Reading is therapy to me. So is writing. I developed the habit of reading ferociously ever since I can remember, and I have always enjoyed reading.
I grew up in a neighbourhood that had very few readers, and where obtaining a secondary school education was seen as a privilege for a select few in my area. The class seven that was ahead of mine at the Kigoma Primary School only managed to get nine out its 120 pupils who sat for the primary education leaving certificate in 1989 admitted into public secondary school.
In short, reading was not a hobby where I grew up!
I recall collecting thrown out newspapers from the trash just so that I could read. My Kisangani Street (Mwanga suburb) reading companion was Wilfred Kidau.
Wilfred later went to Tabora School, played football for Simba and Taifa Stars and is now the Secretary-General of our football association. Wilfred and I loved reading Mfanyakazi, a weekly newspaper by a trade union.
Our favourite pages were the sports pages and we particularly loved articles by James Nhende (if my recollection is correct on the name). In secondary school, at Kigoma and later Kibohehe, Galanos and Tosamaganga secondary schools, I was always at the library. I read books for the sake of reading.
This habit was cemented when I went to the University of Dar es Salaam and one day attended a lecture at the Council Chamber (I think it was sometime in November 1999 or 2000) where Prof Issa Shivji’s response to a student about ‘learning how to think’ became my mantra.
“Read everything” and “doubt everything” was his response to the student. These words have helped me in my whole political career. So yes, I read. I read a lot. There is a year when I had read 53 books, an average of one book per week.
Looking back to the last 10 years since I started to list the books I read and post the list online, I have developed a reading pattern. For instance, because I subscribe to The Economist magazine that comes out weekly, books listed and summarized in their Books & Arts section always find their way into my bookshelf.
Secondly, when I travel to other countries, a visit to bookstores that carry local books is a must. One can easily list countries that I have visited in a particular year just by going through my books list.
When my mother was ill and hospitalized in India in 2014, I read a lot about Indian politics, literature, and their development path. This year, books related to Rwanda topped my list, and these are books that provided me with both for and against views held about the current political leadership in Rwanda.
The year 2019 was the year when I read many books on Turkey. That year I also read the Turkish Nobel Laureate, Orhan Pamuk. Current affairs influence my reading trends.
A vivid example is my 2016 and 2017 lists which were full of books on Russia’s current autocratic rule under President Vladimir Putin and how Germany fell into Hitler’s rule between the First and Second World Wars.
In 2021, I read a total of 29 books. There are books that I had started reading but I did not finish reading them, either because I found them boring, or I lost interest in the books for different reasons.
These are not included in my list of 29 books that I read this year. I am listing down my 10 favourite books out of the 29 books that I read this year. The book listed first is my favourite out of the books that I have read this year.
Prior to reading The First Woman, I had read Kintu by the same author, Jeniffer Nansubuga Makumbi. She is a prolific writer and once you start reading a book that she has written, you just can’t put it down until you finish it.
The First Woman by Jeniffer Nansubuga Makumbi
The book chronicles the story of Kirabo, a Buganda girl child who is abandoned by her mother and raised in the village by her grandfather.
She broke nearly all Baganda traditions: She went in search of her mother and she deeply fought against an entrenched patriarchal culture in an African society.
The story covers the history of 1970s Uganda, with some bits on the Tanzania’s war against Idi Amin’s regime. Kirabo is a real modern feminism.
The important concept from the book was that of Kweluma, that is when oppressed people turn against each other or against themselves and bite. It is a form of relief. If you cannot bite your oppressor you bite yourself!
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi has put this concept so articulately.
Chochoro za Madaraka by Lello Mmassy
Lello is an upcoming Tanzanian novelist. Writing in Swahili, he has already written two books. His first book is Mimi Na Rais (The President and I) and this is his second novel.
The story is about a fictitious country called The Republic of Stanza. Chochoro za Madaraka (Alleys of Power) is about a group of people who wanted to make reforms and took over power from a corrupt ageing regime.
However, they promised things to another country that had supported their power grab, but they couldn’t deliver on their promises. The story ends with the new president disappearing, which in turn creates havoc.
Mmassy is a genius storyteller and sometimes what he narrates fits so well into existing situations in some African countries. Had he been writing in English, his work would have been on the list of best sellers in leading bookstores globally.
For Swahili readers, I strongly recommend Chochoro za Madaraka. You will not be disappointed.
Desertion by Abdulrazak Gurnah
When Abdulrazak Gurhan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, I was ecstatic. Not only was he the first Tanzanian and East African to win such a prize but I had already read three of his 10 novels. So I felt a connection. Since his award, I read four more of his books.
The core of Abdulrazak Gurnah’s writing is displacement. It scrutinises the East African past and presents through the lens of characters who have multiple ethnicities. Often these characters have Arab or European ancestors somewhere in their family tree.
These characters face ostracisation and discrimination during colonialism and in the new nation-states. Gurnah’s novels call for reconciliation, acceptance and for tolerance. They show that we are all human regardless of our ethnicity and race. We are all searching for a sense of belonging whether at home or abroad.
Gurnah writes novels that express dissident views and that is why his writing will take a long time to be accepted. In all his novels, his characters are the ‘small’ person, the minority, the one being trodden on by society and political systems in place. He chooses to give a voice to the members of society that no one stands up for.
Zanzibar, where most of his novels are set, has had a rough history with who belongs and who doesn’t. Gurnah writes about the revolution of 1964 and the change in power from the Arab minority to the African majority.
However, all his novels have characters that are difficult to categorise racially and reflect the reality of the Zanzibari situation. In many families, the racial lines are blurred and these divisions that exist are political ones, for the benefit of people in power and not the general population.
Desertion is a novel about a European who was rescued from death by Hassanali, an east African of Indian descent on the coast sometime in the 1890s. Due to racial segregation at the time, the colonial officers gave Hassanali trouble but intervention from Martin Pearce helped to settle things. Martin fell in love with Hassanali’s sister, Rehana, and the two have a daughter, Asmah.
Martin goes back to England, never to return. He had his family there and carried on with his life there. Asmah grows up, has a family of her own and one of her children is called Jamila.
The great-granddaughters eventually get to know about each other. The story goes on for three generations. It is a captivating story of differences in culture and the discomforts that come with all that. It is the history of the East African coast told through the lens of the peoples’ lives.
Admiring Silence by Abdulrazak Gurnah
Admiring Silence is a novel about a boy leaving Zanzibar for higher education in England following the revolution of 1964.
Due to the atrocities that were committed, he did not expect to return. Twenty years later, now a grown-up man, he goes back to Zanzibar but does not reveal to his family in Zanzibar that he lives with an English woman with whom he has a daughter. Relatives in Zanzibar find him a woman to marry but he refuses.
The reformist leaders in Zanzibar offer him a job there which he declines. He kept secrets from his family but this trip back to Zanzibar changes his vision.
In my view, this is the story about the author himself – his autobiography but as a fictional work. It also gives alternative views about political and social development in Zanzibar between 1964 and the 1990s.
Biubwa Amour Zahor: Mwanamke Mwanamapinduzi by Zuhura Yunus
A highly respected BBC Swahili journalist, Zuhura Yunus, has produced a masterpiece about a woman who participated in Zanzibar’s Revolution.
The history of the revolution is mainly male-dominated, and the author has given a completely different perspective on the role women played during the revolution.
Biubwa Amour Zahor gets a fitting profile of her life over the course of the turbulent years in the 1960s and 1970s. She was imprisoned by her comrades on the fake accusations of killing the first president of Zanzibar Abeid Amani Karume.
It is so courageous of Zuhura to tell the story of this relatively obscured woman. In the book, the long-held view that the woman killed her father during the revolution is debunked, with evidence corroborated by eyewitnesses. You will not regret reading this book.
Levy Mwanawasa: An Incentive for Prosperity by Amos Malupenga
President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa is considered the most reformist Zambian President ever. He was the third President of Zambia after Fredrick Chiluba’s failed attempt to change the constitution to allow him to run the or presidency for a third term.
A reluctant politician and a formidable lawyer, he was deeply involved in the movement for multiparty democracy in Zambia, which ended President Kenneth Kaunda’s 27 years rule.
Prior to becoming the President, he was the vice president of Zambia. He, however, resigned from that role out of protest against the increasing corruption in the government.
He was taken from his retirement to be made a presidential candidate and he won the presidency. He died in his second term as president. What is the most interesting part of the book is the story of him recording his will on camera and leaving instructions that his will should be aired on national television before his burial.
Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
A book I should have read since 2019 when I got it. Our Tanzanian Ambassador to China had the signed copy from Mrs Okonjo-Iweala but the delivery was delayed. It is an essential read for anti-corruption reformers in Africa.
Dr Ngozi takes us through her second term as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and reforms she made to transform Nigeria’s economy, threats she received and several other events that took place such as the abduction of her elderly mother by an oil cabal who benefitted from oil subsidies.
She provides practical lessons in this book, which feels like a thriller like a book at times. A must-read for every single reformer in Africa. Mrs Okonjo-Iweala was a Finance and a Foreign Minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo and a Finance Minister under President Goodluck Jonathan.
She is now the Head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, the first African and the first woman to take up this role.
Stepp’d in Blood by Andrew Wallis
You might have read about Genocide in Rwanda, but if you haven’t read this book your knowledge of the horrors of genocide is incomplete. Andrew Wallis researched about the Akazu, (which translates to a little house), the inner circle of the first lady of Rwanda, Agathe Habyarimana.
According to the author, the Akazu planned and executed the killings of around one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus and that they were aided and protected by western governments. The author reveals the identities of members of the Akazu and reveals details of how they work. A sad story but a very important read.
Selous: The Lost Sanctity by Attilio Tagalile
The respected Tanzanian journalist Attilio Tagalile died this year, 2021. He left with us a gift, this book. It is about everything that transpired on Selous Game reserve between 2016 and 2018 when part of Selous was allocated for the development of a gigantic hydro-electric plant.
It is a book narrating all the efforts to save the reserve from an environmental perspective, and how all efforts reached deaf ears of the authorities. He tells a story of engagement with the President and members of parliament.
The author also tells a story about the role of journalists and owners of media companies. About scientific work which opposed the industrial development in the Selous. The danger posed by this development in Selous is huge on the ecosystem.
The project itself seems to be a white elephant. Reading Attilio’s book makes you angry if you care about the environment and makes you despise the politics of manipulation. Selous is a lost sanctity!
Mzee Rukhsa: Safari ya Maisha Yangu by Ali Hassan Mwinyi
When President Ali Hassan Mwinyi left office as the second President of the United Republic of Tanzania, about 70 per cent of the current population in Tanzania were not yet born.
Thus, many young people of today did not know much about the challenges he inherited when he stepped into office – empty coffers in the treasury, the economy in a downward spiral because of the war against Uganda and a fully centralized economy.
Mzee Rukhsa is a book that reminds us of where this country came from and how the old guards confronted the realities that they faced. Ushering market reforms while the founding President Julius Nyerere was alive was the toughest job that President Mwinyi had to do.
A humble man, soft-spoken and deeply religious, characters that made him not acclaim much of what he had achieved. From reading the book, my conclusion is, China had Deng and Tanzania had Mwinyi. Deng Xiaoping was just lucky that his reforms were implemented while Chairman Mao was already dead.
These are the 10 books I recommend in 2022 if you have not yet read them. Wishing you all a Happy New Year of 2022!
Zitto Kabwe is ACT-Wazalendo party leader and former Member of Parliament. He’s available on Twitter at @zittokabwe. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at email@example.com for further inquiries.