by Martin Walsh
REMEMBERING JULIUS NYERERE IN TANZANIA: HISTORY, MEMORY, LEGACY. Marie-Aude Fouéré (editor). Mkuki na Nyota, Dar es Salaam, 2015. xiv + 337 pp. (paperback). ISBN 978-9987-753-26-0. £25.00. http://www.africanbookscollective.com/books/remembering-julius-nyerere-in-tanzania
I enjoy edited volumes on a particular theme or topic for three reasons: first, they sometimes include excellent work by previously unpublished researchers, edited by scholars with specialised knowledge of the theme or topic; second, they are a useful forum for established authors to account for this emerging scholarship in their own treatments; and third, read together, the bibliographies attached to each essay serve as an excellent cross-referencing tool to guide further research.
This collection is a good example of such a publication, gathering together a good deal of new research from emerging scholars on the topic of remembering Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president. Keen to develop a new perspective on this topic, the contributors’ essays explain their collective determination to break from an enduring scholarly tradition of valorising Nyerere, his political works and his significance in the history of African democracy. As Marie-Aude Fouéré points out, the essays she has edited in this volume focus instead on the production of a usable past for a contemporary (re)imagination of nationhood, in which ‘Nyerere’ becomes a ‘floating signifier’, that is, an unfixed political metaphor that is deployed in different ways in the course of debating and acting upon the present.
Many of the chapters in the book document and discuss this issue as it applies to Nyerere and his works. For example, Emma Hunter’s chapter suggests how the Arusha Declaration and Ujamaa were Nyerere’s way of winning back political power for himself and his party by formalising a pervasive anticapitalist and anti-corruption discourse in post-colonial Tanzania. Despite the failure of Ujamaa as a socioeconomic model for prosperity and equality, the policy allowed Nyerere to cement his reputation as an incorruptible figure of righteousness and social justice and, following his death, allowed others to transform him into a contemporary symbol of a more moral time in the past.
The essays by Kelly Askew, James Brennan and Mary Ann Mhina are all to some degree concerned with what might have been or might still be concealed or occluded by Nyerere’s shadow as it figures in literary, academic and poetic engagements with him in his guise as the hardworking, modest, self-effacing schoolteacher and as the august and preeminent torch-bearer of Tanzanian – and African – political self-determination and independence. After all, we must wonder about the reasoning behind Nyerere’s decision to establish a foundation named for himself that, according to Olivier Provini’s chapter, pays him a permanent tribute by disseminating his political thought through various media and the publication of his speeches.
In her chapter, Mhina points out that our view of discourse – and the signifiers and symbols it deploys – must not neglect the ability people have to perpetrate, penetrate, transcend or ignore it, depending on context and their own particular needs. Fouéré extends this point, explaining that whoever and whatever Nyerere the man might have been during his lifetime, the signifier/symbol called ‘Nyerere’ has become a polyvalent means of both operating upon the past in the present and of deploying the past in operations upon the present. Individual and corporate efforts to claim Nyerere in this fashion are also telling: those who vie for power over Nyerere’s meaning do so in the knowledge that their particular signifier can, through the power of the symbol, become a mirror that reflects the virtues they ascribe to it back upon them. If the signifier/symbol they have created is powerful and widely accepted, they may, by associating or affiliating with their symbol, draw upon its power to legitimate their own authority and projects.
The chapters by Aikande Kwayu and Kristin Phillips, for example, each present research data to explain how political legitimacy is appropriated by those who can present themselves as lineal descendants of whatever politically expedient version of Nyerere they successfully posit, while Provini and Sonia Languille consider how Nyerere’s educational legacy is honoured or ignored in the administraton of contemporary university and secondary education.
The essays in this book all touch on what I see as a particularly Tanzanian syllogism: Nyerere was all that was best about Tanzania in the past, while Tanzania remains all that its greatest son made it. Whether the conclusion of this logical expression is true or not, I expect that this volume is only the beginning of a much deeper study of the symbolic power of Nyerere-asmetonym-for-Tanzania, as well as a more wide-ranging consideration of his significance(s) in East Africa and further afield.
Gavin Macarthur graduated with a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Manchester in 2009. His doctoral research suggests that the islands of Zanzibar are imagined in multiple cultured modes, continuously resituating the Isles in differential historical, geographical and socio-political relations with the Tanzanian mainland and other places around the globe. He is currently developing a health-focused eco-adventure tourism project to implement certain of the UN’s sustainable development goals in Jeju island, South Korea.
A MONUMENT TO CHINA-AFRICA FRIENDSHIP: FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT OF THE BUILDING OF TAZARA. Compiled by the Policy Planning Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China. English translation by Chen Feng and Jarrod Williams. World Affairs Press, 2015. 256 pp. (hardback). ISBN 978-7-5012-5084-4. (No price given.)
A detailed report on the planning and construction of the TAZARA railway, from a Chinese perspective, is very welcome. For this was one of the largest and most complex infrastructure project constructed in Africa in the 1970s, and by far the largest turnkey project undertaken abroad by China at that time. As this book, compiled from interviews with the key people involved, shows, it was an eye-opener and learning experience for all involved.
The speed of construction was incredible. The project was discussed by President Nyerere during his visit to China in 1965, only a few months after Ian Smith had declared UDI in Zimbabwe and prevented Zambia exporting its copper by the quickest route to Beira. Construction started in 1970 and was completed in October 1975. 50,000 Chinese and even more Tanzanians and Zambians worked on the project. The challenges were unbelievable. There were no recent engineering studies, no usable maps for parts of the route, the alignment had to be decided, there were problems causes by geology (including the risk of earthquakes, the difficult climb up into the Southern Highlands at Makambako, and the difficulties of construction in swampy land along the Kilombero Valley and elsewhere), sickness and especially malaria, wildlife in and near the Selous Game Reserve (the Tanzanian army arranged for the construction teams to be issued with guns), and the provision of supplies and
materials for such a large project.
This book shows how these challenges were overcome. It will interest students of the relationships between China and countries in Africa, and anyone interested in railways. But because it is based on reminiscences, it is also a fascinating study of relationships, and the meetings of cultures both in some of the most isolated places in the world and in the palaces and offices of world leaders.
Andrew Coulson is the author of Tanzania: A Political Economy (second edition, 2013), and Chairman of the Britain-Tanzania Society.
PAINTED DEVILS AND THE LIVES OF ORDINARY PEOPLE. Tuan Marais. Storyline Studio, Western Cape, South Africa, 2016 (paperback). ISBN 978-6-620-60019-4. R185 (and various prices online) http://www.tuanmarais.co.za/.
This memoir is prefaced by Shakespeare’s ‘tis the eye of childhood / That fears a painted devil’ (Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 2). Memoirs are precious stories, carrying the words of ordinary people living through historically interesting times. Young Tuan Marais went to live in Zanzibar with his mother and her new husband. This was Zanzibar of 1956, when the popular Sultan Seyyid bin Khalifa still ruled a diverse population before the rush to independence had taken hold. Painted Devils is Tuan’s profoundly sensitive story of his childhood and young adulthood.
Tuan became immersed in the island’s exotic life. His halcyon days were spent learning the life of the seas. Local Zanzibaris befriended him and guided him in the traditional ways of fishing and negotiating the coral reefs. Soon he was a natural, weaving fishing traps and speaking Swahili. The family home was next to the Sultan’s Kibweni country palace and one of his memories is of rescuing the Sultan’s yacht during a storm. He recalled seeing the great dhow fleets arriving with the monsoon.
The English culture of Tuan’s family prescribed formal education and religious passage as necessary steps to adulthood. Most colonial children suffered the wrench that was boarding school. It was profoundly formative. It would be interesting to know what reflections those children would later have if, instead, they had been enrolled into local schools. Zanzibar before the Revolution had excellent primary and secondary schools based on the British system of O- and A-levels, and a rich and diverse cultural milieu. Tuan’s parents were not part of the British colonial administration and had no sense of the pull of ‘back home’ that characterised those families regarding their sojourn in Zanzibar as temporary. Tuan became conscious of racism, both in Zanzibar and at his Kenyan boarding school. Racism was taught to him through shame and ridicule. This was also the time that emerging political parties in Zanzibar, and across Africa, were demanding independence – Uhuru! The Cold War intensified this struggle. Tuan was hardly aware of the political wrangling, the escalating violent rhetoric as opposing sides grappled for the popular vote. The presence of Swahili, Shirazi, Manga Arabs, Goans, Indians and mainland Africans was taken as natural by his young self. Meanwhile the British were slipping away, having lost the will to invest in a troubled island. Tuan planned his future in Zanzibar: to offer diving and deep-sea fishing tours from a traditional fishing dhow. This was not to be. The Revolution of 1964 intervened. His parents were attacked on the day of the revolt when the infamous John Okello directed brutal mobs. They were taken to Okello’s headquarters and bound. Around them were the bodies of murdered Arab Zanzibaris. It is likely that they were saved by Okello’s order that no whites were to be killed – for fear of British intervention. Instead Okello whipped up his supporters into a genocide of Zanzibari Arab people. This is the dark history that the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar has never acknowledged.
The last section of the memoir is the story of Tuan’s life in South Africa. He was conscripted into the army and for a brief while groomed to be a South African spy. The Apartheid secret police wanted information on the Frelimo camps supposedly located in Zanzibar. He turned down this offer but did visit Zanzibar in 1966, finding the island miserable under the grip of its own brand of oppression.
In 1997, in his late middle-age, Tuan returned to Zanzibar but his Eden had disappeared and he struggled to find acceptance and resolution. Tuan’s memoir is poetically written, filled with the sense of those magic years when anything seemed possible. His years of youth were in Zanzibar and his depiction of life in the pre-revolutionary Sultanate is a charming tale of self-discovery. And perhaps it is with nostalgia that we might imagine how Zanzibar might have been had it not suffered the violence and despotism of those years.
Anne M. Chappel
Anne M. Chappel was born in Mwanza, Tanganyika, in 1947 and moved to Zanzibar in 1956 when her father worked for the British colonial administration, finally occupying the position of Permanent Secretary to Mohammed Shamte, the Prime Minister for the brief period of Zanzibar’s independence. Anne has written a novel, Zanzibar Uhuru, covering the last 50 plus years of Zanzibar’s history, as well as a biography of her father, Time Past in Africa. Anne lives in Adelaide, Australia.
MIKIDADI WA MAFIA: MAISHA YA MWANAHARAKATI NA FAMILIA YAKE NCHINI TANZANIA. Pat Caplan. Translated into Swahili by Ahmad Kipacha. Mkuki na Nyota, Dar es Salaam, 2014. xxi + 162 pp. (paperback). ISBN 978-9987-08-295-7. £17.95. http://www.africanbookscollective.com/books/mikidadi-wa-mafia
Anthropologist Pat Caplan’s fascinating account of the life and times of a villager on Mafia and their friendship over nearly four decades from 1965 until his untimely death in 2002. Describing her book as a cross between biographical history and historical biography, the author must be lauded for making it available to a wider readership. The longer and more scholarly English version has now been published under the title Mikidadi: Individual Biography and National History in Tanzania (Sean Kingston Publishing, 2016), and will be reviewed in a future issue of Tanzanian Affairs.
ON CALL IN AFRICA: IN WAR AND PEACE, 1910-1932. Norman Parsons Jewell. Gillyflower Publishing, Hove, 2016. 416 pp., with 145 photographs and 16 line drawings (hardback). ISBN 978-0-9931382-0-1. £35.00.
Described by William Boyd as “An absolutely fascinating memoir of a doctor’s life in Africa and an evocative and wholly authentic account of the East African campaign, 1914-18, a forgotten corner of the Great War”, this book comes highly recommended. It is based in part on Jewell’s personal diary and extensive photographic collection, and covers his wartime experiences in German East Africa as well as his colonial service in the Seychelles and Kenya (some readers will be familiar with his son John’s Dhows at Mombasa, 1969, revised edition 1976). The book’s website provides much more information (see https://oncallinafrica.com/).