Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Photograph

Yes, I have neglected this blog recently, however I intend this to change and add a new sense of momentum and direction to the blog. In this spirit, the following post is a short piece intended to highlight the ideals of creative thought and using creative devices- literature in this case, to create a heightened force for change and dialogue.

The Photograph

In a nation haphazardly crafted by the greedy hands of European land-grabbers, an iron train rattles along iron tracks which are so thoroughly corroded that one cannot distinguish the deep red of the soil from the rusted remains of track. The span of the railroad once exemplified the reach and success of Imperialism and stood to connect German East Africa. Built by Indian migrants through a treacherous regime of indentured labor, this intricate network of transportation mirrored the stretch of European exploitation.

I sit in this train which now serves as part of the Tanzania/Zambia Railway (TAZARA). I am with two friends, my sister and my brother; it is the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, one of my friends has decided to treat us to a day trip to one of the National Parks neighboring Dar-es-salaam as a prelude to the profuse inebriation that will follow during the night’s festivities. Not knowing what to expect before boarding, we imagined a comfortable ride aboard a luxurious ‘special’ first class cabin. As we took our seats we quickly realized that the special cabin did not exist and we were to sit in the crowded standard carriage.

Most of the passengers were of Indian origin, not the usual 4th generation remnants of the colonial regime which were now the major controllers of the Tanzanian economy, but rather recent immigrants, recruited by the former as trustworthy, specialist labor. Although the social and economic classes of these two groups differed, the passengers aboard the train shared the superior racial attitude that many of the now Tanzanian Indians had. The passengers stared at us in our strangely eclectic group that consisted of a Black Tanzanian, a brown Norse-Tanzanian mix and three tanned Tanzanians of Indian descent. We laughed at the way the rest of the passengers had all come with Tupperware filled with lentils and curry as they did not trust the food prepared by the locals and cursed the overpowering stench this amalgamation of masala had created in the congested carriage. As one of my friends had clout with the TAZARA manager, he was able to persuade him to give us a private box which was just as deteriorated, but at least away from the crowds.

Half-way back to Dar-es-salaam the train made a pit-stop at one of the peripheral villages around the capital. It was a moment for the passengers to stretch their feet and have some refreshments. Outside the train were throngs of children rummaging through the refuse of vessels prior, trying to find something salvageable: a half-eaten sandwich, un-torn blue polythene bags which fly through streets all over the country like flags of development, bottles to recycle and anything else they could find a use for. My sister, who had been taking pictures of the landscape around the station was browsing through her photographs and suddenly halted, turned towards me and handed me the camera.

It was a picture of a white arm holding out a bottle of Coke, teasing a crowd of children hovering under the window, each trying to push the other away to get to the bottle. A photograph of history’s repercussions and the future’s fragility. A once grand German train rode along tracks that segmented and divided a nation that wasn’t theirs, a nation that once wasn’t there. Now aboard this rickety train a hand that isn’t theirs holds out an ideal that threatens to divide the nation that wasn’t there further still. Hundreds of little hands reach back.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Local initiatives that should be hailed: Mobipawa!

Below is a copy of a letter recently sent to The Citizen Newspaper Editorial staff, I believe it contains a pertinent message, one that we should all pay heed to.

Dear Editor,

I was perplexed after reading a recent article in The Citizen on Vodacom to be the first to introduce mobile banking in the Tanzanian market. This is utterly false as a local, homegrown service has already been open to the public for over half a year. The service dubbed Mobipawa is a service of the innovative, Tanzanian R&D firm E-Fulusi Africa and is functionally a superior product. It is operator independant and is tailor-made for the Tanzanian social and environmental context. It is true, the Mobipawa has been criticised for not having enough uptake in the market but this is a fault that I attribute to the mass media and the impression of foreign supremacy that it publicises. Mobipawa is a service from a start-up company that has invested immense funds and time into releasing a superb product for the market. It is developed locally, by local manpower and has been the first of its kind not only locally but globally by insisting on working within the regulatory framework. With TCRA and BOT licensing, Mobipawa is a history maker and it is insulting and derrogatory to the Tanzanian people for the M-pesa service to be hailed as a god-send as your paper has done. It is necessary, and I insist that the local media works towards enhancing pride in local developments and groundbreaking technologies in order to facilitate their sucess, rather than tout foreign, sub-par services as superior, when in reality they are not.

I urge all active media personnel to do more in promoting local solutions and the pride that should go along with them. Mobipawa is definitely a revolutionary service that should be acknowledged.


Concerned patriot

Mobipawa is truly a brilliant service, and we as Tanzanians must do all we can to support it. Its parent company E-Fulusi is also a very innovative company with some of the best minds in the country working there. Could consider it the Google of Africa. Do what you can to support these guys, they are working towards our future.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Have you seen my country?

I choose to open this entreat with a little tweak on the opening line of one of Thabo Mbeki’s most heart-rending speeches: “I am a Tanzanian”. This sense of glorified patriotism is common with every citizen of every country who has been taught to love the artificial creation of the nation state. However what does this statement really mean and how accurately does it represent our true sentiments and purpose in this so-called country?

In a globalized world distance decreases, that is certain, but what are the other characteristics of a truly global community? Does the concept of a globalized world demand the collectivization of culture? Does it force all people to unite in a single unified front barren of opposition? Or does it force as is the case in the present an adoption of a single ideal and repudiation of all others, which are innately who we are? Does it mean that we all must have congruent thought and live in a stagnant society? More bluntly, is globalization deindividuation?

The concept of globalization as it is practiced in its current form tends to conjure the world created in Orwell’s potent novel “1984”. The ideology we are forced to accept and the limitations that are put upon or inner conscious reminds me of the fictional “thought police”. The jargon that is regurgitated in every faction of civil society today; development, economic viability, sustainability, reform, etc; seem to very closely resemble the bland lexis of “Newspeak”. Is globalization really just an excuse to police our every move, thought, belief and ideal? Is globalization just a euphemism for “Big Brother”?

Personally I would not go as far to claim that globalization is the incarnation of a large policing watchdog body whose very aim is to destroy the concept of personal freedom. I will say however that globalization is not globalization at all. There is no way that the world can create this oneness within itself without the individual constituents first understanding their own identities. There is no need for this synecdoche of nations when in reality the unity we claim is just soothsay. It has not actually been achieved.

The arbitrariness of our country’s conception is an easy scapegoat for our lack of cohesive nationalism. It is easy to blame and even demonize the participants in the ridiculous event tagged “The Berlin Conference of 1884”. As atrocious or successful as those acts may have been, it is still quite amusing to think of the group of ignorant white men scrambling for a piece of Africa. It is not as amusing however, when the same Africans welcome the same group to scramble for the same land today. It may have been slightly satisfying if the invitations were given out of self-importance and arrogance but unfortunately they are just calls of desperation. From ‘structural reform’ to IMF demands to liberalization and privatization our country is losing the very essence of what it is. Many would be fine with that if it only referred to cultural heritage and national tradition, however to those whose live revolve around the sacred dollar sign, the theft is not only cultural and psychological but simply theft in every form of the word, including of wealth.

When one is asked to describe the fundamental tenets of Tanzanian culture, it is hard to find one area that has been spared incessant commercialization and exploitation for financial gains. It is funny how one can walk down the narrow alley-ways of Zanzibar Stone Town and find stall after stall of curio vendors trying to hawk off Makonde tribal carvings as elements of Zanzibari culture. This ridiculous prostitution of our cultural heritage is not limited to carvings; it applies to TingaTinga, traditional music, herbs, spices, and anything else vaguely resembling artistic or cultural representation of Tanzania. It embarrasses me to think of the ignorant tourist that will leave this country even more ignorant than he came. And yet we wonder why we are not understood.

Is our concept of who we are fading? Is there a reason why we have this obsession with being accepted by the west? If we were to diagnose our nation’s attitude as if it were a patient, any moderately competent practitioner would illuminate our acute lack of self-esteem. In psychological terms, our self image does not correlate with our self-portrayal. I used to think that it was a conscious choice to cut off all ties with our past traditions, that it was intentional to create a new era in our newly independent nation. However, recently I have been blessed with startling clarity and realized that it is not just our past that we are trying to escape, but we are also sabotaging our future.

Tanzania’s cultural and economic path is defined by a select elite. A group of individuals whose agendas are to sustain this ethos of confusion within the larger population. Our country is run by a minority whose decisions are determined by their own best interests. What is their interest? Simply put; wealth and power. How is this perpetuated? Again equally simple; poverty and ignorance.

Like all developing countries, the drift between the rich and the poor in this country is overwhelmingly large. The rich are slowly floating away from the larger population in their luxury liners filled with European books and American dollars, while the poor are stranded to drown in a sea of confusion and contend with issues of identity and cynicism of the future. Its funny how words that should have positive connotations are now feared by the masses; development is a monster, liberalization its secret weapon.

The institutions and infrastructure in Tanzania are selective venues. Their management reserves rights of admission, oddly, most of us are rarely admitted. What is it that we’re lacking? Why is our presence not allowed? Truthfully it is as much our fault then anyone else. We are passive or afraid. We are either victims of an era in which questioning citizens will be persecuted, or we are just not bothered. I personally blame the latter, because even a dog at least cries when kicked, needless to say bites. We just lay back and take the kicks.

We are a nation that has been dumbed down; we have been degraded and derogated, our minds have been affronted. Our leaders and icons have chosen, the rich and wealthy have chosen, the minority has chosen, but I have not chosen. Let us stop this vicious decay of society’s fabric. We must substantiate our past and validate our existence. We must shout in the face of control and say “we are not only Tanzanians, we are Tanzania”. We must use our voices to proclaim that our culture is not something to be ashamed of, that we all are educated.

Let us stop and speak. Let us be proud, not ashamed. Let us take back our identities, and put our destiny back into all our hands.

I choose to close this entreat with nothing but honest devotion. “I am a Tanzanian”.

Hafiz M Juma