Once and Future Wonderland of the World

John Otim

Say what you like. All things love me. I pick no flower that wins the bee



If there were an African country in which the leader was so imbued so fired with dreams and plans for a better tomorrow for his under developed land and his impoverished people, that country was Tanzania. If there were a country in which grand and sincere dreams for a better future in the end went terribly wrong and caused untold sufferings for millions. That country is Tanzania. If the saying, bad things can happen to good people could apply to a whole country. That country is Tanzania.

Back in the heady days of Empire end-games when the mighty Wind of Change swept the lengths and breadth of the mighty Continent, and knocked down one mighty Colonial Ruler after another, Tanzania unexpectedly shot ahead and went on to win its freedom ahead of much better placed countries such as Uganda and Kenya. It got there just a year behind Nigeria, that giant of Africa, which acquired independence statehood in 1960.

The intellectual, the urbane but unassuming leader who took over the mantle of state power from the British, in this geographically vast but sparsely populated land was Julius Nyerere. We must remember that in land size Tanzania is almost twice as big as Nigeria. With an average of two persons to the square mile Tanganyika as it was called had one of the lowest population densities of the world. You could drive for hours across its breadth and length and not encounter a single soul.

 For a leader who was in a hurry and who wished to move his backward country quickly ahead, this created problems. How do you build a school or established a health clinic for nine people? How do you build roads across these crazy distances? No wonder neither the British nor the Germans before them had done much. But Nyerere had an answer and it was simple. He would assemble the people together. He would congregate them at selected locations in sufficient numbers. There the government would provide facilitation and the people would work the land collectively and would share in the produce of their sweat. He called his experiment Ujamaa which in Swahili means family hood.

Nyerere was well versed in Marxism but he said he was not a follower of Karl Marx. He called his experiment at social engineering, African socialism. His ideas harked back to bygone days of hunter gather communities, when the world was simple and everyone was their brother’s keeper. Attracted by his ideas, his lucidity of mind, and his lofty ideals, Marxists from around the world converged on Tanzania. Many of these were young people. One of them was a Guyanese who had just defended his dissertation at Oxford University, and who in a few years produced his magna opus. Issued from Dar es Slaam in 1972, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was in its analysis poverty and history  in Africa, ground breaking, and has remained in publication since. Its young author was Walter Rodney.

Right wing scholars and journalists mocked Nyerere and laughed at him, for coming up with a scheme they said could only share poverty. What are you going to share? You have nothing at all in your country! What are you going to share? They ignored the part of his plans that called for hard work (uhuru na kazi), and increased productivity (let them walk while we run).

In the years ahead when Tanzania grew even poorer than it already was, when the collapse of Nyerere’s dreams became obvious, the group of right wing scholars and journalists who had opposed him, suddenly appeared vindicated. And they lost no time in claiming victory. Had they been right all along? They had been, but they were right for the wrong reasons. The cold warrior bravo of the day had colored their analysis. And Nyerere's defeat was celebrated in like manner.

Be that as it may and regardless of who was right or who was wrong, Tanganyika and Zanzibar were and still are the twin wonderland of the world that the Author of Creation intended them to be. Tanzania as the two countries jointly became known, following their mid sixties union, is a country like no other, surrounded by lakes and ocean waters so blue you can count the buds on the trees from the reflection. A range of mountains that begins with the beautiful Mount Meru in the north east bisects the land mass into two almost equal halves.  

As by evidence the location of the origin of humankind, Tanzania is a land of infinite variety and beguiling charms. It has within its borders or shares with its neighbors, some of nature's greatest gifts. These include Mount Kilimanjaro, world’s second highest peak, Lake Victoria, world's second largest fresh water lake, and lake Tanganyika that at 420 miles in length, is world's longest fresh water lake. And above all there is the unbelievable Wonderland they call Serengeti, the richest and most diverse echo system in the world

But we run ahead of ourselves and of our story that after all was meant to be a tale not in words but in three dimensions.  And in our haste I fear we committed the unforgivable. Who will forgive us if we do not speak of the fairyland they call the Ireland of Zanzibar, land of the lotus eaters. But words are only words. And the wise say, seeing is believing. And they say, a picture can tell a thousand stories. Be that as it may, if pictures be the stuff of love and the stuff of dreams and the stuff of stories, ride on