FILOSOFA’S REPUBLIC. Thursday Msigwa. Pickwick Books. PO Box 925. London W2 IFA. Hardback £11.95. Paperback £5.95.
The flyleaf of this book begins: ‘Every African country needs its founding genius. The Republic of Ngombia is fortunate to have Cicero B Nyayaya, President For As Long As He Likes and originator of the brilliant doctrine of Human Mutualism. Known to million disciples throughout Africa and Scandinavian universities as ‘Fi1isofa’, his world famous Harisha Declaration set forth the principles of Human Mutualism in plain, straightforward language that a child could understand and inspired generations of aid-workers and Dutch volunteers. In this book, Thursday Msigwa, writing through the eyes of a white visitor to Ngombia, shows us the enormous difference that Human Mutualism has made to life in an Ngombian village ….’ Each chapter is headed by a quotation from the writings of the Filosofa. Paul Marchant has written the following review – Editor.
Any worthwhile book prompts the question’ whom is this Intended for? I say ‘book’ advisedly, because it leaves open the further question ‘what sort of book is it?, A novel, I suppose. Or, at least a novella: just 120 pages divided into some dozen un-numbered chapters.
It is essentially a polemic. It paints an exaggerated picture of good intentions at the top and hard and corrupt reality at the bottom. Written in the first person, it is an entertaining account of the experiences of a European expatriate in a recently independent African country. There are no prizes for guessing which country. The style is smooth and attractive and the pseudonymous author has an occasional quite original turn of phrase.
However, it has a number of defects and that raises the question of who the likely readers are, because the value and enjoyment of the book are directly proportionate to the knowledge the reader has of the country in question. This is especially so because of the way in which the author subtly – and not so subtly – is set throughout on demeaning ‘Filosofa’. The tone is set as early as page 4- ‘Filisofa was not against modern inventions like the wheelbarrow’ and quoting as one of his favourite sayings ‘anyone who possessed more than the average man must have stolen it’ not to mention his use of the provocative word ‘masses’ in the Marxist sense.
Comparisons inevitably come to mind: Evelyn Waugh, Chinua Achebe, Joyce Carey, not to mention Candide and the ‘Notes from Overground’ published a few years ago by ‘Tiresias’.
But in comparison with eg ‘Candide’ Msigwa lacks the light touch and is too relentlessly downbeat, sour and sarcastic. He is lacking in both understanding and sympathy. For the former one need only consider his attitude to Father Ordonez, a Spanish missionary with a rather dictatorial approach (‘he had been born in the wrong century; he should have been one of those priests who went to America with the conquistadors to supervise forced conversions’) and remember while doing so the long-term, slowly-slowly-catchee-monkey approach which Cardinal Tan set for the White Fathers a century ago – one should live one’s life by one’s own lights and there is no need to thump the desk and judge success only by the number of people converted to the faith. Expressions of sympathy are rare and grudging in this book as on page 62 where the author ‘revised somewhat’ his opinion of the villagers’ laziness. Self-reliance, a major element in Filosofa’s philosophy, gets its first, (and almost only) mention, over two thirds of the way through the book.
The author occasionally seems to show some slight reservations about what he all too often asserts as incontrovertible, as on page 95 when, stating that the villagers resented being charged by the Mission, he has the grace to add in parenthesis ‘so I am told’. Any of us who have lived any length of time in such a country know only too well how Mission dispensaries were preferred to the government variety precisely because they made a charge.
Msigwa covers his traces well but very occasionally his position (and origins ?) show all too blatantly: ‘rage inwardly as we might’ he writes about some further ‘unjust’ imposition on the poor plantation of which he was an employee, they gave in because they ‘knew it was a condition of permission to trade in Ngombia at all’. So why not go elsewhere to trade? Equally revealing is his use of ‘loyal’ as meaning apparently, ‘useful’ or ‘reliable’. And having said that ‘there was no justice in Ngombia to subvert’, nevertheless, only a page later he has a momentary twinge for the wretched Henry Muhema who, although an upright and Christian long-serving foreman in the company, had been found guilty after a conspiracy by his deputy.
I suppose my reservations about ‘Filosofa’s Republic’ are due to its author’s apparent lack of interest in probing beneath the surface, except when events hit him so squarely between the eyes that even he (like the anti-hero in Stoppard’s ‘Professional Foul’) is forced to question his self righteous assumptions.
A HISTORY OF LEPROSY IN TANZANIA. African Medical and Research Foundation. P. O. Box 30125. Nairobi. 1989.
Leprosy is a chronic inflammatory disease caused by microbacteria and it is a major cause of disability throughout the tropics and subtropics with an estimated 15 million people affected. Despite its feared reputation it is one of the least contagious of the communicable diseases. It has a long incubation period and the disease has an extremely prolonged course.
Knud Balsev in this booklet provides a fascinating insight into the disease in Tanzania and the approach to its treatment and management. In the 1860’s Livingstone and Stanley both reported leprosy as a common disease. Fear of infection led to epilepsy being sufficient grounds for divorce for both husband and wife in the Bahaya tribe of West Lake Region and in Zanzibar. The attitude towards leprosy by the general population in the late nineteenth century was similar to that described in the bible and characterised by fear. Often it was ascribed to sorcery or to the breaking of certain taboos and, although in some places, leprosy was considered as a disgrace, in others there was no stigmatisation. Early missions in Tanzania found that they were caring for many leprosy patients and leprosy camps developed around these missions. The French Holy Ghost Mission in Bagamoyo was founded in 1863 as an orphanage for freed slave children. From 1888 the mission took responsibility for young women with leprosy and the merchant Sewa Haji supported the project financially. With the period of German rule treatment of leprosy became the responsibility of the German colonial government and was carried out in collaboration with missions. The Bethal mission established itself in the Usambaras in 1891. In 1904 the construction of a hospital in Dar es Salaam provided palm thatched wards for the treatment of leprosy patients until 1961.
After the First World War when the British took over the German administered leprosy camps and settlements policy on management changed. Whereas the German administration introduced compulsory segregation the British preferred voluntary segregation. In 1923 an estimated 3,299 patients were in segregated camps. Just before the Second World War the Medical Secretariat of the British Empire Leprosy Relief Organisation visited the country and at that time there were 31 leprosy settlements with a total of 3,400 patients. The war years led to a deterioration in services for leprosy sufferers due to shortage of staff and funds.
However, after the war, an Inter-Territorial Leprosy Specialist was appointed and Dr James Ross-Innes laid the foundation for all later leprosy work on a national scale in Tanganyika. His successor, Dr Harold Wheate, built on this firm foundation and it was during the mid-fifties that ‘Dapsone’ became generally available and the number of patients treated increased dramatically.
When Tanganyika became independent in 1961 the government policy for leprosy control and treatment was pursued with increased activity in a number of areas, including the regional scheme of domiciliary treatment in Kagera Region with the assistance of the Swedish/Norwegian Save the Children organisation and in Geita with input from German and Dutch Leprosy Relief associations. Collaboration between Government and Voluntary agencies proved extremely successful. The Tanzania Leprosy Association was formed in 1978 and came to work closely with the Central Unit of the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Programme in the Ministry of Health.
Knud Balsev worked in Tanzania between 1970 and 1986 treating patients with leprosy and during that time he collected a wealth of information on the subject and this booklet is the result. It is published one hundred years after the establishment of the first leprosy programme at the Holy Ghost Mission in Bagamoyo. It contains useful statistics and epidemiological data and a very helpful list of references. I recommend it as a fascinating historical document which provides an excellent insight into the development of services to treat this ancient and devastating disease.
POPULAR INITIATIVES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN TANZANIA. Joel Samoff. The Journal of Developing Areas. October 1989.
In this article Joel Samoff seeks to describe the resurgence of some form of autonomy in local affairs in Tanzania some years after the abolition of District Councils in the mid-1970’s.
It would have been helpful to have been given the background to events leading to the abolition of District Councils in the 1970′ s. These, open to all races, had been in operation for a number of years, even before independence in 1961, and some senior officials were being trained to quite high professional standards, but the overall concept of local government was a British one. This perhaps, combined with the fact that real power at local level was increasingly concentrated in the ruling party committee, undermined the credibility of local councils and their ability to collect their local rate, and so led to bankruptcy. But Mr Samoff thinks that the local party organisation was reinvigorated following the elimination of councils.
A main theme of the article is to discuss whether the abolition of local government and cooperatives was a • mistake’ as Julius Nyerere 1s often reported to have said and to examine what has begun to develop in the meantime. The ‘popular initiatives’ referred to in the title describe movements in the Kilimanjaro District, or region perhaps, to start privately funded secondary schools. This was because government policy for new secondary schools was to favour the less prosperous areas, of which Kilimanjaro is not one. Mr Samoff claims that ‘this effort to expand secondary education – a powerful local initiative – led to the recreation of local government’ .. His article does not however refer in any detail to any other district than Kilimanjaro. Perhaps the strongest claim of this initiative to local legitimacy is that local school committees are reported to level taxes and cesses in their areas to build and run these schools and to have been ‘recognised as legitimate taxing authorities. . . . . by central government and parastatals’.
The article concludes that, in the perspective of the need for the central bureaucratic governing class to consolidate its power, the abolition of local government and cooperatives , and their more recent resurrection, was not a ‘mistake’. The idea that local government could be a strong middle tier of government does not seem to be contemplated. Perhaps that only operates efficiently in a multi-party stat e. Perhaps also the development of effective local institutions at district level was ‘seen as inimical to the functioning of village socialism (Ujamaa). In the 1980’s, we are told, central government began to resurrect local government and cooperatives but no description is given of the form they are now taking. One would have had greater confidence had the article’s information been ostensibly based on more widely drawn information. There are only references to one district and that hardly representative of a highly varied country. Perhaps other writers can widen the perspective, and even report on what forms the supposed revival of local government is taking.
ECONOMIC EVALUATION OF IMPROVED MANAGEMENT FOR ZEBU CATTLE IN NORTHERN TANZANIA. Peter K. Ngategize. Agricultural Systems No 31. 1989.
Peter Ngategize has undertaken to evaluate the potential, in economic terms, of improving the indigenous cattle population in smallholder units, instead of the more popular research target of imported cattle species or cross-bred animals.
He assesses their worth in terms of tried and trusted production parameters, with results establishing frequently reported traits for Zebu cattle such as long calving interval, lengthy returns to oestrus and high age at first calving.
This information acts as the baseline for a hypothetical herd consisting of a collection of smallholder units. The herd model undergoes a simulated growth over 15 years under two systems; the first, with no input improvements and utilising an estimated offtake rate (defined as the number of animals sold as a proportion of the average herd size) of 5%; the second, with minimal input improvements achieved through a farmer training programme and improved effectiveness of dipping and vaccination programmes.
Not surprisingly, Ngategize’s results suggest that the offtake rate could be increased to 7.5% and still allow a stable herd size (with no improvements) and up to 9.3% under the improved system. He also carries out a partial budget analysis of the improved system, revealing a positive net present value and a high internal rate of return; in essence a financial justification for the improvement policy.
Whilst I would strongly support Ngategize for his advocacy of gradual improvement of indigenous livestock with a farming systems approach and minimal injection of capital, his use of simulations and models could be criticised as lacking any foundation in reality.
Offtake rates are commonly used as a measure of efficacy within cattle production systems. The use of this parameter in the analysis should be seen as a guideline only and, as such, it would have been useful to include more comparative values. To put them into perspective, the offtake rate for the world as a whole is 19%, for developed countries 33%, for developing countries 10% and for Africa 12%.
The author himself doubts the validity of aggregating a collection of smallholder units into one herd and realises that the dependancy upon farmer recall for data must introduce significant error.
The utilisation of cost-benefit analysis and economic evaluation is central to project appraisal, but, whilst the results appear encouraging, the limitations of this method are well known and the use of sensitivity analysis at this stage would probably be justified.
The paper is economic in title and content and the author well versed in the manipulation of data. However, the conclusions are very general, and I would welcome a further paper that outlines the specific strategies to increase calving percentage and reduce calf mortality,
which Ngategize says are economically feasible.
THE SECOND ECONOMY IN TANZANIA. T. L. Maliyamkono and M. S. D. Bagachwa. ESAURP – Heinemann Kenya. James Currey Ltd. 1990. £ 9.95.
It is estimated that the second economy in Tanzania probably accounts for 30-40% of the GDP. This book sets out to provide reasons for its existence and to analyse its various components. It can be said that it is successful in both these tasks. In fact, the authors are to be congratulated for the comprehensive nature of the evidence they have amassed, and this work can be regarded as an authoritative description, or as near authoritative as one is likely to get, of the overall economic situation in Tanzania in 1988.
The book first outlines Tanzania’s economic history since independence. For the first fifteen years or so after independence in 1961 the economy seemed to be progressing. Growth in per capita GDP was positive. In the period 1970-76 the average net growth was 1.5% per annum. In the latter half of the seventies and the early eighties, the situation turned sour with a vengeance, and per capita income fell by 15% over the period 1976-86. A number of reasons for this are adduced by the authors.
They explain in some detail about the exogenous factors involved including the sharp rise in the oil price, a general deterioration in the terms of trade for agricultural commodities, poor harvests find Tanzania’s successful effort to depose Idi Amin of Uganda. However, the decline in Tanzania’s economic situation was considerably exacerbated by the internal consequences of social and economic management policies pursued since independence; for instance the Ujamaa village collectivisation policy which became compulsory in 1973 and led to a large initial decline in agricultural production. This was compounded by the abolition of private trade for food crops and replacement by trading through cooperatives which proved unable to cope due to lack of suitable management. This system was subsequently revised, but the creation of a regional buying and crop processing parastatal, the National Milling Corporation, ensured, at least in theory, t hat the grain market remained under centralised control . The middle seventies also proved to be a dividing line in the effectiveness and scope of government price control policies. Price controls on cert ain important consumer products instituted in 1967 remained effective until the 1973 oil price shock and the 1973-74 drought resulting in a large rise in the cost of imports which caused the government to form the National Price Commission. By 1978 some 3000 different items were subject to price control. Of course, the administrative resources to tackle this mammoth task were totally inadequate.
This is the background against which the second economy in Tanzania has grown. At the time of writing it accounted for a major part of food crop trading in certain parts of the country and also the trade in small scale export agricultural products such as cardamoms and animal hides and skins. (Trading in food crops has since been thrown open to the private sector). Moreover, the expansion of the administrative apparatus required to run a centralised economy, together with the adverse economic circumstances, has led to a drastic decline in the real value of public sector salaries and the formal wage sector as a whole. An I LO study showed Tanzania experienced a drop of 65% in real wages between 1979 and 1984. Another study shows that in 1985 top level public employees only received salaries in real terms equivalent to one third the 1980 level. The situation has not improved significantly since and means that officials and others remain under compulsive pressure to have other sources of income in order to maintain themselves and their families.
To some extent the authors approach the second economy with mixed sentiments. They are influenced by the pejorative official concept of ‘Ulanguzi’ implying illegality of all unauthorised economic activities outside official control. Of course, the distinction is made between economic gains from anti-social activities such as poaching and corruption and genuine, but unrecorded, economic activities such as small scale market gardening or part-time hairdressing. Unofficial trading, a major economic activity, tends to be regarded as a borderline case. Overall however, the authors accept a positive view of the second economy as a necessary adjunct of the centrally controlled economy. As the private sector increases and the trend towards the relaxation of central economic control continues the definition of the second economy will be increasingly one of the difference between those a activities recorded in official statistics and those which are not. On this basis the World Bank’s latest figure of $180 per capita GNP (i n 1987) should probably be adjusted to a real figure of $240-60 and even higher if the monetary value of the substantial subsistence economy were taken into account.
‘The Second Economy in Tanzania’ must be regarded as essential reading for all those interested in the state of the Tanzanian economy. The wealth of information including 62 statistical tables and graphs represent a commendable effort of compilation. This, together with the accompanying detailed analysis, guided by a high standard of objectivity, represents a considerable achievement in economic exposition.
GRASSROOTS STRATEGIES AND DIRECTED DEVELOPMEMNT IN TANZANIA: THE CASE OF THE FISHING SECTOR. Morja-Liisa Swantz. World Institute for Development and Economics Research. UN University. Helsinki.
This paper, which was presented at a meeting of the African Studies Association in Chicago is concerned with a critical examination of the general direction of development policies and strategies adopted by Tanzania during the 1970’s and the way in which such policies affected the poorest sections of the community. The paper strongly criticises the centralised planning methods used by the government which often ignored the detailed needs, aspirations and capabilities of the artisanal population. The author terms this process’ directed development’ based on ‘planning-from-the-top’ rather than starting the planning process at grasssroots level using background socio-economic surveys and gradually working upwards through district and regional government organisations. Although the fisheries sector is used as an example to describe development trends, In fact, only about 50% of the report deals specifically with fisheries.
The author suggests that the centralised planning process resulted in a major emphasis being placed on modernisation and industrial development which had a detrimental effect on the productivity and standard of living of rural communities.
Within the fisheries sector the discussion is largely restricted to the role of the Mbegani Fisheries Development Centre (MFDC) which was established at a reported cost of US$ 22 million using support from Norway, and the effects of the centre on adjacent fishing communities between Bagamoyo and Dar es Salaam. The main objectives were to increase fish production using new techniques, improve the catch and earning capacity of fishermen, supply trained manpower to the fisheries sector and earn foreign exchange by the sale of surplus fish and luxury marine foods. In reality the over-riding function of the centre was to earn foreign currency by encouraging the development of industrial trawling for prawns for export. This meant that almost all training in fishing techniques was focussed on commercial trawling using a large stern trawler as a training vessel. Clearly the method was totally inappropriate to meet the needs of artisanal fishermen who.se main problems stemmed from the lack of basic fishing gears. Consequently, the centre had little or no positive impact on small-scale fisheries; indeed the author provides evidence of a negative impact on those fishing communities situated close to the centre through loss of access to certain fishing grounds.
A further valid criticism raised by the author concerned the inappropriate training of fisheries extension workers by the centre, again resulting from the bias towards high-technology methods with little regard for the real needs of artisanal fishermen who catch over 90% of the total marine fish production of Tanzania.
The paper goes on to describe the effects of the recent ‘liberalisation’ programme which resulted in an easing of restrictions on imports and encouragement of exports. The main impact on the fisheries sector was an increase in availability of certain gears and out board engines. However, the latter were expensive and unaffordable for the vast majority of fishermen.
From about 1986 important policy changes were made by the government and MFDC resulting in a change in direction of training programmes by increasing their relevance to small-scale fishermen and women and, perhaps more importantly, by the introduction of sales of fishing gears and engines.
The sale of gears proved very successful and had a major positive impact on local fishing communities by increasing the numbers of fishermen and their catches and by the stimulation of greater trade, much of which was undertaken by women. However, the author fails to point out that gears were sold at very low subsidised prices which undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the sale of locally made nets at the factory in Dar es Salaam.
The author concludes that had investment gone into t artisanal sector in the first place rather than into modern high technology fishing and training programmes, then the nation would have been provided not only with sufficient fish to meet its own food requirements but also with surplus for export. This statement is optimistic to say the least, and shows a lack of detailed understanding of the marine fish resource potential of Tanzania. However, a fisheries development project supported by Britain (ODA) in the Southern coast al regions clearly demonstrated that between 1983 and 1987 supply of gears for sale to local fishermen resulted in increased effort and catches.
Important issues not raised in this paper concern the lack of support given to the government fisheries department which has been unable to effectively carry out its recognised duties in collection of statistics, extension, development and research. In the absence of basic fisheries statistics it is not possible to formulate rational development and management programmes. The ODA has attempted to improve the situation in the South by carrying out various resource evaluation studies which form the basis of extension and development programmes. Unfortunately, in the North such programmes are s till lacking.
The author made brief mention of another major problem facing the marine fisheries sector: the widespread illegal use of dynamite to catch fish. The very damaging effects of this method on the coral reef structure which forms the foundation of many fish resources is not disputed. Past attempts to control this irresponsible activity have failed and until firm measures are introduced development will be greatly hindered.
Finally, the author stressed the need for future planning and development processes to start at the grassroots level. Undoubtedly. this would result in improvements in identification of the most appropriate technologies to meet the needs and be within the capability of artisanal fishing communities. James Scullion
POPULATION PRESSURE. THE ENVIRONMENT AND AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION: VARIATIONS ON THE BOSERUP HYPOTHESIS. Urna Lele and Steven W Stone.
ISSUES IN FERTILISER POLICY IN AFRICA. LESSONS FROM DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMMES AND ADJUSTMENT LENDING. 1970-87. Urna Lele, R. E. Christiansen and K Kadiresan.
These two documents cover part of a major World Bank research project conducted under the heading ‘MANAGING AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA’ (MADIA) which has involved detailed analysis of six East and West African countries including Tanzania. USAID, UKODA, DANIDA, SIDA, the French and German governments and the EC participated. The following review draws out key implications of these studies as they refer to Tanzania – Editor.
This series of studies makes compelling reading for those concerned with agricultural development in Southern Africa.
The overall findings cover such areas as crop yield, biological and chemical inputs, farmers incomes, population density, incentives, land and labour productivity and the increasing scarcity of forest resources. The experience in Tanzania illustrates the benefits foregone of a set of policies that did not stimulate growth in areas of high potential whilst emphasising consumption and welfare oriented efforts in areas of lower productive potential.
In Tanzania about 60% of the population lives on 20% of the land and to remedy this regional imbalance the government has opened up new areas of high potential in the Southern Highlands (Iringa, Mbeya, Ruvuma and Rukwa). Population is concentrated around the Lake Victoria Basin and coffee producing Northeastern Highlands (Arusha, Mara, Mwanza, Shinyanga and Kigoma, both areas of traditionally higher value and higher yielding crops. The attempt to open up the Southern Highlands makes sense in the longer term. In the shod run it has had high opportunity costs. Tanzania has differed from Kenya in not encouraging regional economic growth in line with comparative advantage. Pricing policies did not provide incentives for further intensification, a shift to higher value crops and use of modern inputs in the North. Smallholders, for instance, receive only one third to one half of the world price for dark-fired and sun/air cured tobacco.
Data on fertiliser consumption, regional expenditure pattern and marketed surpluses of maize, tobacco, tea and coffee suggest a clear shift away from the Northeastern and Lake Victoria areas towards the South. Use of inputs follows regional planning more closely than it does population density. Fertiliser consumption in the land abundant South rose from 35,000 tons in 1975 to 91,500 tons in 1987 – representing not less than 70-75% of total fertiliser use even though only 18% of the population lives in these four regions. In the North, where the majority of food and export crops were traditionally grown there was a decline in fertiliser consumption from 22% in 1975 to less than 10% in 1986-87 even though one third of the population resides there.
Production increased in the South but at the cost of declining marketed production in the North. The Southern Highlands doubled its share of total coffee production to 25% in 1981-85 and increased its share of tobacco production from 18% in 1970-74 to 60% in 1982-86. But this was not associated with substantial growth in overall output due to a decline in traditional areas. For instance, coffee production in Arusha/Kilimanjaro regions fell from 26 million tons in 1975 to 20 million tons in 1985.
The fiscal resource constraints encountered by Tanzania illustrate the dilemma of giving regional equity a higher national priority than growth in overall production. Continued growth in the Northeastern Highlands could have financed development in other regions. Recently the macro economic environment has improved. Cooperative and private institutions have begun to make a come back, Production is gradually picking up in the Northeastern Highlands.
Lele et al indicate in their fertiliser paper that use of fertiliser, priced at full cost, is not economic for farmers in Tanzania. Benefit-cost ratios calculated for fertiliser use in 1988 comparing input and output price data
SARUFI MPYA (New Grammar). Mohamed A Mohamed. Press and Publicity Centre. Dar es Salaam. 1990.
This new book is an advanced study of the intricacies of Swahili grammar. Different chapters deal with such subjects as tense patterns, tense affixes, clauses and sentence construction. A reviewer in the ‘Daily News’ writes: ‘Most educated people in Tanzania easily recognise grammatical terms in English eg noun, subject, predicate, pronoun, subject etc. But they will be baffled by such terms as nomina, kitenzi, kiwakilishi, kiima, kishazi etc’ .. The reviewer indicates that that is the reason why this book should be read! – DRB.
DOTTIE. Abdul-Razak Gurnah. Jonathan Cape. £13.95.
The author of this book was born in Zanzibar and educated in Tanzania and the UK. He now works in the University of Kent. The novel is set in England in the 50’s and 60’s and involves Dottie’s efforts to find a confident path through her difficulties. She is isolated from her own culture but not yet part of a new one. She is in some ways a paradigm for most immigrant people. What history can they recall? What history should they recall? She suffers as a member of a subject race coming from a colony to the motherland. What carries her through is her individual fortitude from the BBC programme ‘Bookshelf’ reported by P.J.C. Marchant.
MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON. A new film directed by Bob Rafelson.
Tanzanophiles will hardly be able to resist going to see this film which describes the story of the epic 1854 journeys of Sir Richard Burton, the 19th century explorer and John Hanning Speke to the shores of Lake Tanganyika – the first white men to see the Lake – and the subsequent Journey of Speke to Lake Victoria which he correctly identified as the source of the River Nile. The film has received mixed reviews in the British press. The Bulletin decided to ask for an African point of view. Mr Badou Diop has written as follows – Editor
The history of Western exploration and discoveries, whatever one might think, is inextricable linked with the phenomenon of imperialism and hence colonialism. Therefore the ‘Mountains of the Moon’ will have to be seen in this light.
Whether intentionally or deliberately, the Director Bob Rafelson touches on several familiar problems. Burton and Speke have completely diverse conceptions on what exploration is all about. Burton, we are told to believe, thinks that exploration is not only about teaching the main goal, in this case the Nile, but also having an intense interest in the local people concerned. Speke has the typical view of the majority in Britain at the time that one should not become emotionally involved with the natives.
Back in England after the visit the two explorers were involved in rivalry mainly created by the Royal Geographic Societys to who of the two had the most accurate scientific explanation about the source of the Nile. John Speke is the epitome of the kind of modern British tourist whose aims on holiday include sun and sex.
The film, which is shot in Kenya, is a visual delight even though not in the same league as the other famous Kenyan film ‘Out of Africa’. However, one comes out of ‘Mountains of the Moon’ feeling that a film blessed with such exciting subject matter should have been better. Rafelson seems to lack the authority and erudition to undertake such a heavy enterprise. But Tanzanians should go and see it because it shows an important and historic period in African history.