Friday, October 14, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness

Last week I asked What Would Nyerere Do in the East African because it has been a tough year, politically speaking, and I was working for a little Mwalimu inspiration. This week I put the WWND idea into play with regards to governance style. Mwalimu didn't live in easy times, he navigated more than one crisis over the course of his career...but the man was undeniably cool under pressure. That's a quality we could do with in our public servants because I don't know about you, but I am officially tired to death of the unending "crisis" mode our government operates in. Pull it together, people.

But that's not what I want to talk about. Here's an anecdote for you: so the other day we're setting up the rules for a course on with Social Media for Social Change. Participants from Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi. On the flipchart, one suggested rule is "No Jokes" and when it was time to select the final rules and this issue was raised, the Tanzanians protested immediately and vigorously. "Humor is necessary!" And so the suggestion was killed.

The incident made me think of another recent convo with some Kenyan and Zambian friends who regularly grill me to find out about Tanzanian norms and cultural oddities. I've been accused of romanticizing Tanzania and it might be true*. Part of the reason is because we're mostly free, kinda into the peace thing, and humor is part of our social contract. You won't read that in an AfroBarometer study...

How does this relate to Mwalimu? The thing about countries with a strong presidential culture is that heads of state have a massive impact on the culture and social norms that can last long after they are gone. Legacy. Listening to the radio, watching people get ready for Nyerere Day, knowing Mlimani is going to be full of people eager to debate WWND, I realized that of all the secular public holidays, this one is the most genuinely festive in Tanganyika. We're celebrating a man who, with whatever else was going on, regularly took the time to talk to citizens and crack jokes while he was at it. When there's no sugar or maize flour in the shops, it of matters that the guy in charge not mess up in the people department.

Amongst other things, Nyerere came across warm and friendly and ready to tease a chuckle out of his audience. I have heard Tanzanians described as... wait for it... warm, friendly, playful. You dig? And that's what I'm going to celebrate Mwalimu for this year. He made it fun, and he made it cool, to be a Tanzanian. Happy Nyerere Day.

*Yeah, I know it is unfashionable to genuinely happy these days. I should be obsessing about some respectable dissatisfaction or other for your delectation because, hey, who likes happy people anyways? Sorry to disappoint :) Happy African Alert!


  1. You know, news flash--Mwalimu is dead. The last week I grew tired of the hypotheticals of Mwalimu moment. He was brilliant and iconic, and presided during the nasty era (liberation struggles, and full blown cold war) and on-top of it all he and maybe Kwame (of all the liberation leaders) successfully built their nations. And I always loved his rhetoric against debt. But, I believe on generational challenges. He and his peers (any politician over 60) had a colonial mentality. Their task is finished, they gave us one Tanzania. What we need to do is building a 21st century self reliant economy grounded on equity. And romanticizing about Mwalimu failed Ujamaa is a waste of time. We should celebrate Nyerere day, but no need to go overboard about it.

  2. Actually, romanticizing your contemporary history is never a waste of time and is especially important in a post-colonial country.Nyerere Day isn't just about one man...evidently. And no one is under the illusion that we'll resurrect him or his policies. Most of us are free-market thinkers anyways.

    It's about identity, history and pushing back against the perpetual need to look outside our own experience to find inspiration. It matters to know, understand, inquire about, celebrate and embrace your own history. But then, I am an africanist and perhaps you are not.

    Of course Nyerere was imperfect and I don't doubt that I would have had a tough time under his one-size-fits-all regime. However, this does not cancel his legacy out.

    you are naturally at liberty to take inspiration from wherever you want when you imagine a self-reliant 21st Century Tanzania. But the very act of using the term "self-reliant economy grounded in equity" - one of his central tenets- suggests that you too have been influenced, perhaps unconsciously, by Mwalimu. Hate the man, hate yourself.


  3. Well, whatever Africanist means, has nothing to do with the inability of folk to move on. I never doubted the momentousness of his. But he is dead. And we spend so much time trying to guilticize contemporary politicians on the grounds of "WWND". The thing is WWND is inaccurate because there is Mwanahalisi and Mikocheni Report these days. And War on Terror, and Free Trade, and Godbless Lema. And there is undervalued Yuan. Ofkoz you will come back and say it is about his moral correctness and leadership qualities--but then WWND is basing on mere assumptions of our current polieconomy landscape.

    What I am saying is he was iconic, and he is dead. China do not spend much of the time thinking about The Great Leap Forward, but they love their Mao.Our current dialogue about Nyerere incapacitate us to move one, and that has to change.


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