A LETTER FROM ICELAND

It is not every day that you receive a letter from Iceland. But I was in Copenhagen when the letter was received and I am sure it is not such a rare occurrence there.

I was with Ms Ulla Baagoe (pronounced in Danish something like ‘bar eu’ without the g; it is also difficult to type on an English typewriter as it, and so many other Danish words, have uniquely Danish accents!). She is the recently elected new Chairperson of the Denmark Tanzania Association (DANTAN). She was opening her mail. It was a letter, apparently inspired by the Tanzanian Ambassador to the Scandinavian countries, from an Icelander asking how he could learn more about DANTAN. So the Britain Tanzania Society’s (BTS’s) opposite numbers in Denmark seem to be broadening their horizons and should soon have at least one new member.

Ulla Baagoe is clearly well chosen as Chairperson because she is so well informed. She works on the Tanzania desk of DANIDA, the Danish Department of International Development Cooperation. Cooperation between Denmark and Tanzania has always been very close and relations always very warm. Ulla Baagoe gave me the latest figures: Total assistance US$73 million in 1990 including US$ 58 million in grants and 80 technical assistance personnel; 50% was expected to go into water, health and education, 38% on transport and 15% on various ongoing commitments in industry, agriculture and the environment.

The former Chairperson, for eight years, Mr Keld Jorgensen, the Roger Carter of DANTAN, outlined to me, in some detail, how DANTAN began and had developed over the years. And it became possible, while listening to him, to begin to compare and contrast DANTAN with the BTS.

The two societies are about the same age – DANTAN 10, BTS 11, but DANTAN has had a far more changeable leadership and, unlike the BTS, many of its early members and even its leaders had never been to Tanzania when they joined. Original motivations in the case of DANTAN were more oriented towards the creation of a New World Order I obtained the impression, as I listened to Mr Jorgensen, (I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong) that, to some extent, the fact that it was Tanzania which so many early members became attracted to was almost incidental. I assume that it was the socialist orientation and the magnetism of its leader, Julius Nyerere, which appealed to the early members. Something similar applies to the BTS which originally seemed to have and probably still has a preponderance of members with socialist sympathies.

The changes in leadership of DANTAN make an interesting tale and illustrate the way in which it continues to modernise and rejuvenate itself at regular intervals.

The first Chairperson resigned after three months when she became head of a committee on male-female equality. She was soon replaced. The second of DANTAN’s Secretaries became Chairman of a political society and couldn’t carry on. The third Treasurer left because he also worked for the Danish State Railway and became far too busy working on the construction of the bridge with the longest span in Europe at the main exit from the Baltic Sea – 1.8kms in length. The first editor of the Association’s quarterly journal ‘Kumekucha’ was lost when she married an Australian and went to live there. The driving force in the Association’s Aahus branch went to Borneo. His successor later left for Botswana! But the Association still thrives.

‘Kumekucha’ the Swahili for ‘Dawn’ is better illustrated and better printed than the journal you are now reading and ‘Kumekucha’ is a much more attractive title than ‘Bulletin of Tanzanian Affairs.’ But it has its disadvantages. I was told that few people in Denmark know what it means! Kumekucha’s 37th issue was published in November 1990. The Bulletin’s 37th issue was published in September 1990.

Usually ‘Kumeckucha’ is produced largely in Danish but its 10th anniversary issue in April 1990 was entirely in English and contained many articles by Tanzanians. One, by Mr Ilyas Abdulrahman, Vice-Chairman of DANTAN, under the title ‘DANTAN for Ten Years’ makes fascinating reading in London where Tanzanians meet regularly in the Tanzania Association and Britons meet in the Britain Tanzania Society.

Mr Abdulrahman wrote that ‘Recently there has been a meeting in Copenhagen where a friendship association between Denmark and Tanzania was discussed’ said my friend Elias … We asked a lot of questions. Where did the initiative come from? Is it official? How does one qualify to be a member? … Could we influence the course (of the association) if we joined? How much can the two countries benefit from such an organisation? Elias smiled and said “We are talking friendship, not politics!”. My reply was “if you want to maintain a friendship, make sure you understand your friend!”

‘Ambassador Mhina was visiting Copenhagen (he resides in Stockholm) … we had a get-together evening …. he was a good lobbyist …. many enrolled at the end of the meeting. They all had different ideas about the organisation … one thing we all agreed on was that it was a good idea. Our (Tanzanian) profile was a heterogeneous group of workers, retired seamen, students, political refugees (from Zanzibar), short term visitors, unemployed permanent residents, mixed (Tanzanian/ Danish) couples. Their (Danish) profile was active politicians, senior government officials, people who contribute in influencing or running the policy of this country. Some of the names mentioned were familiar from the newspapers or television. An interesting combination.

‘(Later) an invitation to an informal evening came from DANTAN .. an appeal to Tanzanians living in Denmark to join the club. We turned up. lnger and Keld Jorgensen were extra sweet … we were all inquisitive; everybody wanted to know everything about everyone. There wasn’t enough time for us all to give our life histories; but what I recall is that our Danish friends got to know more about us than we did about them … That was the time ‘Kumekucha’ was mentioned as a slogan. The sun is rising, wake up, open your eyes and get to know more about each other’s country,culture, traditions, not to mention mentality. Some time later we (my wife and I) became members no 48 of DANTAN.

‘DANTAN was now one year old. The general meeting was held at the Parliament building of Christiansborg … We went through the whole procedure as normal in such meetings. Some Tanzanian’s got a bit bored; could have been problems with the Danish language. The time came when all could have the floor … some militant Zanzibaris raised up to exercise their democratic rights. They aired their opinion about DANTAN and in quite a dramatic way. The situation was a bit unbecoming to some of the parliamentarians present ; other Danes were totally confused … I couldn’t help smiling. With the Zanzibar population in Copenhagen an incident like that was bound to take place. DANTAN had passed the first year without having managed to accommodate the Zanzibar wing … Zanzibaris were quite great in number in those days … Other wise our first general meeting was a success.

More activities followed. Member groups in other parts of Denmark were set up… but as the years went by the number of active Tanzanians decreased drastically. Some of the active Danes took a low profile, too, but they were always replaced by others. Why has the association become less interesting for the Tanzanians living in Denmark? Did they have expectations which were not met? Are DANTAN activities not that interesting? Have they given up making friends and contributing to creating better understanding between the two nationalities? No, actually many think positively about the association, but just as many don’t feel at home in the many meetings held around. I hope these questions will be answered and debated by many others.’

Members of the BTS perhaps need the same debate!

In many other respects DANTAN and BTS are similar. DANTAN tends to have better attended seminars end meetings, usually in the presence of a Tanzanian Cabinet Minister, but less frequently than the BTS. It has development projects in Tanzania and actively campaigns in Denmark in support of Tanzania. DANTAN has 245 members. BTS has twice as many. But the population of Britain is more than ten times that of Denmark. Membership subscription in DANTAN is about £12 for a family – everything is more expensive over there.

And I almost forgot to mention one major difference between the two societies – DANTAN has organised Danish Tanzanian soccer games!
David Brewin

1 Comment »

  1. Tanzanian Affairs » 36 YEARS OF TANZANIAN AFFAIRS – PART 1 said,

    September 3, 2011 at 10:57 am

    […] one third of the electorate did not turn up to the polling stations. David Brewin writes about DANTAN (the Denmark Tanzania Association), comparing with the Britain-Tanzania Society, and suggesting how […]

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