Category: Tanzania


AMDG

download (1)Travelling from Nairobi to Arusha takes us through Maasailand, which straddles the border between Kenya and Tanzania.  The Maasai with their distinctive dress and beautiful jewellery are for many one of the iconic African tribes.  However their uneasy relationship with the modern world provide a fascinating lense through which to think through some of the issues around development.  The Maasai are essentially nomadic cattle herders, their herd (often cows / goats) are their wealth and are referred to as the ‘breath of life’.  It was their fierce defence of their cattle from lions and other alpha predators that led them to value courage and bravery highly. This also contributed to their reputation for being fierce warriors.  In the 18th Century – trade caravans moving inland from the east coast would cross Maasai territory with trepidation.

Maasai elder in tanzaniaWhen the British replaced the Germans as the colonial power after the First World War they were fascinated and perplexed by the Maasai.  They encouraged them to adopt European practices of education and medicine but also wanted them to keep their traditional culture, moving them and hoping to contain them to a reserve in Southern Kenya. Sadly the Maasai were seriously weakened by the inadvertent introduction of rinderpest ( a bovine disease) which wiped out 80% of their herd.  Also weakened by inter-tribal fighting their are now estimated to be 150,000 Maasai in Kenya and an equivalent number in Tanzania.  With many now moving  away from the nomadic lifestyle they are now living in villages and have adopted more modern ranching and farming techniques. A large amount have moved to the cities of Arusha, Dodoma and Dar es Salaam where they are often employed as security guards.

Modern urban life can be quite cruel to them, often mocked and looked down upon by modern citizens of East Africa, it is notimages unusual for the Maasai to live a sort of double life – some time spent back in their villages in traditional dress and then moving into the cities and working in western dress. Uneasily straddling these two cultures….. modernity, mobile phones, wages and bank accounts on one hand, or spears, jewellery, traditional dress and bartering.  Travelling along the highway which links the two countries you get tantalising glimpses into these two worlds. Also you certainly can experience some full on bartering at the border crossing of Namanga. These fleeting encounters with  Maasai give you a lot to ponder about.  Certainly the modern world has much to offer, and some of the traditional customs – the high rates of FGM are appalling, however are we not more rushed, more stressed and more unhappy?  Should we loose our traditions so quickly? With the majority of the world now living in cities, what life are we creating for ourselves? Writing this I remember a very interesting discussion with a couple of young professional Indian women in the back of rickshaw in Bangalore  who were strongly against wearing jeans.  They persuasively argued in favour of the Sari. All the indications are that the Masaai will be slowly sucked into modern urban life, at what cost?  Is this really development?

AMDG

Regions_of_the_African_UnionPreparing to go to Tanzania with some of the students here, it is good to challenge some of the stereotypes that they are carrying with them.  First of all – Africa is a continent, not a country….   Northern Africa with its failed Arab Springs and Isis breathing down its neck is very different to Southern Africa, so long dominated by South Africa, which hosted the World Cup. Although Johannesburg has now economically been taken over by Western Africa, as Nigeria surges ahead.  The Nigerian Film Industry, Nollywood, is the second biggest in the world after India.  Not surprising since the average Nollywood movie is produced in a span of 7-10 days on a budget between $7,500-13,000. Compare this to Hollywood’s average budget of $6.7 million per movie and one year production time! It seems that the internet and digital technology has allowed it to take off.

IMG_2890-480x480However East Africa, dominated by Kenya, leads the world in mobile banking.  It is easier to pay for a taxi ride using your mobile phone in Nairobi than it is in New York.  M-PESA Kenya’s world-leading mobile-money system, is used by nearly three quarters of the adult population allowing them to transfer cash using their phones. A micro-financing scheme –  you pay money into the system by handing cash to one of Safaricom’s 40,000 agents (typically a corner shop), who credits the money to your M-PESA account. You withdraw money by visiting another agent, who checks that you have sufficient funds before debiting your account and handing over the cash. You can also transfer money to others using a menu on your phone. It is quick, safe and easy and  useful where many workers in cities send money back home to their families in rural villages. M-PESA has since been launched in Romania & Albania.  A technological innovation that has reached Europe.

disruptive_technologies_rbb-300x263It is a disruptive technology (like Uber & Air B’n’B) and of course the banks are upset.  But in a part of the world were bank branches are few and far between, and bank accounts were seen as a luxury and only obtainable to the elite it has proved phenomenally popular. It reminds me of travelling to India with a group of students 13 years ago and having to rent a very expensive satellite phone for emergency use – it cost about £800.  A year later – all I had to do was by a sim card when I got off at Bangalore airport.  It was easier to cover the country in mobile phone masts, than put up pylons and landlines.  In a similar way M-PESA avoids having to put up branches every where.

 

 

 

AMDG

cannonizationThere are a small group of students and myself getting ready to travel to Tanzania and help out at one of the Jesuit schools in Dodoma.  Tanzania is a relatively stable country in East Africa thanks to the legacy of their great president at the time of independence, Julius Nyerere.  Amongst that generation of independence leaders in Africa,Kenyatta,  Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe – Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere stands head and shoulders above them. He became a Catholic at the age of 21, and when independence came in 1961 it was achieved without bloodshed, partly due to Nyerere’s widely recognised integrity and respect and also his good relationship and co-operation with the British Governor Sir Richard Turnbill.  Although many would argue that his policy ‘ujamma’ (extended familyhood) was economically disastrous, as were his links with Mao’s China.  However he relinquished power peacefully, unusually for that generation of leaders, and although Tanzania was a poor and one of the least developed countries in East Africa, it was peaceful and has since proven to be safe from the bouts of tribal violence that have affected surrounding countries and is threatening to rear its ugly head again in neighbouring Burundi.

The capital Dodoma is in the center of the country (275 miles away from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s biggest and richest city and economic hub).  Nyerere moved the capital from Dar to Dodoma in 1974 in order to create a centralising force in the country to unify the different tribes so they didn’t feel isolated from the coastal Dar.  In January 2005 the Catholic diocese of Musoma opened a case for the beatification of Julius Nyerere. Nyerere was a devout Catholic who attended Mass daily throughout his public life and was known for fasting frequently.  Last years visit by Pope Francis rekindled hope that Nyerere may be one day declared a saint – link.  The Jesuits have established a parish and schools in Dodoma, and when I used to visit with groups of sixth formers from London we would stay with the Jesuits and help out in the school. The last time I went in 2011 we were privileged to have an exclusive interview with the Prime Minister of Tanzania Mizengo Pinda.  Pinda, an ex-seminarian would attend Sunday Mass at the Jesuit Parish and then had the reputation for being clean, and straightforward.  He retired in 2015 from being prime minister and political life after allegations of corruption (BBC link).  Maybe my question at the beginning of the interview, although uncomfortable was a little prescient?    The video quality isn’t great but the questions and answers are informative.  When we put the video on YouTube back in 2011 on returning to the UK is was rapidly taken down by someone ….  maybe it will stay up this time!