by Martin Walsh
MY LIFE, MY PURPOSE: A TANZANIAN PRESIDENT REMEMBERS. Benjamin William Mkapa. Mkuki wa Nyota, Dar es Salaam, 2019. xii + 320 pp. (paperback). ISBN-978-9987-083-03-9. £20.00.
My Life, My Purpose is the memoirs of Tanzania’s third president, Benjamin Mkapa. President Mkapa takes the reader on a journey from his childhood in rural Mtwara to post-presidential semi-retirement. He is not reluctant to offer opinions on a range of topics along the way.
The book can be split roughly into two halves. The first half details Mkapa’s rise to the presidency. Among other things, he discusses his educational journey, his time as a newspaper editor, his work as President Julius Nyerere’s press secretary, and his role as foreign minister. Often in political memoirs, these sections can be a preamble before the most interesting parts begin, but this is not the case with Mkapa. His decision to write for a general audience, not necessarily familiar with Tanzania, means that he explains a lot of interesting social and political history while covering his life story. Combined with a very clear writing style, this makes these early chapters very engaging.
In this section, Mkapa shares many stories about Nyerere and their time working together. Indeed, one of the stated objectives of the book is to present a new perspective of his former mentor. However, he ultimately fails to leave the rather well-trodden ground of universal praise (often described as hagiography), and it can feel like the reader is being given a picture of Nyerere the myth rather than Nyerere the complex human.
The second half focuses on Mkapa’s time as President. Much of this section is dedicated to detailing the wide-ranging reforms that his administration introduced as a response to Tanzania’s precarious economic position, which generally represented a shift from socialism towards capitalism. Perhaps out of necessity, the book loses some of the flow of earlier chapters as Mkapa increases the level of detail while explaining who did what during this ambitious policy programme.
This half also deals with some of the criticism that Mkapa faced during his time as President. He offers explanations as to why he thinks his leadership style was sometimes described as arrogant or dictatorial. He also dedicates a section to addressing the various corruption scandals to which he was linked. His response to criticism about being too close to the IMF and World Bank is particularly well thought through, although there remains a tension between Mkapa the socialist in the first half of the book and Mkapa the capitalist in the second half, which is never satisfactorily resolved.
One of the major objectives of the book, which was written due to encouragement from the UONGOZI Institute, is to inform and inspire new leaders. As a result, the memoirs contain a lot of advice about how both leaders and those setting out on their careers should conduct themselves. In much of this discussion it is unsurprisingly Nyerere that is presented as a role model. Mkapa also draws on his experience to give frank and often insightful views on recent developments in fields such as the media, the civil service and democratisation.
As is generally the case in political memoirs, Mkapa uses this book as an opportunity to defend various aspects of his legacy. In doing so, he is able to point to several major improvements in key developmental indicators during his time in office, which are further outlined in a statistical appendix. However, some of his other points are less persuasive. He exaggerates the success of some plans, initiatives and newly created agencies, downplays a few of the issues that reflect badly on him, and occasionally presents weak excuses for poor performance in specific areas.
Nonetheless, this book will be of interest to most readers of Tanzanian Affairs. Mkapa’s memoirs span the whole history of Tanzania as a nation, and he was involved, in some capacity, in many of the country’s most significant events. Insider accounts such as these are most welcome.
Robert Macdonald is a Teaching Fellow at the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh.
AFRICAN ISLANDS: LEADING EDGES OF EMPIRE AND GLOBALIZATION. Toyin Falola, R. Joseph Parrott, and Danielle Porter Sanchez (eds.). University of Rochester Press, Rochester, NY, 2019. vii + 432pp. (hardback). ISBN 978-1-58046-954-8. £110.00.
In his manifesto Africa Must Unite, Kwame Nkrumah stated that ‘Africa with its islands is just one Africa’. Yet scholars of ‘the continent’ have tended to overlook Africa’s offshore islands. The editors of this volume set out to redresses this problem. In their introduction, they stake out a theoretical framework through which we might understand island societies’ relationships with the continent and across its surrounding oceans. Arguing that studies of African islands have hitherto been too one-dimensional by focusing on single case studies, they call for a more comparative approach. They contrast the role of West Africa’s islands in forming a stepping-stone to an ‘Atlantic World’ driven by European intervention with the multi-layered histories of cosmopolitan exchange in the Indian Ocean. African island communities played a significant role in the slave trade, as either staging-posts for onward transoceanic passage or sites for plantation labour (or, as in the example of Zanzibar, both). The prosperity derived from the slave trade and slave labour provided the financial basis and incentive for further intervention into mainland Africa. Yet although these islands – especially those which lay only a short distance offshore – maintained close relations with continental societies, their maritime connections shaped the emergence of distinct cosmopolitan and creole cultures.
The first half of the book contains chapters on islands dotted around the West African littoral: the Canaries, São Tome and Príncipe, Canhabac Island, Bioko and Annobón, and Cape Verde. The second half concerns Eastern Africa and includes studies of the Mascarenes, Madagascar, and Comoros. Given the remit of Tanzanian Affairs, this review concentrates on two chapters on Zanzibar. As the editors acknowledge, Zanzibar is among the most extensively studied of Africa’s islands. Two established authorities on coastal East Africa, William Bissell and Jeremy Prestholdt, neatly illustrate why. While neither author romanticises Zanzibar’s past nor denies the violence of slavery and its legacy, both underline the significance of the island’s global connections in producing a vibrant cosmopolitan society. Both also follow recent historical trends in focusing on urban life in Zanzibar town, rather than rural Unguja or Pemba.
In his succinct sketch of the history of a ‘monsoon metropolis’, Bissell explains how patterns of Indian Ocean trade and migration led to the emergence of a cosmopolitan entrepôt. He traces the development of the Omani Sultanate and the boom years of nineteenth century, built on the bedrock of the slave trade and plantation labour. However, the legacies of slavery and the socioeconomic inequality between the island’s ethnoracial groups polarised Zanzibari society under British colonial rule. This paved the way to the revolution of 1964 and the inward turn of the racial socialism which followed. The neoliberal present has reconfigured these relationships yet again, as Zanzibar emphasises its cultural heritage within an Indian Ocean world in remodelling itself as a tourist destination.
Prestholdt’s chapter focuses on how the imports from across the globe which saturated Zanzibar in the nineteenth century were converted into local social capital. Drawing on a rich array of evidence, he argues that the Omani era brought the end to traditional sumptuary practices. These were replaced with a new consumer culture that prized the ostentatious display of imported goods. A similar dynamic could be observed in the slave trade. Although most of the slaves brought to Zanzibar were put to work in the plantations, a small but significant number were used by their owners as status symbols, often adorned with expensive clothing and jewellery. However, freed slaves also turned to new clothing styles in an attempt at self-definition in response to their former status of subjection. A commodity culture which inscribed local meaning into global trade networks thereby marked the performative lifestyles of Zanzibari elites and the lower classes alike.
This is a hefty volume, both in terms of its weight and price tag. Although several more thematic contributions provide useful points of triangulation, the chapters do inevitably read in places like isolated studies. Nonetheless, scholars from various disciplines and regional specialisations will gain much from drawing comparisons between them. Taken together, they present new angles for interrogating the historical geography of Africa and its global connections.
George Roberts is a Junior Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. He obtained his PhD from the University of Warwick in 2016. His interests include the contemporary history of East Africa and the global Cold War. He is presently completing a book manuscript on ‘revolutionary Dar es Salaam’ in the 1960s and 1970s, while also undertaking postdoctoral research on decolonisation in the Comoros.
KIDAISO: SARUFI NA MSAMIATI. Josephat Rugemalira, Ann Biersteker, Deo Ngonyani, and Angelina Nduku Kioko. Twaweza Communications Limited, Nairobi, 2019. viii + 224 pp. (paperback). ISBN 978-9966-028-95-2. (price not given.)
It is a great pleasure to see the publication of Kidaiso: Sarufi na Msamiati, the first ever ‘Daiso Grammar and Vocabulary’ to be written in Swahili. The Daiso (Wadaiso) of Mkinga and Muheza districts are close relatives of the coastal Segeju (Wasegeju) of Tanga, and so are also known as the highland Segeju. This text greatly interests me because I belong to the Segeju community maternally and have worked for almost a decade to document the oral history and other cultural aspects of the two interrelated groups. For these personal and scholarly reasons, the publication of this book has been very exciting.
Kidaiso: Sarufi na Msamiati presents previously unpublished information on grammar, vocabulary and ethno-history. The book has three parts. The first outlines the sound system and grammar of the Daiso language (Kidaiso). At the beginning, the authors present one of the key findings of their research. They note that the language is undergoing a transformation from seven to five vowels. This is especially noticeable in the difference between generations. Whereas older speakers use seven vowels, younger speakers under 30 use only five, while the generation in between, including people in their fifties, is in the process of changing from one practice to the other. This has important implications for language preservation and revitalisation programmes and where interventions might be targeted.
Sections on nominal and verbal morphology are followed by a list of 25 proverbs. This includes Daiso translations of popular Swahili proverbs like mkulima mmoja walaji wengi, which means that a farmer is usually one person, but the eaters are many. Some proverbs seem to be unique to Daiso, such as moji mrasa uwonewa diakani, meaning that it is easier to spot a taller arrow in the quiver. This proverb is interesting because coastal Segeju I spoke with in Tanga told me that their kin from the highlands are skilled in archery and that in the past this assisted them in intra-clan conflict, such as the famous rivalry between the Boma and Kamadhi at the turn of 18th century. The second part of the book comprises a vocabulary of Daiso nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives with their Swahili and English translations. The list is extensive, running from pages 49 to 148, and offers a wonderful resource not only for scholarly research but also for trainers in indigenous language programmes. The third and last part (pp. 149-223) reverses the order of this vocabulary, translating from English into Daiso and Swahili. This will be useful in helping to determine the impacts of language contacts and national language policies such as the promotion of Swahili in Tanzania. The book concludes with a short list of references used in the study.
Let me turn now to the historical and cultural material presented at the start of the book. The authors provide a brief but intriguing history of the Segeju which helps the reader to situate them geographically and historically. The authors locate the historical Segeju in what is now Kitui County in Kenya. The Kamba community in eastern Kitui, they inform us, speak a dialect called Thaisu (Kithaisu) which resembles that spoken by the highland Segeju today, that is Daiso (Kidaiso). The close resemblance between these two names is not coincidental, and the authors go on to explain why there are two communities in north-east Tanzania that claim Segeju identity but speak different languages.
We are told that in the 16th century the Segeju crossed the Tana River and moved down to towards Malindi and Mombasa on the coast. Because of their military prowess, they became engaged in local wars, ultimately leading to the division between the highland and coastal Segeju that we see today. Having come to the aid of a Digo chief, one group married Digo wives and adopted their language, speaking a dialect called Kisegeju, now extinct and replaced by Swahili. Another section ventured into the foothills of the Usambara Mountains in what is now Tanzania. This group kept their language, Daiso, intermarried with Sambaa and Taita, and made their home in places like Bwiti and Daluni.
This historical account, supported by linguistic data, aligns with existing oral histories, especially those researched by local historians, most notably the late Mwalimu Pera Ridhiwani, whose widely known manuscript Mila na Desturi za Kabila la Wasegeju provides more detail about the earlier history of the Segeju. It also tallies with my own research, including an account that I collected among coastal Segeju in Mnyanjani, Tanga, which mentioned the Kamba explicitly as the Segeju’s kin, and the providers of the cattle that they now possess. Kidaiso: Sarufi na Msamiati does not provide any detail on the linguistic similarities between Thaisu and Daiso and this would be interesting to explore further. How close is the eastern Kamba dialect to Daiso? What about other languages and dialects in the region? Does a comparison of vocabulary relating to livestock keeping support the oral histories?
Such questions could help scholars further determine the relationship and correlations between linguistic evidence and oral history, building on the comparative linguistic research on Daiso and its past already undertaken by Derek Nurse and Martin Walsh. The publication of Kidaiso: Sarufi na Msamiati opens an opportunity for us to revisit old questions, as well as providing an important foundation for new multi-disciplinary research to begin.
Mohamed Yunus Rafiq
Mohamed Yunus Rafiq is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at New York University in Shanghai. His research interests include religion, public health, and human/non-human intermediaries. He is currently writing a book that examines the popularity of religious leaders in development projects aimed at rural Tanzanian populations. He lives and works in Shanghai, China, and Bagamoyo, Tanzania.