumably acted in an honest manner, as the stricter monitoring of the examination this year led me to believe. Did this larger group of decently behaved, better performing children not deserve our heartfelt congratulations and encouragement?

    But instead of appreciating the good conduct of the 974,000, we primarily focused on the misdeeds of the 10,000 rotten apples.

    The media set the tone and people followed. An informed analysis of examination standards and grading, teaching quality, problems faced by teachers, and overall educational policy was supplanted by finger pointing.

    This form of discourse dominated whether one was in the Kariakoo Market, dala dala buses, bars, or in academia. Experts with PhDs from renowned universities also conversed in the same hope-destroying, cynical tones.

    In the past, the colonialists routinely dismissed Africans as good for nothing. Now we do it ourselves. On any issue, the person in the street invariably proclaims: "Aah, what do you expect from Tanzanians?

    Aah, we simply know how to make a big mess of things. Nothing more. Look at our national soccer team!"

    Aah, aah, aah, aah – negativity, virtually unlimited negativity - whatever the topic, that is the dominant mode of public and private discussion today.

    The Tanzania-born Canadian author Moez Vassanji has branded Tanzania a nation of complainers.

    In a sense, he is on the mark. But in taking that as the exclusive trait of one nation, he fails to appreciate that this manner of looking at issues is a feature of the ideology of this era of neo-liberalism.

    It is not the trademark of Tanzania. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a veteran commentator for the Independent of the UK, a few months ago declared that many Britons are addicted to grouchiness and drunk on misery, and hence are bitter, restless and dissatisfied.

    Such attitudes are manifested in a variety of ways in all the corners of the world. A few days of watching television in the US drives this point home.

    Examinations scandals occur elsewhere too. A major scandal engulfed several states of the US in 2011.

    From Philadelphia and Washington DC to Los Angeles, teachers were caught tampering with the standardised state tests for schools. The scope of the scandal was staggering. In one area, such misconduct occurred in 44 of the 56 schools that were audited. School and teacher evaluations and funds are tied to test results, creating an incentive to push up the scores. Fellow Tanzanians are astounded to learn about this: What, even in that country!

    We have a tendency to paint all in our nation as dark and gloomy, and that which lies beyond it as shiny and hopeful.

    Without knowing its internal reality, we take the US as a model nation.

    Instead of repeating superficial banalities, we should try to understand for ourselves current and historical realities at national and global levels.

    We could inquire into the problems educational systems elsewhere in Africa – say South Africa or Uganda – and further afield face. We could learn how some nations, starting with conditions similar to our own, managed to independently overcome such major obstacles in the educational sector.

    Similarly, when the recent scandal of increased allowances for Members of Parliament erupted, we could have linked it to the saga of the dubious, often illegal expense claims made by hundreds of British parliamentarians, or the ostentatious allowances and salaries of their Kenyan counterparts.

    We need to also inquire why, when the median household worth of a typical American stands at $100,000, that of a US congressperson is near $1,000,000, and why the latter is increasing at a faster rate than the former.
    Yet, we do not.

    Limiting our worldview to the impact of the problem without inquiring into its causes conforms well with the ideology of the right wing in the US and elsewhere.

    To them, a sociological analysis of education, crime, illicit drug use, or any social malady is secondary and beside the point. What matters is personal responsibility.

    Do the crime, do the time, they declare. Do not delve into institutional racism, endemic poverty, misaligned public policy, or historical deprivation.
    Some regard the tendency to question everything under the sun an indicator of our critical thinking skills.

    It is paradoxical then to note that as we incessantly blame and criticise, we simultaneously manifest a level of credulity that beggars belief.

    Nothing signified that more than when our attention turned to the tiny village of Loliondo earlier in 2011.

    It was a stupefying display of gullibility with virtually the whole nation engulfed in a form of mass hysteria.

    High-ranking government officials, politicians of all stripes, businessmen, senior military officers, well-educated professionals, even doctors and nurses, in addition to thousands upon thousands of ordinary folk descended, in rainy or dry weather, despite the bad roads, miles of traffic jam and extremely long waits, on that blessed site for their chance to ingest their kikombe, their "miracle cup" of healing brew.

    And millions more hoped they could be as lucky.

    Some had serious chronic conditions. Some had major infections. Some were terminally ill. Some had psychological problems. Some had delusions of illness.
    And some just sought to improve their health. Many took their families along.

    Quite a number died on the way.
    For a couple of months, it was the dominant item on the news, and the commonest topic of conversation.

    Business at the site boomed.

    Thousands from neighbouring nations and abroad sought a remedy for real or imagined ailments from the Babu of Loliondo. A hastily prepared report from the Institute of Traditional Medicine of the Muhimbili University of Health and

    Allied Sciences accorded tentative credibility to the wild claims being made.
    In those days, you met contented diabetics and hypertensives saying they were cured. Civil servants, businessmen, house workers, office clerks, farmers, and of course, holders of masters and doctoral degrees swore by the miracle cure.

    The sceptics were in a minority.

    They had no faith, it was said. In no time, from Tabora to Dar es Salaam, more amazing remedies materialised. Each had divine blessings. Each dispensed the marvellous potion in its own style.

    Yet, by the year's end, the hullabaloo had died down.

    The whole saga now appeared like a bad dream. Health authorities say the potion does not work. Former Loliondo patients no longer brag about their newfound health. Like a demoralised person duped of his life savings by a ponzi scheme, our misgivings are suppressed. Life goes on. The unusual silence makes me suspect that the search for a genuine and instantaneous solution to the large list of our problems has not been renounced. It did not work this time. But next time...

    We resort to simplistic explanations, irrational remedies, and quick fix solutions. We seek saviours or identify devils, as the case demands. Barely a year ago our president told us our children would not be sleeping under bed nets had he not been a frequent visitor to the White House. A few months ago, our MP from Arusha, who often makes reasoned critiques of official policies, engaged in a three-day prayer vigil with others to bring a dead body back to life. When asked how that accorded with his official duties, he told the reporter not to mix religion and politics!

    With this tendency to discard evidence and logic, we do not connect our experiences with those of other societies or history. We disregard the litany of cults and shamans promising amazing cures in Latin America, India and elsewhere.

    We care not that such cures flourished in Europe and America more than a century ago. We are oblivious to the fact that after the demise of the Soviet Union, the overnight impoverishment on a large scale, extreme joblessness, and the loss of a sense of direction generated an epidemic of occult beliefs and practices in that land. We ignore the plain fact that to this day, evangelists in the USA peddle miracle cures and attract hundreds of thousands of television viewers.

    Irrational practices like crystal therapy and faith healing not only rule the minds of tens of millions in that land but also form the basis for a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

    Ignoring the world around us, we hunker down. Our vision remains inward. We curse our fate. We angrily mouth platitudes about irresponsibility and corruption as we gobble down two mandazis and a soda, blithely nurturing the onset of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.


    It has become our daily ritual to entrance each other with one tale after another of misdeeds in the higher echelons of the state. But the blame caster always points towards a distant entity.

    No one points to his immediate circle, or himself.

    Criticism of others, however unfounded, is permitted.

    No evidence is needed. It is the norm. On the other hand, assessing one's own profession, institution or surroundings is expressly forbidden.

    Double standards flourish. People engage in outrageously unethical conduct.

    They cut corners at work. They care little about the quality of what they do, so long as it generates the desired cash flow. The fate of their clients, students, patients and constituents becomes a secondary matter. But they maintain appearances.

    Their language is enlightened, sweet and diplomatic. Visitors are impressed. They praise Tanzania for efficient and appropriate use of donated funds, for showing commitment to uplifting poverty, eradicating disease, and improving education.

    More funds come in. Every one beams with satisfaction, pride and joy. And no one points out where those funds truly ended up.

    It seems that a daily dose of duplicity has become a prerequisite for a sound sleep. On the golden anniversary, the nation was informed that the Torch of Freedom had once more been placed on top of Mount Kilimanjaro by a contingent of military officers with public officials, journalists and others in attendance.

    Mwalimu's vision was being kept alive. Yet, three weeks later, strong evidence emerged to indicate that due to poor organisation and lack of co-ordination, the group barely made it halfway to the summit.

    It was a hoax perpetrated on the public. The wide chasm between image and reality was once again revealed.

    In their Christmas messages this year, church leaders spoke about the lack of concern for the ordinary Tanzanian displayed by the political establishment.

    They stated that our leaders were unprincipled, greedy characters and harked back to the days when Mwalimu Nyerere had sought to curb such tendencies.

    What the pastors expressed was exactly what the person in the street feels.

    The present economic set-up has produced fabulous but dubiously acquired wealth for a few, and rampant misery for the multitude. The extent of the inequality is what underlies the automatic cynicism that prevails today.

    Yet, I ask: Did not the same churches strive, in those days, to undermine Mwalimu's rural development policies?

    Did they not preach that he was promoting godless communism? Have they honestly reflected on that history? Have they repented?

    To a degree, Tanzanians are well versed in current affairs.

    Having spent time in both places, I venture to say that a typical Dar es Salaam resident knows more about world affairs than his or her counterpart in Los Angeles.

    On a one to one basis, I encounter enlightened and concerned Tanzanians. They agree with an analytical critique of the current situation. The catch, however, is that most do so only in private.

    When it comes to a formal discourse, say in an institutional meeting, their vocabulary shrinks to two words: Ndiyo mzee, ndiyo mzee (Yes boss, yes boss).

    We find politicians who played a central role in reversing Ujamaa, whose policies led to the present day gross inequalities, championing Ujamaa. This is a global phenomenon.

    A leader who pours his nation's coffers into the machinery of war, plans war on the other fronts, authorises expanded extrajudicial assassinations and inevitable deaths of civilians with drones, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Those who illegally bomb a nation into ruinous poverty are humanitarians.

    Those who reward the financiers who defrauded the public, ravaged national treasuries and destabilised the global economy are bold reformers.

    Those who allegedly promote freedom of expression persecute and disparage truth tellers like Bradley Manning and Wikileaks. We live in the era of unparalleled double talk expressed on an international scale.

    On a bumpy road drive, a young boy converses with his friend. He fears an accident may occur.

    The driver tells him to shut up. His mother intervenes. An engaging conversation ensues. Eventually, it transmutes into two key public health messages, one on promotion of road safety. The contents and style, the cute voices of the children, lend a strong appeal to it. In another well-narrated ad, after his bedtime story ends, a young boy gently reminds his mother to unfold the mosquito net.

    The tone is pleasant and endearing. Such advertisements are heard regularly on the radio today.

    Formulating an effective public health message requires insight and creativity. And, these messages are in Swahili. We need more of them, designed to tackle health and other issues in a comprehensive way.

    But, at the end, each one says: This message has been brought to you by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the generosity of the people of America.

    Other similar publicly broadcast messages implore us to do this and not do that, all due to the generosity of the people of Sweden, or the benevolence of the members of the European Community.

    I feel quite insulted whenever I hear such declarations. In the past four years, millions of Americans have been driven into homelessness while at the same time hundreds of thousands of homes remain unoccupied.

    Suppose the Tanzanian embassy in Washington, DC places an ad on American TV which implores them to change that irrational and immoral situation.

    At the end, we hear that this message has been made possible by the thoughtful concern of the people of Tanzania.

    Would a US TV channel run it? I doubt it.

    If it did, it would generate such an outrage and be regarded as such an affront to their national dignity that our ambassador would have to be recalled immediately.

    I can understand that we need external assistance to build a factory to manufacture X-ray film. But can we not formulate and distribute relevant and effective public health messages on our own?

    Our university annually produces 30 students with a masters degree in of public health, and 10 students with an MA in health policy and management.

    Do they not suffice to produce and mount a comprehensive public health education campaign? No, if no dollars are dangled, the Ministry of Health does not produce and air even a basic health message
    The issues covered in our health campaigns are determined by the funders. The same holds for many simple tasks that we are perfectly capable of performing. Without donor dollars or euros, nobody lifts a finger.

    Is this what 50 years of Independence means?

    Yet, again, though the extent varies, this sort of servility is an international phenomenon, an ideological expression of the complete domination of our economies by the imperial powers. We sell them our minerals, resources, labour and wealth for a pittance. So what is wrong with auctioning off our pride and dignity as well?

    An era of reawakening.

    Yes, our education, health, transport, agriculture, politics, media, police, and other sectors do face tremendous, mind-boggling problems. Most fester due to the indifference, ineptitude and corruption of the political establishment.

    Those in power must be held to account. And we need to launch major, sustained efforts to resolve our problems.

    But engaging in negativity, demonstrating childish credulity, practising blanket hypocrisy, and adopting a slavish mentality will not get us anywhere.

    These traits only add to and magnify our problems.

    The saga of examination fraud is a case in point. Parents of pupils whose results were cancelled due to suspicion of cheating protested loudly.

    The authorities relented and gave them a second chance. The evidence was probably not strong enough to stand in a court of law. Only the 100 or so pupils against whom the evidence was solid were disbarred completely.

    Yet, editorials thundered about how cheating would undermine Tanzania's competitiveness.

    Plainly unwarranted attention to the 100 out of the million made us overlook important questions affecting 99.99 per cent of our children. What factors contributed to the large jump in the pass rate in Maths? Can it be sustained? Such matters affect the quality and competitiveness of our education system.

    Making mountains out of molehills does not.

    Among my generation, the deleterious traits are too widely ingrained to offer hope.

    The educated among us have become too financially obese and mentally lethargic to change their ways. Struggling for the future of their nation or Africa is the last thing on our minds.

    Barely a year ago, signs of hope were few and far between. Now they abound.
    They emanate from the youth - in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain, in Chile, the UK and the US, in East Africa to a smaller degree as well. The youth are venturing beyond simple negativity to ask deeper questions and make systemic critiques.

    They cannot be taken for an intellectual ride anymore.

    The room for double talk and duplicity is shrinking in their ranks.

    And they show less and less tolerance for the twin bondage of material exploitation and mental servility the dominated nations of this planet dwell in.
    Moreover, they engage in practical acts of solidarity across nations and continents, in the belief that people must unite across borders to confront injustice, inequality, poverty, environmental destruction, squandering of public resources, unchecked militarism, corporate criminality, and misrule by the wealthy few.

    Generally, when people resort to irrational avenues and instant remedies, they express their deep anxiety about the current neo-liberal order under which the holders of state power enrich themselves and open Africa for rapacious exploitation by foreign and local corporate moguls.

    When the masses flocked to Loliondo, it expressed their absence of confidence in the existing system of healthcare. But what must be realised is that neither the Obamas, the Gates, the Tantawis nor the Babus of this world can or will save Africa. Only a united people with a concrete plan and sustained determination can.

    As the New Year unfolds, I dream of the unfolding of a new era for Africa. Like Kwame Nkrumah, I am confident that one day Africa will be free. It is up to us to hasten the dawn of that day.

    Karim F. Hirji is Professor of Medical Statistics at the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistic sof the Muhimibili University of Health and Allied Sciences