Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Perceptions of "Aggression" in East Africa

So this blogpost goes out to Njore, who asked for it.

What are the differing perceptions of aggression in East Africa? My experience is fairly limited, but I do know far more than my fair share of what some Kenyans think of themselves, and of Tanzanians, thanks to Facebook's chat feature. Here's what my handful of Kenyan correspondents think of themselves: that they have a monopoly on "aggression" in the region, which is a substitute word for all kinds of qualities. Aggression as I have seen it used can mean a strong work ethic, timeliness, speedy delivery, a refusal to tolerate bad or slow service and a willingness to firmly demand your due. In some instances, aggression meant violence, and I guess we have seen Kenya at breaking point in 2007.

Here's what they think about Tanzanians: that we lack this vital quality, entirely to our detriment. Oh, and that we've got a lazy grace to us, we're puzzlingly polite in circumstances that don't require it, that our language is dead sexy.

... ahem.

In the interest of free and open dialogue I am going to pass on this opportunity to state my opinion about the matter. Instead, I'd like to open the discussion up to whoever might be reading, and familiar with our corner of the planet. Fellow East Africans, and experts on the region, what do you think? What's your perception of the "aggression" factor of the various EAC member states and what does it do for them? See you in the comments section.


  1. I'm a little disappointed there are no comments at this point.

    As a visitor in -- and certainly not an expert on -- East Africa, I was anxious to read the thoughts of the readers as they pertain to these issues of perceived aggression by nationality.

    My initial response would be that "aggression" (and I think it is viewed more positively in your post than perhaps it should be) might have more to do, in most areas of Tanzania, with people group or even occupation (?) than with nationality.

    Most of my time is spent with the Sukuma people, whom I would argue are not aggressive by any means.

  2. Hi James, and thanks for your response. So many things to say to this- first up, I do agree that there can be sub-national cultural norms around aggression which either encourage or discourage it. I won't name names but let's just say that some northwestern tribes in Tanzania have earned (rightly or not) a reputation for aggression while other peoples, along the coast, are assumed to be less inclined to it. As for occupation- i think that's a lot closer to the mark. Aggression in, say, Dar es Salaam daladala drivers far exceeds that of ye average cushioned office worker. nature of the job.

    But what this really boils down to between the lines is a veiled competition of so-called national identities in terms of what we think the EAC is really about. :)

  3. Nice blog.. aggression in this case is to the positive influence. actually in my opinion means taking that major risk to get what you want. Putting the 2007 incident you mentioned aside, we were able to like almost immediately put a mechanism that aided in striking a peace deal that saw Kenya get back to track again. and in same regard, get a new constitution. Anyway, i bet its also to do with the normal practice that certain groups are used to.

  4. Your greatest fan, Elsie!! i like this in nick's comment; "aggression in this case is to the positive influence. actually in my opinion means taking that major risk to get what you want."

  5. We should be very careful not to base our views on tribal or ethnic grounds. It is a little too obvious that there are tribal differences in East African Countries leading to aggression of a violent nature. We need to change the focus to aggression of a positive nature, say business. Aggression in business is more evident in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
    Kenyans are seen to be more aggressive in business expanding their enterprises into the other EA countries.They have zero tolerance rules in business and believe in setting well defined boundaries in business relationships. The Tanzanians on the other hand are much receptive in business. Their humble and polite nature can come of as a sign of less aggression.
    Ugandans are seen to be good in business but fall below their Kenyan and Tanzanian counterparts.

  6. As native of Kenya, this is what I have to say:-

    First, from what viewpoint are we describing aggression from? Is it from the corporate viewpoint or in day-to-day living and how we relate? The coastal residents of Kenya (of which Iam one) are politely described as 'less aggressive' by residents from other regions, and for those more candid...laziness is the word! Really? And why so? Does that mean we don't get things done or is it that we just do them differently?

    Born and bred in the coast but with much of my schooling upcountry, I,through observation, deem myself an expert of sorts when it comes to 'aggresiveness', and my definition is as simple as this...for the upcountry folks, its all about stepping on other people's toes and giving oneself and others undue pressure in the process. Its all about ME,and MINE! Never about the other party. For the coastal folks, its about getting things done in a less hectic form whilst taking consideration for others.

    That said, I opine that aggressiveness is basically an individual disposition and not cultural or nationality traits. With numerous friends from Tanzania and having transversed most of its major cities, I can assure you that Tanzanians do get the job done...and admirably so. Just with more consideration for others in the process. MY TWO CENTS.

  7. I do happen to read this blog regularly and I appreciate the good work you are doing. Keep up the good work Elsie. Too often stereotypes come out and get utilized as a benchmark to define a whole nation, that is wrong.
    Aggression is found in all humans, Tanzanians or Kenyans. If aggression is defined by business prowess, there is plenty of Tanzania trading, studying and constantly traveling to Kenya. I know plenty of people from Kilimanjaro who are very aggressive and strive for opportunities as much as anyone else in the world. But as an Tanzanian, I think this rather spoils the point. We should not be spending too much time arguing who is the most aggressive or most polite East African because its a useless debate. Lets put our energy in easing doing business and getting our 50 million people who live under a dollar a day to middle class and then we can hold this debate.


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