It with a sad heart I leave Dodoma – but never before have I seen a city grow so fast. When the great independence president, Julius Nyerere, the father of Tanzania, designated Dodoma as the capital rather than the sprawling port of Dar Es Salaam, it raised a few eyebrows. Back then in 1973, it was a small town that the Germans had developed along with the railway. Right in the centre of the country, it was at times a semi-arid dust bowl…. you can see the previous Prime Minister Pinda remembering the whirlwinds when we interviewed him in 2011. However visiting on and off over the last 9 years it has grown beyond recognition.
Nyerere, who became a Catholic at the age of 21, said that he was always a ‘schoolmaster by choice and a politician by accident’. He stands out amongst the ‘Fathers of Africa’ (that post-independence generation of African leaders) in two ways, the peaceful way he relinquished power after 20 years and the simplicity and asceticism with which he lived. He was a daily mass goer and fasted regularly and in 2005 the Catholic Diocese of Musoma opened his cause for beatification. His economic legacy, however, is controversial, but his legacy in social development and leaving behind a peaceful country is impressive. With regards to Dodoma, Nyerere wanted the capital city to be in the centre of the country so that it could have a unifying effect, being equally accessible to all, bringing the tribes together – rather than becoming a bubble for the political elite in Dar. The ‘Bunge’, the national assembly or parliament has been sitting in Dodoma since 1996. Although many offices remain in Dar, the politicians decamp every year to live in Dodoma, the ministers have built houses, and along with them comes the usual entourage of advisors, lobbyists, business people. We had a lovely dinner with one of the entrepreneurial families in the parish who have opened a hotel – and much of their business is reliant on this custom.
It is wonderful to visit as a Jesuit as you are inserted into the heart of the community, even though you are a mzungu. The impressive Jesuit Parish with 1600 at mass is warm and welcoming, with amazing choirs.
The Jewel in the crown for our visits to Dodoma is St Ignatius Prep & Primary school. It is a very special place, and a lot of that is down to Sister Euphrasia, who has thrown her whole heart into building up the community. Some of the best teachers in Dodoma have followed her, even taking pay cuts – because they prefer working in the loving atmosphere of the school than many other schools which are run more like a business, and they are micromanaged. I suppose the great challenge for Euphrasia is one that I have been pondering on myself recently, how do you set up something that doesn’t totally rely on your personality, i.e. that is apostolically resilient, and doesn’t fizzle out when you are gone.